SACRAMENTO (AP) — Tyreke Evans made four free throws in the final minute to finish with 26 points, and Sacramento overcame a 21-point halftime deficit to stun the Milwaukee Bucks 103-100 on Thursday night hours after the Kings fired coach Paul Westphal.
Evans hit the go-ahead free throws with 18.1 seconds remaining and followed with two more to make former assistant and Golden State Warriors coach Keith Smart a winner in his Kings head coaching debut. Sacramento ousted Westphal following a slow start and an escalating feud with young center DeMarcus Cousins.
Marcus Thornton scored 27 points and Cousins finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Kings, completing a stretch of three games in three nights with the lone victory.
Brandon Jennings scored 31 points, and Drew Gooden had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Bucks in place of center Andrew Bogut, who missed his second straight game for undisclosed personal reasons.
A day that began with turmoil in California’s capital ended in jubilation.
The Kings fired Westphal in the morning after two-plus seasons as coach, cutting ties amid a slow start and an escalating dispute with Cousins that threatened to consume the locker room. Smart, let go by the Warriors in April after one season at the helm, signed a deal to become the team’s new head coach.
Sacramento gave Smart the perfect start with a frantic fourth-quarter rally.
Thornton made consecutive running layups to bring the Kings within two, and former Bucks standout John Salmons sliced the deficit to a point with a steal and a free throw with 1:20 remaining
After Jennings made a jumper, Salmons matched him with another. Evans grabbed the next Milwaukee rebound and sprinted up court, getting fouled by Stephen Jackson with 18.1 seconds left. He made both free throws to put the Kings ahead 101-100 and converted another pair to extend the cushion.
Jennings missed an open 3-point attempt at the buzzer, and Smart waived to the crowd and pumped his fist in celebration. Jennings pulled out his jersey and walked to Milwaukee’s locker room in disgust.
With so much attention on Sacramento’s young center following Westphal’s firing, Cousins came out ready to hustle and start Smart’s tenure strong.
He scored five points in the first 5 minutes, including a three-point play on a layup over Carlos Delfino, and sprinted and soared for several loose balls. Cousins also picked up two quick fouls and sat for the final 7 minutes of the quarter after Gooden drew a charging call on a layup attempt.
The Bucks busted out big in the second quarter, outscoring Sacramento 28-12 in the period behind Jennings and Gooden in what turned out to be a stampede past the usually quicker and more athletic Kings. Milwaukee shot 60 percent from the floor in the first half to take a 58-37 lead at the break.
As if Smart’s debut in Sacramento didn’t have enough hurdles to clear, big man Chuck Hayes also dislocated his left shoulder reaching in to foul Gooden in the quarter. He’s out indefinitely.
Smart’s squad did show some promise.
A sudden and surprising run by the Kings sliced Milwaukee’s lead to eight late in the third quarter, capping a 26-13 spurt when Cousins rebounded his own miss and curled in a put-back shot off the backboard from under the rim. After the Bucks began to pull away, Cousins grabbed a rebound and converted a three-point play over Larry Sanders to bring Sacramento within eight with 8:51 left to star the comeback.
NOTES: The Kings went 4 for 21 from 3-point range but held a 55-31 rebounding advantage, including 23 on the offensive glass ... Milwaukee had 20 turnovers that led to 24 points for Sacramento.