At long last, Cousins could smile with a head coach again.
Cousins had 19 points and 15 rebounds, 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.
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The victory came only hours after the Kings fired coach Paul Westphal amid an escalating feud with Cousins.
"You just felt free out there," Cousins said. "You didn't feel like you had like 30-pound bags on your back. You just felt free. It felt good to be out there."
Especially when it leads to a victory.
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 Smart a winner in his Kings debut. Sacramento completed a stretch of three games in three nights in three cities with the lone victory.
"The way we played tonight, it was unbelievable," Cousins said.
Milwaukee mismanaged a runaway into a swift and surprising defeat.
Brandon Jennings scored 31 points and dished out seven assists, 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.
Stephen Jackson added 13 points, five rebounds and four assists in Milwaukee's third consecutive loss. The Bucks outshot the Kings 51 percent to 40 percent.
"In the second half, they just took it to us," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "They shoved us under the basket. We didn't have much resistance, and they started driving right by us."
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. 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 with Westphal's blessing.
Sacramento gave Smart the perfect start with a frantic fourth-quarter rally.
Marcus Thornton made consecutive running layups as part of his 27 points 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 Jackson with 18.1 seconds left. He made both free throws to put the Kings up 101-100 and converted another pair to extend the cushion.
Jennings missed an open 3-point attempt at the buzzer, pulled out his jersey and walked to Milwaukee's locker room in disgust. Smart waived to the crowd and pumped his fist in celebration.
"We got something special if we can keep it growing," Smart said.
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, who fouled out with 4:36 remaining, 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 start the comeback.
"Just with everything that's been going on," Cousins said, "it was a big win."
|Interim coach Keith Smart and DeMarcus Cousins, who clashed with Paul Westphal, embrace after Sacramento's stunning comeback. (AP)|
|Sacramento (3-5) «||25||12||31||35||103|
|MIL:B. Jennings 31 Pts
MIL:D. Gooden 9 Reb
MIL:B. Jennings 7 Ast
|SAC:M. Thornton 27 Pts
SAC:D. Cousins 15 Reb
SAC:T. Evans 5 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|B. Jennings, PG||43||12-23||1-4||3||7||2||31|
|S. Jackson, SF||39||4-10||3-3||5||4||5||13|
|D. Gooden, PF||34||6-13||6-10||9||2||4||18|
|E. Ilyasova, SF||16||2-3||0-0||3||2||4||4|
|C. Delfino, SG||12||1-2||2-2||0||2||3||5|
|S. Livingston, PG||30||3-5||0-0||3||3||1||6|
|B. Udrih, PG||25||4-8||0-0||2||0||3||8|
|J. Leuer, PF||21||3-5||1-2||3||2||1||7|
|L. Sanders, PF||21||4-7||0-0||3||4||4||8|
|M. Dunleavy, SF||Did Not Play|
|A. Bogut, C||Did Not Play|
|L. Mbah a Moute, SF||Did Not Play|
|J. Brockman, PF||Did Not Play|
|D. Hobson, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Harris, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|M. Thornton, SG||42||10-23||5-5||5||3||3||27|
|T. Evans, PG||41||8-18||9-9||10||5||2||26|
|J. Salmons, SF||36||5-13||3-4||6||1||2||13|
|D. Cousins, C||28||8-18||3-6||15||0||6||19|
|C. Hayes, PF||9||0-2||2-2||1||1||2||2|
|J. Hickson, PF||26||2-5||3-4||11||1||1||7|
|J. Fredette, PG||23||3-8||0-0||2||2||1||7|
|J. Thompson, PF||23||1-1||0-0||2||2||1||2|
|F. Garcia, SG||8||0-2||0-0||3||1||0||0|
|T. Outlaw, SF||5||0-1||0-0||0||0||0||0|
|D. Greene, SF||Did Not Play|
|I. Thomas, PG||Did Not Play|
|T. Honeycutt, SF||Did Not Play|
|H. Whiteside, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|