NBA: Casspi shines in Sacramento's first victory of young season

NBA Casspi shines in Sa

By JEREMY LAST
November 4, 2009 00:46
4 minute read.

 
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Omri Casspi had every right to join in the ecstatic celebrations with his Sacramento teammates on Monday evening following the Kings' first win of the NBA season. The rookie Israeli forward had another standout game, scoring 15 points for the second time in his short NBA career in an exhilarating 127-116 overtime victory over Allen Iverson and the Memphis Grizzlies in Sacramento's home opener. After losing their first three games, coach Paul Westphal's youthful squad showed superb resilience to come back from an early 14-point deficit, force the extra session and then overcome the Grizzlies. Casspi, 2.06 meters, entered the game only in the final seconds of the first quarter. After coming on, Casspi quickly won over his new fans by hitting his first three shots, leading a few fans to wave Israeli flags in honor of the country's first NBA player. Casspi's determination so impressed Westphal that he found himself in the starting line up for the second half, and, after a third quarter rest, played the second half of the fourth quarter and the entire five minutes of overtime. Kevin Martin may have been the most impressive player on the court, scoring a massive 48 points in 52:27 minutes, but the 21-year-old Israel also played a key role in the Sacramento triumph, showing aggressive defense as well as skillful offense in his 30:22 minutes of basketball. As he has done after each game, Casspi spoke about the encounter as a team player, addressing the pressure on the franchise to win at the Arco Arena on Monday. "We just thought about it before the game and we knew we had to win in front of all of our fans. It was sold out and we had to go out and show all of the fans that we are a good team. We are going to keep working hard like this all season. It was a must win for us and I am happy that we won in the end," he said. Casspi's father Shimon had flown into California to see his son play in the best league in the world, and the up-and-coming star said he was excited to do his Dad proud. "That was the first time my dad has seen me play in the NBA. It was great. I was really excited for the game. During the game I just looked at him and saw him smile. It just made my dream and obviously it is his dream too. He was very happy and I am very happy that we won," Casspi said. The anticipated match up between Casspi and Iranian center Hamed Haddadi did not materialize, as Haddadi did not play at all on Monday even though he had played an average of 5.5 minutes in the Grizzlies' first three games of the regular season. Westphal was left practically speechless after the roller-coaster ride of an encounter, which saw the lead change on numerous occasions in the fourth quarter before Beno Udrih hit a game-tying layup in the closing seconds of regulation. "Well I don't know where to start; that was a special experience for our team. It was a true team game," the coach said. "It was a team game as far as the city was concerned too - just to have this place packed and cheering for a team that had won 17 games the year before - that was a fantastic feeling for us. We didn't exactly show our appreciation during the first nine minutes but what we've said all along is that this team is not going to quit and we're going to play hard. "We got killed on the boards tonight by a very talented team but we found a way to win. It was exciting in there and it's a night I'll never forget." Iverson, who moved to Memphis from Detroit over the summer, finished with 11 points. It was a back-and-forth game down the stretch with both teams delivering big shots on a night little defense was played. The two biggest for the Kings were Udrih's driving layup with 1.6 seconds left in regulation and Martin's career-high tying seventh three-pointer, that gave Sacramento a 116-112 lead with 1:45 remaining in overtime. After Memphis's Rudy Gay missed two free throws and Andres Nocioni blocked a driving attempt from Mike Conley, Casspi dunked in transition to put the Kings up six. Nocioni's three-pointer with 48 seconds left gave Sacramento a 121-112 lead, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Spencer Hawes added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Udrih scored 16 for the Kings, who gave new coach Westphal his first win with the team. Zach Randolph had 30 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in overtime. Gay added 21 points and 12 rebounds and O.J. Mayo scored 22 for the Grizzlies, who fell to 2-26 all-time in Sacramento. Randolph had given Memphis the lead with a fallaway jumper over Kenny Thomas with 6.1 seconds left for the ninth lead change in the final four minutes of regulation. But Udrih answered for the Kings, Udrih did not play at all in the season opener but got the key minutes in this game ahead of rookie Tyreke Evans. Udrih scored nine points in the fourth quarter, delivering key passes and running the offense efficiently. Evans had three points, missing all four shots from the field. Iverson made his Memphis debut after missing the first three games while recovering from a partial right hamstring tear. Iverson was booed when he entered the game with 4:39 left in the first quarter. He started slowly before hitting a pair of jumpers late in the third quarter. Iverson finished with 11 points. The Kings gave the fans little to cheer about early, falling behind 17-4 on a dunk by Gay midway through the first quarter as they were outhustled for rebounds and loose balls. Martin quickly got the Kings back into the game, hitting a three-pointer just before the first-quarter buzzer that was part of a 17-2 run that gave Sacramento a one-point lead early in the second. AP contributed to this report

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