The 2014 NBA Summer League title game on Monday saw the Sacramento Kings defeat the Houston Rockets, 77-68, at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Second-year point guard Ray McCallum kept Sacramento in it almost by himself, tearing it up for 29 points to lead all scorers, including nine in the final 10-minute frame. The 2014 draft's No. 8 overall pick, Nik Stauskas, added 10 points of his own to the Kings' winning cause.
With little suspense, the NBA tweeted that McCallum was the game's MVP:
Zach Harper of CBS Sports felt McCallum was performing at a high enough level to warrant championship MVP consideration—regardless of whether Sacramento won or lost:
Ray McCallum may be the Summer League championship MVP regardless of the outcome of the game.— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) July 22, 2014
ESPN's Reggie Rankin praised McCallum's game:
Watching the NBA Summer League & Ray McCallum is showing how to play the point, run O, decisions, when to pass and score. Young PG's watch— Reggie Rankin (@ReggieRankin) July 22, 2014
Isaiah Thomas, who left the Kings in a sign-and-trade for the Phoenix Suns as a restricted free agent, congratulated McCallum on his sensational performance:
Happy for my guy @RayMac3 keep taking advantage of your opportunity fam— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas2) July 22, 2014
A more balanced scoring effort allowed Houston to remain within striking distance, though. Three Rockets who have stood out in the Summer League stepped up once again, as rookie Nick Johnson (17), Donatas Motiejunas (16) and Isaiah Canaan (15) all scored in double figures.
The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen noted how Houston had to overcome an early shooting slump, which was what wound up costing the Rockets the game:
Summer Kings up 36-34 on Summer Rockets at half of SL title game. D-Mo w 10p, but lot of summer league legs out there. Hou shooting 31.7 %.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) July 22, 2014
After trailing at halftime, Houston came out strong to outscore the Kings, 18-14, in the third quarter to go up by two. The Rockets then scored the first six of the fourth to seize control amid a 10-2 run, building a seemingly insurmountable advantage.
Then the momentum swung, as last year's lottery pick, Ben McLemore, stepped up for Sacramento:
McLemore has 7 points in the fourth quarter. He was 1/9 with two points through three quarters.— Jason Jones (@mr_jasonjones) July 22, 2014
McLemore has been criticized for not being aggressive enough, but it was an extremely positive sign that he overcame a terrible start to perform when it mattered most.
One big shot down the stretch was part luck, part skill. It came courtesy of McCallum's heroics in draining a running three-pointer with the shot clock expiring, which Jonathan Santiago of ESPN described with eloquence:
Ray McCallum drilled a three from deeeeeep.— Jonathan Santiago (@itsjonsantiago) July 22, 2014
Ra'Shad James rose to the occasion in registering a plus-29 off the bench for the Kings, per NBA.com. Fred Katz of RotoWire felt that statistic may have exaggerated James' actual impact:
Ra'Shad James had a +29 in the Kings' win. No one else on either side was better than +6. Got to love plus/minus.— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) July 22, 2014
But James did contribute 12 key points that helped pick up the slack when McLemore was slumping from the field.
Yes, this showdown may have occurred in the dog days of the NBA offseason, but there was plenty at stake. The Summer League championship also featured several prominent attendees:
Truth be told, this game carried a lot more weight for the Kings than it did for Houston. That's because most of the key Rockets contributors weren't participating, as opposed to the likes of McCallum, McLemore and Stauskas. All of them are being counted on to help pull the Kings out of oblivion in the Western Conference.
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"He was real helpful for me," said McCallum. "Kind of took me under his wing a lot and always really helpful. I could always ask him any questions and he would always call out, point out things with me. We’d watch film together and he was great for me to have."
Summer League competition isn't near the level of NBA regular-season play, yet this could be a huge source of confidence for Sacramento's young core to rally around. Seeing McLemore break out of his early funk is particularly inspiring, but the Kings still have a long way to go to be a contender in the West.
As for Houston, it was a solid run through the Summer League, though it should prove rather inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. At the very least, the Rockets have to be encouraged with how their younger prospective role players showed out in Las Vegas.