There were plenty of non-Kevin Martin happenings that took place in Tuesday's win over the Clippers, but they're almost all worth overlooking because his return and what it might mean matters so very much more.
A team that's widely seen as low on talent welcomes an All-Star caliber scorer back into the chaos, hoping the lost season could be at least mildly intriguing with him helping out. I spent much of the game story trying to explain the situation regarding his left ankle, but there was more to tell. Mainly, the emotional side.
Martin had done the whole long-absence thing before. Yet when I asked him whether this 22-game absence (with a two-game return in between) was as tough as last season's groin injury that kept him out of 17 games, he said it wasn't even close.
"Neither one of them was fun, but this one was tougher," Martin said. "Just because it was more than the ankle, (and) I thought I was going to be out there sooner. It just wasn't happening. And then I got to the point where I realized it wasn't in my hands anymore and that I'd just have to sit back and do what they (the training staff) tell me until it got better."
Having talked to the Kings coaches and even Martin's family and friends about the latest challenge to his career, the consensus was that he was down in the dumps like never before. Martin is generally seen as an upbeat personality, but he had grown impatient with the recovery process while being forced to watch a season he had worked so hard for slip away while he wore street clothes.
And the longer he was out, the more the questions arose. Until I prodded him for details about the ankle in a near-empty locker room Tuesday night, the information had been minimal and many fans had begun to wonder if this was a case of Martin being soft. But talk of bone bruises and strained ligaments paints a more accurate picture than "sore left ankle," although Martin said he paid no mind to the doubts coming from a frustrated fan base.
"It didn't affect me," he said of the scrutiny. "With what I went through my first year (when he hardly played and was left off the playoff roster), you think anything can affect me in my career now? You think I'm worried about that? No. Inside this organization, we knew what was going on and we got (the ankle) better."
More observations that weren't fit
typed out quickly enough on deadline to print ...
* Martin logged 30 minutes and admitted that he was tired in the fourth quarter, along with "the other nine guys." Whether it was fatigue or just bad timing, he was 0 for 5 in the fourth quarter. Not that the start didn't include a few misfirings as well, as he had at least two airballs in the first half.
* A defensive juggernaut in the making? Not quite, but this was progress for a night. The Kings held the Clippers to 15.8 percent shooting in the period (3 of 19), with Baron Davis and Fred Jones combining to go 0 of 9. Overall, the Clippers' 35.7 percent shooting was an opponent's season low for the Kings, besting the 40.2 percent allowed to the Lakers in a win Dec. 9.
Yet defense had nothing to do with Marcus Camby's ill-timed miss with 46.9 seconds left, when he was alone on the left side of the paint and his nine-foot attempt clanked high off the backboard and had no chance of even drawing rim on the bank. Paul Davis fouled Brad Miller after he grabbed the rebound, and the Kings center's free throws wound up being game-winners.
* The Kings' offense down the stretch was downright offensive, as they went 3 minutes, 42 seconds without scoring between Jason Thompson's dunk at the 4:27 mark and Miller's free throws with 45.7 seconds left. They were far from sharpshooters in the fourth, hitting just 7 of 21 shots (33 percent).
* Until Tuesday night, the Kings had lost all 20 games in which they trailed entering the fourth quarter. The streak was broken, however, as they trailed 73-72 entering the third before pulling it out to improve the mark to 1-20.
* Bobby Brown was the point guard providing the much-needed spark in the third quarter, and Bobby Jackson was the point guard providing much-needed defense late in the fourth. All of which meant starter Beno Udrih played just 10 second-half minutes.
Brown, specifically, was the catalyst during a 16-2 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters and turned an eight-point deficit into a six-point lead with 10:13 left. Miller capped the run with a 20-footer assisted by Brown, who had seven points on 3-of-3 shooting and one assist (I swear he had two) in seven minutes.
"He played really well, and aggressive and attacking," Kings interim coach Kenny Natt said. "That's the kind of play that we need out of him. Often times, guys want to play but when someone steps ahead of you and you can see that they're taking your playing time, (players) tend to elevate their game and their effort." - Sam Amick