It was tough to lose this one. —Jazz center Al Jefferson
SALT LAKE CITY — It seems a rivalry has been reborn.
Only statues and occasional glimpses remain of Karl Malone and John Stockton. Jeff Hornacek is coaching, Chris Webber is yukking it up on TV and who knows where in Serbia Vlade Divac happens to be.
There's a new cast of characters, including the allegiance-splitting Jimmer Fredette.
But make no mistake. A decade or so later, the Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings are back at bruising each other, boiling each other's blood, evoking crowed emotions and battling it out in physical and tight games like the small-market nemeses they used to be back in the day.
"It did get a bit chippy," Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward said. "That's just two teams wanting to win."
The lottery-bound Kings are the ones who got the last laugh on Friday night, delivering a painful blow to the playoff-pushing Jazz after officials confirmed that Al Jefferson's successful tip came about a millisecond too late in a 104-103 Sacramento victory at EnergySolutions Arena.
"It was tough to lose this one," Jefferson said.
Big Al was the one who delivered the winning punch just a week ago in Sacramento when he dropped in a go-ahead bucket with 0.9 seconds remaining to keep the Jazz's winning streak alive.
This time, however, Jazzland's new favorite villain — DeMarcus Cousins, not Fredette — put the final point on the scoreboard to give the visitors the win with his free throw at the 3.8-second mark.
Gordon Hayward had a chance to win it for Utah, but he drove the lane and missed a last-second shot. That sent Jefferson and Derrick Favors — Paul Millsap had fouled out — scrambling to tip in a putback.
Jefferson actually did that. But the game clock had already struck 0.0 — a fact verified by a video replay.
That sent the dejected Jazz back to their locker room with their third loss in four games, with heads lowered after suffering an almost unforgivable home setback to a team that only had 17 wins and with their team out of a playoff position.
"It's a tough loss," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, echoing Jefferson's thoughts. "We came out from the beginning and didn't have the energy we thought we would have. We were lethargic and let them hang around, and I didn't think we executed our offense like we have been."
Though the Jazz surpassed the century mark in scoring, they took a whopping 88 field goals and 52 free-throw attempts to get there. And, yes, that included a whole lot of misses against a zone. They only shot 35.2 percent from the field and were off on 14 freebies.
Cousins scored 27 points with 14 rebounds to lead the Kings, who outpowered the Jazz in the paint to the tune of 54 points to 42.
Favors had a dreadful shooting night, missing all 13 attempts, and Millsap only took six shots en route to just 12 points before getting his sixth foul.
"We just didn't' get the job done," said Jefferson, who topped Utah with 27 points and 16 rebounds. "They wanted it badder than we did and they got it. That's all I can say about the game."
Not surprisingly, Cousins had plenty to say — after, that is, he saluted the sellout crowd while standing on the court with a big smile after the Kings' second win over Utah this season.
"It feels good, especially playing through the type of adversity we played through tonight," Cousins said. "It was definitely a big win for us."
The beefy 6-11 Cousins had multiple run-ins with the 6-3, 192-pound Devin Harris in previous games, but the Jazz's starting point guard only played 20 minutes on this night and they didn't mix it up despite the King big man's threats from last week.
Cousins did end up with stitches after Hayward's left arm flailed out on a drive, bloodying the volatile center and sending him to the training room (after getting a technical foul).
"It was just incidental," Hayward said. "I'm just trying to hit the shot and his face kind of got in the way."
Cousins said the game got extra heated because the Jazz "get every call," but Earl Watson claimed the Kings got the most important call of the game when he was whistled with 3.8 seconds for reaching in on Sacramento's second-year big man.
"The last play I had all ball," said Watson, whom Corbin kept in because he thought he was playing better than Harris.
"Unfortunately, the referee was behind the play. He apologized after he called the foul."
Adding to the intense atmosphere, Watson and Cousins exchanged some words at the free-throw line after his first miss and the ensuing make.
"It's nothing. It's basketball. It's fun," said Watson, who finished with nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds. "It's competing. I was asking how he was doing. He said he's doing fine."
The Jazz don't have much time to rue this setback, which dropped them to 27-25 and into the No. 9 spot out West. Utah travels to Los Angeles for a game tonight against the Clippers.
"One of those games you just shake your head and you just try to move on from it," Watson added. "I think it's a tough loss and it's a wake-up call. We have a chance to go (tonight) and play a tough team and get a win in L.A. and life is great again. Hopefully it builds an edge (tonight)."
Adding to what Watson called on "odd game," Fredette was cheered and jeered every time he touched the ball. His four points ended up being much-needed by the Kings.
"It's a lot of fun to be able to play in here in front of the fans and everything," the former BYU star said. "It's a special place for me, obviously, for the last four years and always will be."
For now, Cousins thinks it is too.
"It was great," he said. "Especially to come out with a win and have them all go home with a sad face."