During the first half, there was a fan near courtside that tried and failed to get Darren Collison’s attention.
The fan wanted to let Collison know he didn’t think he was any good when he played for the Indiana Pacers and that he still isn’t any good.
That fan spoke too soon.
By the end of the night, Collison was making big shots, finding open teammates and helping the Kings to a 108-106 victory over the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
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This was Darren Collison’s game. We don’t win this game without Darren.
George Karl, Kings coach
“This was Darren Collison’s game,” said Kings coach George Karl. “We don’t win this game without Darren.”
Collison came off the bench for 24 points and five assists. He keyed a 13-4 run to start the fourth quarter after Indiana cut the Kings’ 15-point halftime lead to two. Collison had two points and three assists during that run.
That was enough to withstand another Pacers rally, thanks to Rudy Gay’s tying jumper with 1:33 to play and two free throws by DeMarcus Cousins with 1:05 to go that gave the Kings their 108-106 lead.
Collison has had to adjust this season to being a reserve, just one season after being signed by the Kings to be their starting point guard. When the Kings signed Rajon Rondo, Collison was relegated to a backup role.
Before the start of the season, Karl said Collison would be important to Sacramento’s success, even as a reserve. That’s been the case most of the season, as he’s usually in the game in the fourth quarter.
As far as playing 30, 35 minutes, getting starter minutes, I can’t complain.
Darren Collison, who is coming off the bench for the Kings this season
“(I’m) not all the way comfortable, and that has a lot to do with me coming off the bench,” Collison said. “Obviously, everybody looks at me as a starter, and that’s more where my (comfort) is. But as far as playing 30, 35 minutes, getting starter minutes, I can’t complain. I’m just doing the best I can in the minutes I have and continue to run the team.”
Collison was asked if watching Rondo provided any extra incentive Wednesday. Rondo got the Kings off to a good start and finished with 13 points and 16 assists.
“My job off the bench is totally different,” Collison said. “I’m going to go in there and try and uplift the second unit in making sure we work and riding that same wave. He’s doing what he has to do for his unit, and I’m doing what I have to do for my unit.”
Collison lifted the entire team Wednesday with his energetic play. He made 11 of 17 shots. And while Rondo had nine turnovers, Collison had just one.
“I thought Darren had great presence on the court the whole game,” Karl said. “In the first half, I thought his pushing the ball, a lot of the tempo of the game was created by him. I thought the first five minutes of the fourth quarter were crucial for us. We got great shots; we got flow to our offense.”
The Kings finished their four-game trip 2-2. They managed to beat both teams with winning records on the trip (Toronto, Indiana) but lost to the two teams with losing records (Minnesota, Washington).
Collison said he emphasized to the team the importance of starting the fourth quarter well, knowing the Kings were coming off a loss to the Wizards in which they were specifically beaten in the fourth quarter.
“We needed that,” Gay said. “We definitely needed that. For the most part, it’s the first real big game he’s had this season. It was big for us. We needed every point he scored.”
Collison had a little extra motivation playing against his old team, where injuries and the emergence of George Hill led to him being traded to Dallas in 2012 after two seasons.
Collison’s confidence hasn’t been an issue, but he had to admit a night like Wednesday is a boost.
“It feels great,” Collison said. “When you have it rolling, you have it rolling. Your teammates feed off of you, and they continue to look for you, and tonight was my night.”