SACRAMENTO, CALIF.: He challenged their pride, questioned their heart and openly wondered if he had any quitters or losers on the roster.
Finally, after a week of sleepwalking through games and a practice, the Cavaliers responded the way coach Byron Scott had hoped.
Ramon Sessions returned to form, Samardo Samuels continued taking hard charges and the Cavs attacked the basket in the second half to leave Sacramento with a 97-93 victory over the Kings on the first stop of a brief three-game road trip.
Those rooting for the Cavs to finish with the league's worst record, and by extension have the best odds at the No. 1 pick in this summer's draft, will be disappointed to know the Cavs now lead the Kings by three games for the league's worst record.
But Scott has chastised his team four times in a week in an effort to make sure they stay focused and play hard for the final month of the season. For that reason, he was thrilled to see the Cavs end their four-game losing streak.
"I expect them to compete. I expect that effort and that passion every night,'' he said. "When there's another guy across from you with a different jersey on, he's trying to kick your butt. That has to test your manhood. No matter what the situation is, you cannot allow that to be done on a night-to-night basis.''
The Cavs won the game in the final minute. With the score tied at 93, the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins crashed into Samuels near the baseline. Samuels took one bump, then fell to the ground the second time Cousins hit him. Cousins was called for the charge, similar to how Samuels took big charges against Carmelo Anthony in a win over the New York Knicks two weeks ago.
"Ain't no way I'm going to bang with Cousins,'' Samuels said. "If he hit me one more time that hard, I know they've got to call something — either a foul on me or a foul on him. So I went down and they called a charge, thankfully.''
Sessions tore through the Kings' defense for a reverse layup with 18 seconds left, giving the Cavs a 95-93 lead. Then Samuels did it again, defending Cousins on the Kings' final chance to tie.
Cousins missed the point-blank look and was upset he didn't get a foul called, allowing the Cavs to escape with a much-needed victory.
"We let that one get away,'' Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "We should have won that game.''
The Kings led by 10 in the first half, thanks to a combination of Cavs turnovers and good work in the post by the Kings' big men. The Kings doubled up the Cavs on points in the paint in the first half, outscoring them 32-16.
That was completely reversed in the second half, when the Cavs made it a point to attack the basket and scored 32 points in the lane.
Sessions was 7 of 8 in the second half, all on drives to the basket, and finished with team highs of 20 points and six assists. It was a much-needed boost for Sessions, who entered shooting 30 percent for the month of March (21 of 70).
"Shots were just going in,'' Sessions said. "I'm playing the same way, trying to attack the rim. The shots were going in tonight.''
J.J. Hickson had 17 points and eight rebounds, Luke Harangody had 15 big points off the bench after missing all eight of his shots in Sunday's loss to Oklahoma City and Samuels finished with 13 points for the Cavs.
Marcus Thornton had 23 points, Samuel Dalembert had 16 points and 10 assists and Cousins had 11 points and 16 rebounds for the Kings, who couldn't translate their decided height advantage into a victory.
"We battled, we competed, we played hard,'' Scott said. "We're going to be oversized most nights. I think our guys understand that. The only way we can negate that size is by playing hard and being ready and getting in the right positions. I thought we did a good job of that.''
The Cavs won't have long to celebrate. They face the Portland Trail Blazers tonight on the second of a back-to-back.
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