Determined, he said, to "just keep fighting," Thompson rebounded DeMarcus Cousins' miss and ripped home a one-handed dunk with 41.5 seconds left to lift the Kings to a 90-88 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday in the regular-season opener for both teams.
It was not just a typical opener for the Kings, though. The team was playing a regular-season game in front of its fans for the first time since the team was sold to Silicon Valley tycoon Vivek Ranadive in May, saving the franchise from relocating to Seattle.
The sellout crowd of 17,317 at Sleep Train Area started the night in a frenzy and remained that way throughout. The biggest roar was saved for Thomas, who missed all four of his shots before maneuvering his way into position to slam home Cousins' miss. His put-back dunk produced his only points of the night.
"It's a good feeling," Thompson said. "Obviously, I wish I had a better offensive game, but I didn't put my head down. I kept fighting, trying to defend, trying to get stops."
"He's one of the dominant big men in the game," Thomas said of Cousins. "That's what you expect from him. When he gets rolling, he's impossible to stop."
Ty Lawson had a team-high 20 points for the Nuggets, who lost in Brian Shaw's NBA coaching debut.
"The Kings, you have to take your hat off to them," Shaw said. "They made the plays that counted at the end."
The Nuggets hurt themselves by turning over the ball 18 times.
"I think our turnovers are up because we're just making careless passes and dribbling the ball out of bounds off our foot," Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson said. "I think once we learn each other more and get better and get comfortable with the system, it won't be a problem."
Thompson proved the biggest problem to Denver down the stretch.
"That was the play of the game," Malone said of Thompson's dunk. "I know he started last year and right now he's coming off the bench for us, but he's a pro and has a job to do for us."
Cousins, the mercurial fourth-year center out of Kentucky, made half of his 26 attempts from the field. Plagued by technical fouls and suspensions in previous seasons, he has been working with new minority owner Shaquille O'Neal, who watched and provided a few tips at halftime, Cousins said.
Cousins and Thomas combined on a nifty inside-out game throughout, opening up the paint and creating space for the Kings.
Still, the Nuggets almost ruined the party down the stretch. Darrell Arthur's 20-foot jumper, two free throws by Andre Miller and Hickson's driving layup tied the game and set up Thompson's heroics.
"They played our game tonight," Hickson said. "They beat us at our own game."
NOTES: O'Neal said before the game that he speaks often with Cousins and that the Kings will work to help Cousins take on a leadership role. O'Neal and Ranadive said the Kings would like to build their future around Cousins, a 23-year-old center who averaged 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds last season. ... O'Neal, who once famously labeled SACRAMENTO's team the "Queens" when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers, said he always loved the fans in SACRAMENTO. "This was always the toughest place to play," he said. ... Ranadive announced his team launched a new Kings App, which includes live-time scores, stats, an arena seat map and a digital cowbell. ... SACRAMENTO mayor Kevin Johnson presented a key to the city to NBA commissioner David Stern before the game. ... Lawson, who dealt with a groin injury during camp, was cleared to start. Anthony Randolph started at small forward for Denver in place of Wilson Chandler, but he managed just two points and two rebounds. Chandler was out due to a hamstring injury. ... The Nuggets formally announced they exercised the contract options on G Evan Fournier and F Kenneth Faried.