OAKLAND – Khalil Mack had a strip sack and recovered his own forced fumble that virtually secured a Raiders victory.
The star edge rusher did that last week against Carolina, and again on Sunday to beat Buffalo. The box score displays them the same, but this clincher was different. Mack slow-played Jordan Mills, jogging toward him before a strong blow knocked the right tackle back.
He cut inside the space he created, chased Tyrod Taylor down and swung down on the quarterback’s throwing hand. The ball came free and lay on the ground before him, waiting for him to pick up.
Then the Oakland Coliseum showed its appreciation with this: “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
Mack heard it, and wasn’t sure it was for him.
“Was Steph Curry in the crowd? I didn’t know he showed up today,” Mack said with a smile after Sunday's 38-24 victory over Buffalo. “It is what it is. I’m just ballin’ and trying to make plays.”
Mack is making tons of them. In addition to his strip sack and fumble recovery, he tipped a pass Nate Allen intercepted with ease. He finished with seven tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Mack now has 58 tackles, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception on the season.
Many of those plays came in the clutch. Mack isn’t just a stat collector. He shows up in important moments, when his team needs them.
“Those are times you live for, making plays in those moments,” Mack said. “You want to step up and stamp the win. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
That makes him extremely valuable to the Raiders. Even so, the MVP is typically reserved for offensive players. Defensive Player of the Year? Mack has to be a frontrunner in that race.
“Khalil Mack is really making his mark on these ball games,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He just keeps showing up huge, and that’s what great players do. Khalil’s a great player."
It looked like the game was over before it even started. Someone put a lid on the Sacramento Kings basket in the first half Sunday night at Madison Square Garden and the result was a miserable 14-of-49 from the field before the break and a huge deficit.
But then the Kings came charging back. Riding big second half performances from DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, the Kings nearly erased a 21-point lead. In the end, Sacramento’s slow start was just too much to overcome and they fell to the Knicks by a final of 106-98.
Derrick Rose turned back the clock. The veteran point guard found another gear on his way to 20 points, six assists and five rebounds.
With Rose breaking the Kings down, Carmelo Anthony found open shots all over the floor. He finished with 19 points, but shot just 8-for-20 from the field.
7-foot-3 big man Kristaps Porzingis started 1-of-10 from the field, but still managed to drop in 15 points and grab 14 rebounds. Brandon Jenning chipped in 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench.
Cousins was the only one who could hit a shot early for the Kings and even he wasn’t efficient. The Kings All-Star big finished the night with a game-high 36 points on 9-for-30 shooting. He added 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the loss.
Gay shook off a slow start and got it going in the third. Like Cousins, Gay stuffed the stat sheet with 22 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Darren Collison added 13 points and six assists in 38 minutes of action. Kosta Koufos couldn’t buy a basket, but still managed to wrangle 11 rebounds.
Willie Cauley-Stein and Omri Casspi played big minutes in the third as the Kings wiped out the Knicks' lead. Cauley-Stein scored nine points on 4-for-7 shooting and Casspi chipped in six points and three rebounds.
Rose attacked the Kings from the opening tip. He may not be the same player that won the 2011 NBA MVP award, but he can still play at a high level.
The Kings were left for dead after the first 24 minutes of action, but they outscored New York 36-26 in the third to make it a game. They made close in the fourth, but once again, they didn’t have the legs to finish the comeback.
Sacramento continues to avoid the injury bug. They traveled 12 healthy players on their five-game road trip, with their three first rounders staying back with the Reno Bighorns. All 12 are available for Wednesday’s game in Dallas.
Sacramento finishes their road trip on Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. They return home where they’ll face the New York Knicks for a second time this week on Friday evening.