MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Rudy Gay has heard all the criticism and been confronted with the harsh reality that the last two teams to trade him have flourished with him gone.
Now that he is being counted on to be a leader for these young, impressionable Sacramento Kings, Gay is starting to have an effect on more than just the box score.
Gay had 33 points, five rebounds and six assists, and Isaiah Thomas had 26 points and seven assists to lead the Kings to a 111-108 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.
''He's such a pro,'' Kings coach Michael Malone said of Gay, who was held in check in a loss to Indiana the previous night. ''After the game in Indiana, I said a couple of words and he stepped up and apologized to his teammates for how he played last night. He felt he didn't show up.''
He sure did on Wednesday night.
Gay hit 12 of 19 shots and Derrick Williams had 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting in his first game at Target Center since the Timberwolves traded him to the Kings in November. DeMarcus Cousins had 20 points and 11 boards, and the Kings shot 55 percent to win for the fourth time in five games.
Kevin Love had 27 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota (18-20). But Ricky Rubio committed five of Minnesota's 12 turnovers and the Wolves fell to 0-11 in games decided by four points or less.
''We're so hands-off defensively,'' Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman lamented. ''It almost takes an act of Congress to foul somebody. You have to get after people in this league.''
The Kings seemed to have the game well in hand with a nine-point lead and under two minutes to play.
But Love hit two 3-pointers and J.J. Barea converted a three-point play that cut the deficit to 109-108 with 4.6 seconds remaining.
Gay hit a big 3 and Cousins hit a couple of clutch free throws down the stretch and Barea heave at the buzzer fell short.
''I just knew I had to come out here and perform for this team, for my teammates,'' Gay said. ''There's still more I could've done.''
The Kings had a three-game winning streak come to a crashing halt the previous night when they were drubbed by the Indiana Pacers. But they showed more energy, aggressiveness and spark from the opening tip against a team that had the previous two days off and is scratching and clawing to stay in the playoff conversation in the powerful Western Conference.
''I keep saying we're better than our record indicates but until we go out there and win games in a row and beat teams that we feel we're supposed to beat, we won't go anywhere,'' Love said. ''We definitely need to start winning.''
The Timberwolves' most damaging loss this season was delivered thanks in large part to an old friend.
Williams spent a little more than two underwhelming seasons in Minnesota to start his career. The former No. 2 overall pick just never fit in with the Rick Adelman's corner offense, getting stuck behind Love and veteran Dante Cunningham on the depth chart. Before he was traded to Sacramento at the end of November, Williams was averaging a paltry 14.7 minutes per game and was a healthy scratch four times.
On Wednesday night, he resembled much more closely the player that the Wolves thought they were getting in 2011. He shot 5 of 6 in the first half, and four of those were soaring dunks that flashed the kind of athleticism that was on display too little while he was here. When Wolves shooting guard Shved was caught on him on a switch, Williams backed him down forcefully and threw down a two-handed slam.
Williams stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup and also threw down a lob pass in transition from Jimmer Fredette in transition that drew a big gasp from fans who wanted to see that in a Timberwolves uniform.
''Overall I've just been playing my game, and that's what coach wants me to do, play aggressive,'' Williams said.
Cousins got going in the second half, scoring all but two of his points to help the Kings grind out their fifth road win of the season in 15 games.
NOTES: Kings G Ben McLemore left the game in the second quarter with a sprained left ankle. ... Gay has scored 20 or more 7 of last 10 and 11 times in 17 games since he was acquired in a trade from Toronto. ... The Kings won for just the fifth time on the road in 15 games this season.