SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- It's unlikely Isaiah Thomas has ever stepped on a basketball court and didn't think he was the best player.
Never mind that at 5-foot-9, he's the shortest player on the court almost every time he plays. He doesn't back down.
So when Golden State's Stephen Curry, anointed by pundits as the next NBA superstar, got going, Thomas was willing to step up to the challenge.
Curry got in Thomas' face during the third quarter. Thomas didn't back down.
"He's a great player," Thomas said. "I give him all the respect. But when we step between those lines, it's me against you."
Thomas didn't flinch and propelled the Kings to a 91-90 preseason win over the Warriors on Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings rallied from 17 points down in the third quarter and won on John Salmons' 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds left. They outscored Golden State 21-9 in the fourth quarter.
But it was Thomas who put the Kings back in the game. He scored a team-high 21 points and grabbed six rebounds to go with three assists and two steals.
Curry scored 14 of his 24 points in the third quarter. Thomas took on the task of making it tough on Curry to end the game. Curry scored only three points in the fourth.
"It wasn't about (Curry)," Thomas said. "I could care less about him. It was about bringing energy."
Thomas did just that off the bench again. That could be a role he fills this season if coach Michael Malone starts Greivis Vasquez at point guard.
But Malone has learned never to count out Thomas, and that includes the competition to start at point guard.
"(Thomas is) like that guy with the Eveready battery on his shoulder," Malone said. "You've got to knock it off. He's got a chip on his shoulder, he's got a huge heart, and I'll never bet against Isaiah."
Malone knows Curry's shooting exploits well, having been on Golden State's coaching staff the previous two seasons. During timeouts, Malone blasted his team for "disrespecting" Curry with nonchalant defense.
Thomas decided he would have no more of Curry's open looks.
"I give Isaiah so much credit because he finally took the challenge and made Steph work," Malone said. "Steph is an All-Star, but I thought Isaiah did a great job of guarding him in that fourth quarter."
The Kings prevailed even though DeMarcus Cousins fouled out with 7:12 to play on a double foul after falling to the floor with Andrew Bogut. Foul trouble limited Cousins to 21 minutes. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Malone said he is still undecided about the starting lineup for next Wednesday's season opener against Denver. Vasquez, Jimmer Fredette, Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Cousins started Wednesday.
Marcus Thornton, two seasons removed from leading the Kings in scoring at 18.7 points per game, watched as Fredette and rookie Ben McLemore took up the minutes at shooting guard.
Malone has said it's not feasible to give three shooting guards a fair amount of playing time in a game. Fredette played 21 minutes Wednesday, and McLemore played 25.
Malone said after the game Thornton definitely would play in Friday's preseason finale at the Los Angeles Clippers.
Luc Mbah a Moute played for the first time since Oct. 7 at Golden State and had three rebounds in six minutes for the Kings.
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