In his post-game comments, Houston coach Rick Adelman blamed a lack of first half defense for the Rockets loss. Obviously, he's right: the Sacramento offense hummed through the first half, especially in the early second quarter.
But a big factor was also the Kings defense -- or Houston offense, depending on how you look at it -- as Sacramento held the Rockets to 37.5 percent shooting in the second quarter, and 31 percent shooting in the fourth.
For the full game, the Kings were able to finish with an above average offense (109 points in 96 possessions, for a 113 offensive rating) and an above average defense (104 defensive rating). Against a good team likely to make the playoffs. Despite a bad performance from the starter with the biggest advantage on paper (Spencer Hawes) and no real stand-out bench scoring efforts (though Ime Udoka had a quiet 10). It was about the least fluky performance imaginable.
Even if the most important shots were an Andres Nocioni leaning shot clock beater from 21 feet, a Tyreke Evans stepback 22-footer, and a Tyreke Evans shot clock beating bank shot from 22 feet.
As expected, Jason Thompson attacked the offensive glass. He did most of his damage early: seven of his nine offensive rebounds came in the first half. But that sort of damage is extensive: JT had as many offensive boards as the entire Houston roster, which is not just high praise for Shock, but for Spencer Hawes (seven defensive rebounds, nine overall in 27 minutes), Evans (six defensive boards), Kenny Thomas (six defensive boards in 19 minutes) and Nocioni (six defensive boards in 27 minutes). The Kings did excellent work keeping the Rockets -- a top-10 offensive rebounding team -- off the glass. It's really an amazing turn of events.
The shooting surplus -- the Kings shot an effective field goal percentage of .531, but are at .488 on the season -- isn't sustainable. The Rockets shot well below their season average, despite quite a few open looks from deep late in the game. I thought Beno Udrih played solid defense for Beno Udrih; at the same time, Aaron Brooks went 4-of-13 because he missed some fairly clean looks, not because of the Kings defense. Give credit to Hawes (who despite an overall miserable game rotated well in help defense), Udoka (a ridiculously sound ball hawk) and Thomas (never caught out of position on defense) for keeping the Rockets from piling on lay-ups ... but don't expect that to happen every night.
I'm pretty amazed at how balanced the offense has been without Kevin Martin. That's not a commentary on Martin -- if you're Kevin Martin, you should be taking 30 shots a game -- but more on Evans, who hasn't taken over the offense to the degree some young stars (think O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook) would. You sense some occasional discomfort between Evans and Udrih -- where one has the ball in the offense and the other really calls for it despite not being in scoring position -- but it hasn't affected the game to this point. Where the Martin absence has affected the offense most is in getting lots of shots for Thompson and the small forward, now Nocioni, who surely should be shooting the ball more frequently than Desmond Mason did. Thompson ended up with 20 shooting possessions (15 FGAs, 10 FTAs) against Houston, and Evans had 18, Udrih had 15, Nocioni had 14 and Hawes had 12. Compare that with Houston's so-called five-man symphony, which saw Ariza with 23 shooting possessions, Scola with 18, Brooks with 14 and Battier with 12. The Kings, who have a clear Alpha right now, were more balanced than the Team of Balance. Pretty impressive self-control by said Alpha. Solid judgment.
Udoka is just about perfect for this team. You wish he had a touch more skill handling the ball, but you could say that about every defensive specialist in the team (Battier included). To have a player that strong able to play shooting guard off the bench ... it's something different than Dahntay Jones gave Denver last season, but similar. It's a boon. Udoka's acquisition is looking brilliant right about now.
5-4. One game over .500. Seventh in the West, a solid third in the Pacific (ahead of those resurgent Clippers). It's the stuff of dreams. Dreams only Kings fans could have, I grant you. But dreams nonetheless.