When Lawrence Frank went to the Hack-a-Jew strategy, intentionally putting Omri Casspi on the free throw line late in the fourth quarter with the winless Nets down by three possessions, I knew this game had ended.
It was spooky until then, with New Jersey quickly erasing Sacramento's 17-point halftime lead to get the game within two possessions in the third quarter. The Nets hung around, allowing the Kings a few spurts but always answering. It was just as nerve-wracking as that Parcheesi game I mentioned Friday. Basketball is a crazy game (cliche!), and when you get into a close game, it doesn't matter what your record is. Anything can happen.
But Frank, still coaching his ass off, decided to put the game in Casspi's hands. Omri has shot three-pointers about as well as free throws. But when Frank put him on the line, Casspi nailed 3-4 and ended that strategy quickly. And, oddly, though Omri has had his struggles from the stripe, I had a great feeling about each of those shots. There's something about Omri, some burgeoning swagger that leaks out in grimaces and chest pounds, but still somehow feels like it's being kept in check by an invisible lid. All this spirit we see from Casspi, and it's just the surface. This well runs deep.
The first quarter was a rather brilliant span of basketball for Sacramento, resulting in a 33-20 lead. The Kings defended well, holding N.J. to those 20 points over 25 possessions. A key was keeping the Nets off the offensive boards -- the Kings gave up two N.J. offensive rebounds in 14 opportunities in the first. That was the biggest difference between the first and the third, where New Jersey tallied nine offensive rebounds in 17 opportunities -- just a ridiculous number. One other second half problem was that the Kings didn't grab a single offensive rebound in the third or fourth quarters, a shocking finish given how good the Kings have been on the offensive glass this season. (Jason Thompson didn't have a single offensive rebound all game. Only Spencer Hawes -- with two -- had more than one among all Kings. Josh Boone had five, Chris Douglas-Roberts had three.)
Speaking of Douglas-Roberts: he's the reason Donte Greene received only six minutes in the second half. Greene didn't play poorly -- he's just not quick enough to guard two-guards like CD-R, and that seemed like a real problem with this particular starting line-up once Devin Harris warmed up his engine. (Harris was awful in the first half, great in the third, OK in the fourth.) Tyreke Evans (another great game, with 21 points on 18 shooting possessions, and eight rebounds) had trouble staying in front of the lightning quick Harris on a few consecutive possessions, and with Lopez demanding attention in the paint, CD-R was able to go one-on-one with The Show, and CD-R won. That resulted in a second half full of two- and three-PG line-ups. Thankfully, both Beno Udrih (21 on 12) and Sergio Rodriguez (six points, three assists, one turnover) played well. In the paint, Kenny Thomas eventually got his shot (after Sean May stunk up the joint in relief of the sore Hawes) at Lopez, and K-9 did fantastic work.
None of that good work matters, of course, if Omri misses a couple free throws to validate Frank's strategy. But the kid has swag, and it showed.