What a game. What. a. game.
First things first. We should not have won this game. We probably should have lost by about 30. Again the Kings started off incredibly slow, allowing Toronto to build the lead up to 17 in the first quarter alone. The Kings were getting outrebounded, outhustled, and outmaneuvered in the first half. But one thing this team does not do is give up, ever.
This was my first ever home opener so that was cool. The stadium wasn't completely full at first, as there were still a lot of fans watching the World Series on the TVs in the concourse, but the introductions were nice. The Kings had a bit of fun with the Raptors intro, playing the Barney theme song and showing photoshopped pictures of the Raptors players on Barney castmembers. It was pretty hilarious live, but I also partially blame it for the way Toronto came out on fire.
Game and Player Recaps after the jump, as well as Kingsflix video.
The first quarter was terrible. The Kings got into foul trouble extremely early, including DeMarcus Cousins with two in about the same amount of minutes. The Raptors got into the penalty within the first four and a half minutes. Reggie Evans was absolutely killing us on the boards, especially offensively. He had 10 offensive boards in the game, and he just could not be denied. The Kings also were getting ripped to shreds by the combo of Andrea Bargnani and Linas Kleiza. Guarding against Penetration and guarding the three point line have been the biggest problems for the team so far into the season, and it was the same case last night. Toronto was hitting threes left and right, and they were also able to take it inside with ease as well. The Kings managed to hit a few more of their open looks in the 2nd quarter (I believe they only hit one three in the entire first half), and cut the lead to 11 by halftime. It should also be noted that a huge cheer rang out through the arena once it was announced that the San Francisco Giants had won the World Series. Congratulations to them.
The Kings started the 2nd half a little bit like the first. Tyreke wasn't in the game and at first I thought coach was actually punishing him for what I considered lazy defense (we'll go into it in the player recaps) but it turns out he was sick. He came back and this time, the Beast Mode was on, carrying this team on his back. The defense was better this half, and the rebounding was much better, thanks to Dalembert. The Kings managed to cut the lead some more, although it almost was ruined by a head scratching turnover by Luther Head at the end of the quarter when he simply threw the ball straight to DeMar Derozan, who missed an open jumper, probably because he was so surprised.
The Fourth Quarter was intense. As the Kings began to comeback the crowd really, really got into it. This was the DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi quarter. DeMarcus was great on the offensive glass, and the Kings just started dumping the ball down to him and he was acting like a seasoned All-Star, taking it to the rack and finishing with ease. Omri hit some huge threes near the end, and the Kings pulled ahead by 8 before the Raptors made a mini-comeback and put a little bit of scare in the team, just like what happened in Cleveland and Minnesota. But the Kings won, capped off by a huge stop and a breakaway Casspi slam that ended up not counting, but it didn't matter. As the crowd began filing out after the victory, someone started a "Beat LA" chant that caught on. It was an amazing atmosphere, and I'm glad the team won after such a terrible start.
Tyreke Evans: Tyreke looked like a superstar at times, putting this team on his back and seemingly willing them to victory. He missed a lot of shots that he normally makes around the rim, and had a few unlucky rolls, but his jumper looked smooth tonight and I think he only took two and made both. Doing all of this while he wasn't feeling well just shows how special this kid is. I do have some criticisms of him, and it starts and ends with his defense. There is no doubt that with the right amount of work and effort put in, Tyreke, in time, could become one of the better defenders in the league. But right now, especially in the first half, he's a pretty lazy defender, sagging off his man and hoping his length will give him enough time to react. Sometimes it does, but most of the time it leads to an open look for the other team, especially on the three point line. He also gambles quite a bit for steals, which is great when he gets them, but bad the rest of the time when he either gets blown by or whistled for a foul. I love Tyreke, but he won't become a superstar until he ups his defensive intensity.
Beno Udrih: Beno continues his solid performances, perhaps the most consistent player on the team so far this year. He can score from just about anywhere. I had to wonder if perhaps he's a better finisher at the rim than Tyreke, and now that I'm home and looked it up, he is. Last year he finished 71% of his attempts at the rim. Tyreke was at 59.3%. Michael Conley just received a (undeserved) 5 year, $45 million extension. With how Beno has produced last year, and with it seemingly continuing this year, I don't think we can call him overpaid anymore.
Carl Landry: Carl struggled a bit against Toronto and Reggie Evans. Evans is an extremely pesky defender and did a good job of keeping Top Hat away from the paint and instead shooting jumpers. Evans also forced both of Carl's turnovers. So give credit to Reggie Evans, he was an absolute monster for Toronto, and he did a good job on Landry. Hopefully Carl has a bounceback game against Los Angeles, because we'll need him to bring his A game if we hope to win.
Omri Casspi: Another player who struggled in the first half, especially with his outside shot, which wasn't falling. He also was having difficulty guarding the physical Linas Kleiza. He came out with a renewed passion in the 2nd half, and this time his shot was good. He hit some absolutely huge ones, including the dagger that put us up by 8 late in the game. Omri also had a couple hustle plays that saved the possession for the Kings, including one where he dished to DeMarcus for the great finish. Omri was already a steal at where we drafted him last year, but how much of a steal seems to be increasing with each game.
DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins struggled perhaps the most to start the game. You could tell he did not know how to guard an atypical guy like Bargnani, who was using his quickness and shooting ability to fake him, beat him off the dribble, and get open. The whole team had trouble guarding Bargnani, but especially DMC. When he came back into the came, he switched onto Evans on defense and Landry would cover Bargnani. DeMarcus struggled on the boards defensively tonight, mainly because he didn't try as hard as Reggie Evans. He had good position, but he would wait for the ball instead of going to it, while Evans took the opportunity to steal it away. It cost us early in the game and perhaps DeMarcus will learn to respect the rebounding ability of all these NBA players soon. He more than made up for it with his performance in the 4th quarter though, grabbing a few offensive boards, and taking it inside repeatedly. 10 points in the quarter for DMC, and at times we were riding him to the finish line. He only played 17 minutes because of foul trouble, which still is the biggest worry with him, but he's making the most of his time, and I like how he's shown a tendency to come up big in the clutch so far in this young season.
Darnell Jackson: ARCO loves them some Juice Man. Jackson came in and played spectacularly, perhaps the sole bright spot of the first half. His defense was excellent, and he was getting us second chances on the glass. He also hit a long jumper with ease. I still am amazed at how he didn't get any run in Milwaukee. That's one thing I really like about Westphal. He'll give you your chance if you're willing to work, and Jackson definitely is.
Samuel Dalembert: We didn't get him for his offense thats for sure, and it was painfully obvious at times as he would fumble passes and miss wide open shots. But thats ok, because what he did do was finally take control of the defensive boards for us, and alter some shots. He didn't have any blocks, but the Raptors seemed more content to shoot long jumpers with Sammy in the game, and his length definitely bothered some players, including Kleiza on that final Raptors drive. I didn't realize he had 14 boards until I looked at the boxscore after the game, but we needed every one of them with the way Reggie Evans was killing us on the glass. For you advanced stats nerds, Dalembert had a Defensive Rebound Rate of 42.6%. That means he grabbed 42.6% of all defensive rebounds while he was in the game. He wasn't bad on the offensive glass either, grabbing 31.9%. Reggie Evans might have had 19 boards, and he was stellar on the glass (32.7% Total Rebound Rate), but Dalembert was actually better (absolutely ridiculous 37.3% Total Rebound Rate).
Jason Thompson: JT probably played his best game so far this season, finally hitting his shots, and playing within his abilities, instead of out of control as he has seemed at times. He was a big reason for us playing better in the 2nd quarter.
Francisco Garcia: Cisco hasn't scored in the last two games like he did in the first two games, but he's played solid defense, and I think it was Ziller who said that Cisco's best defensive ability is to block shots. Well, he blocked two more tonight, and only in 14 minutes. Not a great game for him overall, but he was able to contribute in limited minutes.
Luther Head: I like this guy. He had an off shooting night from the field, but he had some really big moments, including that pump fake three to get to the line (2nd time he's done that so far this season), as well as his actual three. He's also been doing an amazingly good job at distributing the ball without making mistakes, notching 3 assists with only 1 turnover in his 22 minutes, although that turnover was baffling.
Antoine Wright: Wright Guard made his first appearance for the Kings this season against his former teammates for defensive purposes, and I don't really remember much of what he did in the only three minutes of play, but it seemed like he covered his man well. He's a -5 for the game, but I believe that was due to the defensive lapses of others.
Donté Greene: I was surprised and a little dismayed that Westphal didn't put in Greene when he was putting in guys like Wright and Dalembert in for defense, especially when guys like Kleiza and Bargnani kept killing us. But I have to say this for Greene, he was the ultimate teammate, the first one off the bench to celebrate with his teammates and congratulate them. When Omri hit that dagger three? Donté was the first to run out and chest bump him. Perhaps Westphal feels he isn't in the best shape yet. I hope Donté finds a role in the rotation sometime soon though.
Final Notes: Now I can't tell you how excited I am that we have started this season 3-1, especially with all the adrenaline still flowing through my veins after this game, but there are some warning signs. This team continues to let opposing teams get wide open threes. This team continues to spot opposing teams big leads in the first half. Yes we've managed to come back in all four of our games so far, winning three of them, but had we played better competition, we'd likely be 0-4 right now. This is not a playoff team with the way the defense is playing right now. But with some defensive effort, 48 minutes of the game and not just the last 24? Maybe.
(You can hear the end of the "Beat LA" chant at the beginning of this interview with Dalembert)