The Sacramento Kings could have won this game. The Sacramento Kings probably should have won this game. Down by 14 after a big early 3rd quarter run by the Bulls, the Kings clawed their way back into the game but failed to take advantage of a myriad of chances to take control of the game. Missed layups, bad turnovers, allowing offensive boards. Every time the Kings were able to get it close, something happened that allowed the Bulls to stretch out the game. It was frustrating to watch.
So why do I feel so encouraged after this game?
For one, the Kings played one of the toughest defenses in the league. Even without star Derrick Rose, the Bulls are a formidable team, and are perhaps even stronger defensively without him. Their rotations are solid and they did a phenomenal job of getting back in transition and not allowing the Kings to get out in the fast break. Both the Bulls and the Kings committed a ton of turnovers, 21 for Sacramento and 18 for Chicago. But while the Bulls were able to score 25 points off of the Kings turnovers, they allowed Sacramento to get just 13 points off of theirs. The Bulls defense also excels at contesting shots without fouling, something the Kings have yet to learn. Chicago got 33 attempts at the line to just 16 for the Kings. Joakim Noah had 12 attempts himself.
Speaking of Joakim Noah, he was a monster tonight on both ends of the court. Noah finished as the game's leading scorer with 23 points but also had 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals, and 3 blocks in 40 minutes of action. His presence in the paint alone altered several potential Kings buckets, and on offense he and Luol Deng got the Bulls several second chances. Noah was definitely the player of the game.
Back to the Kings, Tyreke Evans was the clear winner of player of the night. Evans was fantastic on both ends of the court. 21 points on 8-13 from the field, with 8 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and just 2 turnovers in 39 minutes. He also played some absolutely stellar defense on Luol Deng down the stretch, and was a big reason why Deng shot just 3-13 from the field. His jumper also looked a lot smoother than we've seen previously.
DeMarcus Cousins did not have a good opening night. While he scored 14 points on 7-14 from the field and grabbed 7 rebounds and tallied 3 steals and 2 blocks, he also played just 25 minutes thanks to 4 fouls and committed a whopping 7 turnovers. He didn't total 7 turnovers in one game at all last season and to have that many errors in just 25 minutes of action is just atrocious. Cuz also was a part of several of the Kings missed opportunities in the 4th quarter, turning it over down low, taking bad shots and also failing to box out Carlos Boozer on one possession and allowing him the offensive rebound.
DeMarcus' frontcourt partners didn't have nights to remember either. Jason Thompson started off slow before heating up in the 3rd quarter. He finished with 8 points, 8 boards, 2 assists and a block, but also had 4 fouls and didn't play all that great on defense against Carlos Boozer. James Johnson probably doesn't want to revisit this night anytime soon either as he was atrocious in his first official game as a Sacramento King, at least offensively. Johnson scored just 2 points on 1-8 from the field and committed 4 turnovers. Defensively he was a bit better, with 3 steals and good defensive effort in 21 minutes.
Isaiah Thomas had a rough start to his sophomore campaign, scoring just 10 points and managing just 1 assist to 3 turnovers. Kirk Hinrich did a phenomenal job hounding Isaiah and making him give up the ball early. Isaiah was supplanted down the stretch by newcomer Aaron Brooks, who was part of a lineup that gave the Bulls fits down the stretch.
Brooks stat-line doesn't look all that great with 7 points on 3-10 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 6 fouls in 23 minutes, but he was playing with a lot of effort on both ends of the court. He earned some serious brownie points with me when during the 4th quarter he forced a turnover by diving to the ground. The dive cost him his front tooth, but he kept on playing anyway.
Marcus Thornton was also a big factor in the 2nd half after a rough start. Thornton went into "Buckets" mode early on in the 4th quarter, helping the Kings cut the deficit all the way to three points. The on one of the easiest shots he's attempted in his NBA career, he missed a wide open reverse layup that would have cut the game to just 1 point. These are exactly the kind of opportunities Sacramento missed all night.
Rookie Thomas Robinson looked both good and bad. His effort was good and he did a lot better job of attacking the basket instead of settling for jumpers, even if he didn't convert. Defensively, he got lost on rotations a few times, but he still played like a pest. Robinson almost plays with too much energy at times, and once he learns to control that and become more patient, I think he'll have a big boost to his overall production.
The other major rotation player of the night was Chuck Hayes, who saw 18 minutes off the bench. Hayes was by far the best defender of Boozer and Noah that the Kings had, and he tied Tyreke Evans for team lead in assists (3). Francisco Garcia saw 8 minutes off the bench and scored 5 points in that time.
The effort on both ends of the floor for this Kings team was much improved from last year. It was just little mistakes that piled up that cost them the game. Mistakes like fouling a three point shooter out of an inbound play. Or failing to box out the opposing team's big man. Or not calling a timeout when you can't inbound the ball and turning it over on a five-second call. These are the kind of mistakes the Kings made and the Bulls didn't. But these mistakes are cut down by experience and tonight was a good lesson for the Kings. I'm sure most of them know that they could have won this ballgame, so I'm hopeful that they bring this same effort and energy every night. If they do, the wins will come.
Welcome back Kings basketball, we missed you.
- Isaiah was giving the ball early and often to Tyreke Evans to run the offense. I wonder if by design or because of the Bulls defense. I think it was a little bit of both.
- I did not like when Keith Smart made Tyreke the first person he subbed out with the way Tyreke was playing in the first quarter. Rise the Hot Hand.
- I also did not like the "All Bench Player" lineup he used for much of the 2nd quarter (Brooks, Thornton, Garcia, Robinson, Hayes). There needs to be more of a mix between the starters and bench players I think.
- We finally found out the "personal reason" that has caused John Salmons to be away from the team. His wife was having a baby. Congratulations to John, who will rejoin the team Friday against Minnesota.
- 1 game, 1 technical for DeMarcus Cousins.
- Highest +/- on the Kings tonight: Jimmer Fredette at +2. He played 6 seconds.
- Nostradumbass of the Night: drock1331 with 4 points. He guessed Bulls win, Hinrich with 7 assists and Cousins with 4 fouls. I was the runner-up with 3 points, guessing the Bulls win and that they'd score 93 as well as Cousins with 4 fouls. I was two points off from guessing the exact score. Pretty neat.