What. A. Game.
Tonight's win over a very talented Lakers team wasn't necessarily a "must-win" game in that if the Kings had lost, their season would be over. If the team had lost, we'd be disappointed sure, but not surprised. This just makes it all the better that they won, and did so by playing their best basketball of the season.
For the first time all year, things finally seemed to click, on both ends of the court, from the players to the coaching staff. Sacramento's offense got off to a ho-hum start, looking like it was going to be another one of those nights. John Salmons was the only one who really got anything going in that first quarter, scoring the first 9 points for the Kings. The bench unit that came into the game for the second quarter upped the ante though, with the Kings quickly erasing that six point deficit to take a three point lead thanks to some hot shooting by Marcus Thornton and good defense on the other end. The bench kept the game competitive, and when the starters came in again, they responded. Tyreke Evans especially did a lot of damage with his distribution, dishing out three assists in the quarter. Evans finished with six assists for the night and looked like the point guard most of the time. For the most part, it worked out, especially when he had a couple of shooters to kick out to.
Sacramento and Los Angeles spent the rest of the half trading baskets with the Kings trying to get the lead back. They did end up taking the lead going into the break thanks to an excellent play out of an inbounds. Jimmer Fredette was brought in and given the ball on the top left side of the three point arc with Metta World Peace on him. Jimmer opted not to shoot with the taller defender on him and instead drove towards the basket, drawing defenders to him and away from the real threat, Jason Thompson. Fredette kept his head up and found JT right at the basket for a short shot to put Sacramento up 42-41 at the half.
The third quarter saw the Kings starting backcourt really take over the game. Tyreke Evans got into the lane at will, and then Aaron Brooks began to hit his shots after he struggled in the first quarter. Brooks started from the outside and then began to take it inside when the lanes opened up. Tyreke also made a few jumpers in the quarter, which was good to see. The Lakers were able to keep it close mainly because of three pointers and free throws. The Lakers were 12-26 from the arc for the game, with Kobe Bryant and Jodie Meeks combining for 8 of those. Los Angeles also received a lot of calls and had a huge free throw disparity over the Kings with 39 total attempts to just 22 for Sacramento. Free Throws and three pointers accounted for all but two of the Lakers' 28 points in the third quarter. Bryant single-handedly brought LA back into the game after the Kings opened up an 11 point lead with 3 minutes left by hitting three 3-pointers in a row. By the end of the 3rd, Sacramento was still up, but it was just 73-69.
The 4th quarter was the bench's turn again and they didn't disappoint. Although Jodie Meeks started to hit everything he threw up, Los Angeles couldn't stop the penetration of Isaiah Thomas or Marcus Thornton. This got the Kings to the line and the Lakers into the penalty early for once. It also opened up the floor for other players as James Johnson and Chuck Hayes repeatedly found themselves open near the basket. Very quickly, the Kings were up by 9 points again and LA was forced to call a timeout and bring Kobe Bryant back in. Bryant found Meeks for a jumper right after the timeout, but Marcus Thornton nailed a three to push it back to a double-digit lead. A few made shots and some fouls later though and LA was sneaking back into the game from the free throw line, cutting it to 85-90 with 7:07 left.
Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes helped get the Kings their lead back up to 9 once more but the Lakers would not go away. With 3:05 left, the Lakers cut it to 96-91 as Kobe attacked the basket, drawing another foul in the process. DeMarcus Cousins had just checked in for Chuck Hayes and it was he who picked up the foul, his fifth for the night. At that point in time, Cousins had been having a rough night, just 1-7 from the floor and playing limited minutes due to foul trouble. With Kobe at the line trying to cut it to four, Coach Smart put in all of his starters except for Aaron Brooks, leaving the hot hand of Marcus Thornton on the floor. Thornton rewarded Smart's faith by hitting a clutch three pointer on the very next possession to make it a seven point game.
The following defensive possession may have been the biggest of the game. Dwight Howard caught the ball low in the post under the basket, only to have his shot blocked by the waiting Jason Thompson. As both players fought for the rebound, Howard caught Thompson with an elbow and was whistled for a flagrant foul, meaning free throws and the ball for the Kings with 2:30 left. Thompson hit one of his two free throws to extend the lead to 8.
This is about the point where DeMarcus Cousins came alive. Cousins caught the ball on the high post and faced up on Pau Gasol and decided to take him to the basket. Cousins laid it up and under Gasol's outstretched arms and made the shot to make it a ten point game. With the double-digit lead, Smart didn't want to take any chances, so took a page out of his old mentor Gregg Popovich's book and did a "Hack-a-Dwight" immediately having Thompson foul Howard to send him to the line. It worked too, as Howard made just one free throw. The Kings went back to Cousins again on the next possession and it ended in similar fashion to the previous one.
On the other end, Kobe missed a layup thanks to some tough defense by Tyreke Evans, who was fantastic on that end all night. Not ones to stop something that's working, the Kings went back to Cousins again, and this time he was fouled by Howard. He made one of two from the line to give the Kings a 12 point lead with a 1:31 left and it was essentially a formality from then on.
It's amazing how well-rounded the contributions from everyone were. I can honestly say that every single player that stepped on the court for the Kings contributed in a positive way. I especially want to mention the play of both Jason Thompson and Chuck Hayes, who stepped up big time with Cousins in foul trouble. Defensively, they really did a number on the Lakers big men. Dwight Howard had just four field goal attempts despite playing a game-high 41 minutes. Pau Gasol was just 3-10 from the floor and a lot of those attempts came from outside and not in the paint. Jordan Hill, who had a good game the last time these two teams matched up, was just 1-4 in 17 minutes. Thompson and Hayes weren't slouches on offensive either. JT finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds and had four important offensive rebounds. Hayes did a great job of getting open by the basket when the Lakers sagged off of him, and his teammates did a good job of finding him. Usually once or twice a game a possession ends in something I like to call the "Nobody expects us to pass to Chuck Hayes!" play where Hayes catches the other team completely off-guard by the rim. This happened at least four times tonight.
Sacramento also outworked the Lakers on the glass, 41 to 27. They gave up just 6 offensive rebounds to LA. The Kings defense did a pretty great job on everyone except for Kobe Bryant and Jodie Meeks, but most of their damage came from the perimeter. The Kings absolutely dominated the paint on both ends of the court, scoring 50 points in the paint to just 22 for the Lakers. LA was also not able to get out and run, usually a staple of a Mike D'Antoni led team. They ended with just 4 fast break points. LA was also sloppy with the ball, and combined with Sacramento's defensive effort, led to just 16 assists to 20 turnovers. The Lakers had just four assists at the end of the first half. Meanwhile the Kings moved the ball well with 23 assists to 16 turnovers and shot a season-high 54.3% as a result. Sacramento finished with 15 more made field goals than LA, who again, did most of their damage from outside or at the stripe.
James Johnson had probably his best game of the year thanks to his defensive effort and patience within the offense. Johnson scored just 6 points, but on 3-5 shooting, mostly coming at the rim. He also had five assists, two steals and a block. This is the kind of game I want to see from Johnson on a more regular basis.
Rookie Thomas Robinson only played 10 minutes, but he brought in some nice energy on both ends. He scored a couple baskets, including a nice looking jumper from the baseline. He also grabbed three rebounds and had a big block on Dwight.
Speaking of blocks, Tyreke Evans had a truly magnificent one on Ron-Ron during a fastbreak attempt. I won't try to describe it, just watch it:
Evans was suffocating on defense, particularly in that great third quarter. He also had the ball in his hands a lot more, and while he did commit five turnovers, for the most part he made good decisions. It's games like this that remind me just how good Tyreke Evans can be. I think we'll be seeing a lot more of Evans as the primary playmaker going forward and hopefully we'll see performances like this on a more consistent basis.
This was simply put, a great performance for the Sacramento Kings and a much needed respite from all the misery we've been dealing with as of late. In true Thanksgiving spirit, I am thankful for this win and hope to see more like it. The Kings will get the chance to carry this momentum Friday when they travel to Utah to take on the Jazz.
I hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving.
- Only problem with the rotations I had tonight was when Smart had an Evans, Johnson, Hayes, Robinson, Salmons lineup. Credit to Smart for acting quickly to fix it Thornton came back in about a minute later for Johnson.
- Brooks as starting point guard makes a lot more sense when Tyreke Evans is the one actually playing point. This gives Evans an excellent shooter to kick out too.
- Dwight Howard does not look good with a headband. Or in a Lakers uniform.
- Kobe Bryant makes some of the most ridiculous shots. That contested three pointer in the corner especially stands out. I hate the guy, but I have to respect his game.
- Nostradumbass of the Night is LLCoolRay with a score of 4 points.