I knew going into tonight's game that I should be prepared for a letdown. A majority of Kings fans (including myself) thought this game would be a win, if I'm going by the pre-game predictions. Sacramento had been playing a lot better, and with the Wolves on a five-game losing streak, it was time to get some positive momentum going.
But just like how Sacramento disappears for stretches at a time mid-game, the Kings faltered and lost a game that was theirs for the taking.
The game started out well enough, with the Kings sinking a barrage of three pointers in the early going and taking advantage of some Minnesota miscues. Minnesota was able to keep it close thanks to some shoddy defense by the Kings, particularly at the basket. By the end of the quarter, Minnesota had come back from a 7 point deficit to take the lead, one that they would not surrender for the rest of the game.
Sacramento's trademark stretch of poor basketball began at the end of the 1st quarter when Keith Smart opted to take Tyreke Evans out of the lineup and insert Marcus Thornton as his first sub off the bench. This is despite Tyreke having yet another hot start. The second quarter saw a bench unit take over, featuring Isaiah Thomas, Thornton, James Johnson, Thomas Robinson and Chuck Hayes. Aside from Marcus Thornton, none of those players played well during that stretch. It was an inauspicious start when they came in after a timeout and apparently didn't realize how much time was on the shot clock. James Johnson caught the ball with 0.5 seconds left and opted to pump fake instead of shooting. Numerous fast breaks were ruined due to poor decisions, and it wasn't long before starters were called in. By the end of the half, the Kings were fortunate to be down just three. Most of Sacramento's damage had come from the perimeter, and they didn't even get to the free throw line once in the first half.
The third quarter was the real problem though, as Minnesota came out on fire and Sacramento could not get anything going inside. DeMarcus Cousins picked up his fourth foul during a rare "double foul" situation (aka the refs not knowing what the correct call was and compromising) and in his absence the game went from a six point deficit to a 12 point deficit in a couple of minutes. That had less to do with Cousins being out than just terrible offensive and defensive execution by Sacramento. Aaron Brooks' hot shooting came to an end and he began to force several shots. John Salmons also had a poor game, badly mismatched against the taller, more athletic Andrei Kirilenko. Even the "Nobody expects us to pass to Chuck Hayes" play wasn't working, because Adelman did expect us to pass to Chuck Hayes, having coached Hayes for years.
With 2:45 left in the third quarter, Luke Ridnour drilled a three to give Minnesota their largest lead at 13. This is when Keith Smart opted to put Isaiah Thomas in the game and switch to a zone defense. Isaiah, who had struggled mightily in the second quarter, looked much better and pushed the tempo to help put some points on the board. The zone defense was also giving Minnesota some fits, although they were able to take advantage of the Kings being in the penalty and get to the line. By the end of the third the Kings had a bit of momentum going with the lead down to 8.
That momentum carried over to the fourth quarter as Tyreke Evans once again took over. Evans cut the lead to three points with a three pointer, but Minnesota was able to answer back with a three from rookie Alexey Shved. Thomas hit a jumper of his own, but Shved answered right back with another three from the same spot. Those were big shots for Minnesota, especially considering that coming into tonight, Shved was at just 24% from downtown. Those threes gave the Timberwolves some breathing room and slowed down the Kings' momentum.
From there we saw a lot of missed opportunities. Isaiah made a couple of bad passes and got stuffed badly trying to drive inside. Chuck Hayes missed a couple of free throws. Tyreke wasn't able to get anything going, not scoring any points for the rest of the quarter after that three.
Still, even with those miscues, Sacramento fought back once more and cut the lead to as little as two points with 1:20 left in the game as DeMarcus Cousins hit a pair of free throws. However Sacramento just could not get the necessary stops. Minnesota found Nikola Pekovic right at the basket for a much to easy layup. Pekovic scored 16 points, and all of them came right at the basket or from the free throw line. He did a great job getting position.
On the other end, DeMarcus tried to take the ball inside but got stuffed. Andrei Kirilenko was a complete pest on that end, and with Pekovic's bulk preventing good positioning, AK-47 was able to come in on the weakside numerous times to help out. Minnesota called a timeout to set up a last play. To their credit, the Kings played some good defense out of the inbound play but Kevin Love threw up a one handed prayer as the shotclock expired that somehow went in, pretty much ending the game. Down six points with just over 26 seconds left, the Kings showed no awareness of needing to hit a three and fast, and instead dribbled off about 10 seconds before giving the ball to DeMarcus Cousins for a 21 foot jumper, which missed.
Sacramento didn't deserve to win this game, but they still could have, if they could have simply strung a few more good plays together. Tyreke Evans had another great game, finishing with 20 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks, as well as going 2-3 from downtown. DeMarcus Cousins also scored 20 points to lead the Kings but shot just 9-22 and had only 5 rebounds. Evans' 7 rebounds were a team high, indicative of Minnesota's dominance of the glass (51 to 36). Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas were the only other Kings in double-digits with 12 points. Each Minnesota starters scored in double-digits, led by Kevin Love's 23 points. Love also had 24 rebounds, an NBA season high.
The Kings get a few days to regroup before they face another team that they "should" beat at home in the Granger-less Pacers.
- Power Balance Pavilion signage is almost all gone off the outside of the building, but there is still one side where it remains.
- Moment of silence before the game for the passing of 23 year old Sasha McHale, daughter of Rockets' coach Kevin McHale.
- Note to Aaron Brooks: Skyhooks don't work on players that are a full foot taller than you.
- Note to fan I heard yelling "We Want Outlaw": No, no we don't.
- DeMarcus seemed to handle himself noticeably better with the referees. He still showed emotion and disbelief a couple of times, but there was hardly any talking back.
- Still think Chuck Hayes in the starting lineup for JT needs to happen, just for balance between the bench and starters. I think JT and T-Rob would look much better than Hayes and T-Rob, and Hayes would get the chance to start defending the other team's best player from the get-go.
- Possibly the tightest rotation of the season for the Kings, with 10 players playing but James Johnson getting just six minutes. Jimmer got the short end of the stick in the PG rotation tonight, with his second DNP-CD of the year.
- Nostradumbass of the Night was OJandKush with 6 points.