What a weird game. For the third straight game, the Kings defense was ... good. Even great sometimes. But also for the third straight game the offense was ... bad. Worse than bad most of the time. The Kings have yet to find a rhythm where good defense and good offense both meet, and it's cost them all three games on this opening road trip. Somehow they still managed to put themselves in a position to win the game in each one.
Tonight saw the Kings get off to another bad start, falling behind by 7 early and not getting any ball movement going. One of the problems was simply the spacing. While the Kings starting lineup offers a lot of defensive potential, it has terrible spacing. The best shooters in the lineup are Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, and I don't want DeMarcus Cousins (also the team's best offensive rebounder) hanging around the perimeter so much. Drive and kicks to James Johnson don't work because Johnson won't take open shots because he can't make them. Tyreke Evans isn't a good shooter. There simply isn't great spacing available in that lineup.
That's why I wasn't surprised to see the offense get much better when Marcus Thornton came in to replace Johnson midway through the first quarter. Thornton being on the floor opened things up a bit more and the Kings got some momentum going, even taking a 6 point lead going into the 2nd quarter. DeMarcus Cousins wasn't in foul trouble either. Things were looking good.
Then the 2nd quarter happened.
While the Kings struck first, extending the lead to 8, Sacramento's bench unit was outplayed by Indiana's bench unit and the Pacers regained the lead midway through the quarter, which is when the starters came back in for both sides. It didn't help much though as George Hill simply took over. Hill took it inside on the smaller Aaron Brooks, getting to the basket or to the line, and finding open players when help eventually came. Sacramento's defense, which was good for most of the game, fell apart in the second quarter. Help was late, rotations were sloppy/not there and the Pacers got open shots. Offensively, it was ill-conceived mayhem for Sacramento. Ball movement disappeared and a typical possession consisted of one pass, a missed shot and a Pacers rebound. Keith Smart was visibly heated as the Kings entered halftime down 14.
He must have said something to get the team back in the game because the effort that had all but disappeared in the 2nd quarter came back in the 3rd. Aaron Brooks came in for the struggling Isaiah Thomas and hit a couple of big three pointers near the end of the third quarter to cut the lead down to just 5 points. That would have been the margin heading into the 4th quarter but Paul George isolated on Marcus Thornton on the right wing and hit a three pointer as time expired to push it to 8.
In the 4th quarter, rookie Thomas Robinson came alive for the first time in his NBA season, attacking the basket and moving well off the ball. Robinson and Thornton combined for the Kings first 9 points of the quarter as the bench cut the lead to two points. The Kings missed a bunch of opportunities to tie or take the lead though as the offense simply could not buy a basket. DeMarcus Cousins in particular repeatedly found himself stymied at the rim. The Kings also had some bad unforced turnovers. Still, the defense of the Brooks, Thornton, Evans, Hayes and Cousins unit held and the Pacers weren't able to capitalize on their end either.
With just over a minute to go, Chuck Hayes hit a fantastic little half hook to cut the lead to 1. On the opposite end, David West drove on Hayes successfully (one of the few times he beat Hayes) and pushed the lead back to three. Sacramento called timeout and during the break Grant and Jerry played a video on Marcus Thornton and taking a big shot. So what happens out of the timeout? Marcus Thornton nails a three from the top of the arc to tie the game.
On the other end, the Kings defense did a great job getting a stop, but unfortunately gave up the offensive rebound. The Kings got yet another stop though, with both Hayes and DeMarcus Cousins blocking George Hill's attempt and put-back attempt to take the lead. The Kings tried to push on the fast break and Tyreke threw it up to Marcus Thornton but he was fantastically defended in transition by Paul George, who altered the shot enough to cause a miss without fouling. George had several possessions where he stopped Kings fast breaks in this fashion and was a huge reason the Kings had just 14 fast break points.
The final possession of regulation for Indiana was apparently a play designed for David West, but Chuck Hayes did a phenomenal job guarding him and ended up making him take a 31 foot contested three pointer that wasn't even close. Thus began the first overtime.
Overtime began very sloppily for both teams. Neither team managed to score until the 2:34 mark, when George Hill managed to find Lance Stephenson in the corner for three. It took another minute and a half before anyone scored again, as Tyreke drew the defense to him and dropped it off to DeMarcus for the slam. On the other end though, Hibbert got great position in the paint and dropped a nice half hook over DeMarcus to push the lead back to 3 with 41 seconds left.
Marcus Thornton happened again. With Aaron Brooks haphazardly attacking the basket and dishing to Chuck Hayes down low, Chuck managed to find the open Thornton on the wing, where he drilled yet another clutch three.
The Kings got a bit lucky on the Pacers final possession when Roy Hibbert got a great offensive rebound off a George Hill miss but he rushed the putback and we got double overtime.
Double OT started much the same as the first with neither team managing to buy a bucket. George Hill struck first... and then again to give Indiana a four point lead with 1:44 left. The Pacers did a great job of packing the paint and contesting the Kings shots, as Sacramento missed many shots in the paint. Paul George sank the dagger in the Kings heart with 32 seconds left to put the lead to six. The Kings opted not to go for three, instead going down low to DeMarcus Cousins for a layup. The following was simply a foul game, hoping for the Pacers to miss a free throw or two. They didn't, and thus ended the third straight disappointing loss for Sacramento.
Disappointing as it was, there were still some positives to be had. Marcus Thornton looked fantastic in his bench role. Not only did he score 26 points and hit some huge shots, but he also had 6 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals. Chuck Hayes also came off the bench to provide a huge lift, particularly defensively where he gave David West fits. The Kings also committed only 16 turnovers, even though it felt like more (I almost feel like bad shots should be considered turnovers).
Tyreke Evans also was fantastic on the defensive end. His activity level on that side of the floor through three games has simply been superb. He's rotating well, sticking to his man, and just being a pest. While he didn't have the greatest offensive performance, his defensive effort more than made up for it.
Thomas Robinson also looked good in his short stint, although I would have liked to see him grab a rebound or five. The only really bad part about Robinson's time on the floor was the very short time where Keith Smart opted to have him as Small Forward next to Chuck Hayes and DeMarcus Cousins. T-Rob ended up airballing a long jumper on the very next possession, and I thank him for that, because it brought Coach Smart to his senses, and T-Rob was taken out for an actual wing player.
DeMarcus Cousins had a mixed night. 21 points, 13 boards, 4 steals and a block is pretty good, but he did shoot just 9-27. He was having particular problems when he tried to take it down low in post-up situations on the bigger Hibbert. Hibbert ended up with 6 blocked shots and I think most of them were from DeMarcus. DeMarcus simply looked frustrated all night. At least he didn't get into foul trouble.
Isaiah Thomas also had a poor game, although I think he should have played a bit in the Overtime periods considering Brooks wasn't exactly helping the offense. Isaiah scored just 5 points on 6 shots, but more worryingly had 5 turnovers to just 2 assists. That's the opposite of what we want and frankly expect.
James Johnson had another rough night and might be making a case for going to the bench. Offensively, he's a bit of a mess right now. He puts himself in position to accept drive and kicks, but when he gets them, he doesn't shoot them. He also tries to create for others way too much.
Jason Thompson had a night to forget with just 4 points, 2 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 fouls in 24 minutes. He really ticked off Coach Smart in the 2nd quarter after complaining repeatedly to the official. I was actually kind of glad to see that. It seems Coach Smart is just as annoyed by whining and complaining as I am.
0-3 obviously isn't how we wanted the Kings to start a season. But if the defense keeps being as active as they have been the first three games and the offense ever figures itself out, good things can happen. Hopefully we'll see some of that on this upcoming homestand.
- The Big Screen for the Pacers is huuuuuuuuuge. It's almost the length and width of of the court and I'm only kind of exaggerating.
- Play that drove me bonkers: Tyreke, JT and Thornton in a 3 on 1, Tyreke tries to throw alley-oop over the defender instead of dishing to open Thornton. Ball gets stolen, Pacers score, 4 point swing.
- T-Rob needs to work on finishing around the basket. Except when he dunks. Maybe he should just try to dunk the ball all the time instead of getting fancy.
- I know the Kings are trying to take elements of the triangle, but with such a strong Pick and Roll player in Isaiah Thomas, I think we need to see a bit more of that in the offense.
- Nostradumbass of the Night: the WWB with 3 points. 9 people finished with 2 points but the WWB was able to predict the Pacers win, the Kings scoring 98 points, and Thornton as the leading scorer. Nobody guessed Thomas Robinson as the King with the fewest minutes played.