There aren't much left of my nails after tonight's Home Opener. The Kings let a 16 point second half lead disappear in the 4th quarter and barely managed to eke out their first victory. The Warriors had two attempts to try to win, from two of the best shooters in the NBA, but the Kings defense held and Sacramento won.
I've been to all three blackout games the Kings have held so far. Each of them has been special in their own way, entertaining affairs that have come down to key plays in the 4th quarter. In the past, it has been the offense that has bailed the Kings out, with clutch shots coming from key players. Tonight it was the defense, which is quickly becoming a theme this season.
For the third time in four games, the Kings have managed to hold their opponent to under 40% shooting from the field. The Warriors came in averaging 98.3 points on 44.0% from the field, as well as 35.8% from three point land. That was another area the Kings managed to defend well, with Golden State shooting just 6-21 from outside.
Still, the defense almost wasn't enough, thanks once again to poor offensive execution down the stretch. The Kings offense was the best it has been so far this season, at least shooting wise. But the execution left a lot to be desired. The team had just 13 assists on the night, and none of those came in the critical fourth quarter. Sacramento was bailed out by a lot of isolation play and shots, which are unreliable at best. Offensively, there just wasn't much rhythm down the stretch. Sacramento would have maybe one or two guys touch the ball before a shot would go up, and they also weren't able to get out in transition (just 12 fast break points).
Sacramento was up by 11 points with just 4:11 left. An 11 point lead against the Warriors is not much. Just a couple minutes and a few turnovers later, that 11 point lead was just 3 after Klay Thompson got into the lane for an easy layup. This is when the Kings were bailed out by some of those isolation shots I mentioned earlier. Aaron Brooks was the man responsible as he managed to slice his way into the lane and flip up some crazy nonsense that somehow found its way into the net. Don't ask me how. His two late buckets were the last Kings field goals of the night and it was just barely enough. Golden State answered him each time to keep the game close, and the third attempt for Brooks was way off, leading to a quick rebound by Klay Thompson, who was almost immediately fouled by James Johnson. Thompson calmly sank both of his free throws to make it 93-92. At this point, an overwhelming sense of doom came over me. I really thought the Kings were going to lose.
That feeling got even worse after the Kings next isolation play, this time for DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins, who had a great night for the most part, missed badly here as Golden State packed the paint in anticipation. Thompson was able to again corral the rebound and call a timeout. With about 10 seconds left, the Warriors had a chance to win the game.
The Kings defense stepped up and Klay Thompson missed a 17 footer over Chuck Hayes, who rotated well and contested the shot. James Johnson grabbed the rebound and was fouled. He had a couple seconds with the ball where I would have liked him to give it to Isaiah Thomas, who was standing right next to him uncovered and is an 83.3% career FT shooter. Instead Johnson opted to take the shots himself, despite being just a 70% career FT shooter. Again, Basketball IQ and awareness are not this team's strong suit.
Predictably, Johnson made just 1 of 2 from the line and the Warriors were able to get the rebound and call timeout. With 1.3 seconds left on the clock, there was plenty of time for a good, quality shot, but just little enough that it would likely be a three not a two. The Warriors were either going to win or they were going to lose. Sacramento defended the possession well, forcing Stephen Curry to throw up a long 30 foot rainbow that went off the back iron. From where I was sitting, it looked very much like it was going in and I felt more relief than excitement when it clanged off the rim.
The game honestly should not have been that close. The Kings outplayed the Warriors for the majority of the game, particularly in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Sacramento's bench was a big boost, as they scored 45 points to just 20 for the Warriors. Marcus Thornton was great in his sixth man role again, scoring 16 points with 4 rebounds and a team-high 3 assists. That's good for Marcus, but bad for the team when he's the leading assist man with just 3. Aaron Brooks hit some big shots late and had 12 points and 2 assists.
Rookie Thomas Robinson came in and had 12 nice minutes with some strong moves inside and good job on the glass. He had 6 points, 4 rebounds and a steal in his time. His big man counterpart Chuck Hayes was once again very good. Hayes had 4 points, 6 boards and an assist, and is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on the team. Aside from one bad bite on a David Lee pump fake, Hayes' defense has been superb, as has his rebounding. I'm getting close to the opinion that pairing him with DeMarcus Cousins in the starting lineup would be a good idea, for both the offense, defense and bench. Jason Thompson makes more sense as a second unit center anyway, and it offers a better size balance for both the starters and the bench.
Tyreke Evans had a very, very rough night on offense again. He was just 1 of 9 from the field and shot a dizzying array of bad jumpers. It was getting to the point where some fans were calling for him to be benched and I honestly couldn't blame them. I blame Tyreke's bad night off entirely on my fellow editor Greg Wissinger. Before the game I mentioned on Twitter that I thought Tyreke should be able to go for 30 against the Warriors' defense. Greg responded thus:
What an asshole.
DeMarcus Cousins was the clear man of the night for the Kings. In 34 minutes he picked up just two fouls (and a silly double technical with Bogut that probably should get rescinded for both of them), scored 23 points (on 10-16 shooting), grabbed 15 boards, had an assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks. This was a nice bounce back for DeMarcus after a rough opening road trip, and hopefully this is the version that we see more consistently.
I still can't figure out the Point Guard rotation for the Kings and I think it's a bit confusing for them as well. Isaiah played just 21 minutes and was alright, scoring 10 points early with 2 steals, but no assists to 2 turnovers. Brooks played 20 minutes and Jimmer played 2. The Point Guard's role as a playmaker has really been diminished in a way that I don't like with the new offense, and I'd like to see more power given to them to be Point Guards. The Kings were able to be a very potent offensive team with Isaiah running the team last year, but the current offense is much slower paced and stagnant.
Jimmer came in to play the last two minutes of the half. He hit a couple of nice shots but substituting him into the lineup at that time just seemed unnecessary. The Kings were up by 12 points when Jimmer came into the game and things were going well. It's not that things went terrible with Jimmer in the game, but I would have liked to see the same unit that had been playing so well simply finish the half out. I guess Smart thought it was a good time to give him minutes to keep him fresh.
James Johnson has continued to be a love/hate kind of guy with me. His defensive effort and intensity is good. Even great sometimes. But his offense is just so bad it's almost not worth it. I don't think the Kings are going back to the three guard lineup of last year though so I'm not sure we have any better options.
Anyway, a win's a win, and I'll take them however I can get them. It's a good start to the homestand and hopefully the Kings can maintain the momentum when they play the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday. If the offense ever starts clicking the same way the defense has for this team, I'll be extremely more optimistic about the rest of the season.
- The Blackout opening ceremony was pretty epic but I did feel let down by the "Thunder Swords". They were basically regular Thundersticks with a light inside that activated when you hit them. I would have rather had regular Thundersticks and purple glow sticks like last year. As for the opening ceremony, there was a fog machine, fire, and for some reason mages?/druids?/warlocks? with chains and staffs.
- I forgot my wallet for the game. Free tacos never felt so good. And thank God I had a parking pass.
- You know how there are designated Player-themed sections in the arena like the "Reke Havoc Zone"? Well Travis Outlaw has a section and it's called "Trav's Outlaws".
- I didn't get into the officiating tonight because I don't ever really get into officiating. I'm more concerned with how our team plays. But there was this one guy in Section 220 who yelled "You Suck Refs!" after every... single... whistle. It was kind of funny for the first half hour, but got old the next two hours.
- I swear I heard someone cheer when John Salmons was listed on the Inactive Report. The Joke however was on that person, because no John Salmons means more Travis Outlaw.
- Ok the falling banner thing. That was kind of hilarious. Apparently the Kings covered up old advertisements from old sponsors (like Thunder Valley) with these black banners/tarps. Early in the game one fell to the ground and Keith Smart ran out to the court and put it on his back like a cape and ran back. He got a big laugh and a standing ovation. Then it happened again with another banner... and another... and another. All at different points in the game or during a timeout. It went from funny to a bit embarrassing. The moment was made though when fans broke out in a "New Arena" chant.
- Nostradumbass of the Night: Wow, you guys were good tonight. Every single person scored at least one point, and 7 people scored five points. But nobody could top A Night At The Arco who scored a current Prediction contest record 7 points in his first attempt at the Prediction contest. He correctly predicted a Kings victory, DeMarcus Cousins as the leading scorer and rebounder (with 15 boards), Stephen Curry with 8 assists, and the Warriors making 6 threes. He was just one Warriors 3 point attempt off from scoring 9 points. Remarkable.