After the emotional high of the win over the Thunder on Thursday, tonight's effort and performance was like one big hangover. The Phoenix Suns came in and played great team basketball on both ends of the court, and ended up being in control for all 48 minutes. Sacramento never once had the lead or even tied.
Phoenix had a very balanced attack. Former MVP Steve Nash wasn't a factor scoring wise with just 4 points, but he ran the pick and roll perfectly and ended up dishing out 15 assists in only 29 minutes, just one less than the entire Kings team managed. The Suns were led in scoring by Jared Dudley, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Marcin Gortat (15 points, 7 rebounds, 4 blocks), Channing Frye (17 points, 3-5 from three) and rookie Markieff Morris (18 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks) also chipped in with double figures. The Suns as a team shot exactly 50% from the field, the highest total for an opponent since Jan. 8th v. Orlando.
Sacramento shot a mere 35.1% from the field in comparison. DeMarcus Cousins (26 points, 9 rebounds) and Marcus Thornton (21 points, 2 steals, 2 assists, 2 rebounds) were the only players on the Kings that could get anything going offensively. Tyreke Evans had the 2nd worst shooting night of his career, going just 1-9 from the field for 4 points. Donté Greene was the third highest scorer for Sacramento with just 8 points.
The Suns had a very clear game plan on both ends of the court. On offense, they ran a series of pick and rolls and pick and pops, either resulting in an open jumper or someone wide open at the basket. On defense, they clogged the paint and pressured our ballhandlers. It was simple and effective. The Kings couldn't get any kind of run going offensively, and couldn't manage to string more than a couple stops together at a time.
There seemed to be a barrier at around the 8-9 point mark tonight that Sacramento couldn't get under. The team would cut the lead to 8 or 9 points, get a couple stops, and either miss their shots on the other end or turn it over, allowing Phoenix time to recover and regroup and hit their own shots.
It didn't help that Tyreke Evans was so off his game tonight. Grant Hill, savvy veteran that he is, did a phenomenal job of giving Tyreke enough space to entice him to shoot a jumper while slowing him down when he drove. Tyreke's shot looked awful all night long, and while he had 5 assists, he also had 5 turnovers.
Coach Keith Smart was desperate to try to find a lineup that could get something going, but no matter what combination he tried, something didn't work. The bigs aside from DeMarcus Cousins were a complete non-factor, disappointing considering Phoenix's lack of size aside from Gortat. The wings didn't contribute much either, with John Salmons scoring just 4 points, Francisco Garcia with 6 (and a few bonehead plays), and Donté with 8.
The backup guards also had disappointing nights. Jimmer Fredette had a few nice passes and finished with 2 assists, but his shot looked way off and he missed all 4 attempts. Isaiah Thomas shot just 2-9 from the field, and really tried to do too much at times with the dribble. Phoenix did a really good job of pressuring both Isaiah and Jimmer whenever they had the ball, including throwing double teams and traps at them, which they both had trouble dealing with.
The closest thing the Kings got to any momentum was in the 3rd quarter when Marcus Thornton hit back-to-back three pointers. Unfortunately, those were sandwiched in between three straight Marcin Gortat layups, as the Kings continued to get killed by the Pick and Roll.
The Kings looked spent tonight and did not play well. The Suns are better than their record, and have played particularly well on the road as of late. One thing that I have begun to notice is that the Kings have done a much better job this year when playing teams that have one or two main scoring threats that they can focus on, but can't seem to beat the teams with no clear cut go-to option, like the Suns.
The team will have a couple days to regroup as they begin a tough 6 game East Coast road trip, starting Valentine's Day in Chicago.