For the 2nd game in a row, the Kings gave away a game they should have won through stupid mental lapses down the stretch. With Sacramento up by 1 points with 2.9 seconds left, Tyreke Evans fouled Kyrie Irving on what appeared to be a gamble for a steal, leading to two Free Throws and the lead for Cleveland with just 0.4 seconds left. DeMarcus Cousins' sweeping hook on the other end was short and Cleveland won the game. It was extremely frustrating to watch to say the least.
Despite the heartbreaking loss, the spectacular performance of Isaiah Thomas should not be overlooked. In just his 2nd game as a starter, Thomas almost had a triple-double, with 23 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and a block to boot. He matched Cleveland's Kyrie Irving point for point, and did a good job defensively on Irving in the 2nd half. Marcus Thornton had a double-double himself with 21 points and 10 rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins did not have the best shooting game, but finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.
For Cleveland, Irving's 23 points led the team, none more important than those final free throws. 17 of those points came in the 1st half. Antawn Jamison also was a handful for the Kings with 21 points and 8 rebounds, and Ramon Sessions (14 points, 5 assists) and Tristan Thompson (15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks) both made a nice contribution off the bench.
Neither team shot well. The Kings went just 37.6% from the field and the Cavs finished at 36.0%. The Cavaliers did make 7 three pointers to Sacramento's 4, and also had 22 made Free Throws to the Kings' 18. Despite the poor shooting, the Kings ball movement continued to be good, as they finished with 21 assists for the game.
The game started similarly to the last game against Detroit, with Sacramento pushing the tempo and getting a lot of baskets in transition. Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving both squared off against each other and neither could really stop the other in that first quarter. Isaiah would come down and score and then Kyrie would come back and do the same. Jamison also got it going early, as Jason Thompson struggled to defend him. DeMarcus Cousins got into early foul trouble, picking up his 2nd foul after attempting to go coast-to-coast and straight up running into Ryan Hollins. It was a stupid, unnecessary foul and it cost the Kings a possession. Not only that, but it took Cousins out of the game, and the Kings are worse off without DeMarcus. DeMarcus stills picks up a couple of cheap fouls every game that he doesn't need, and this charge would not be his last one of the night. Later in the game he lost the ball in the post and lazily tried to swipe it away from Omri, hacking him across the arms for his 4th foul.
The second and third quarters were sloppy affairs that saw the lead go back and forth, with Cleveland usually just slightly ahead. It was during this part of the game that Ramon Sessions really got off to a hot start, not necessarily scoring the ball but getting into the lane at will and either getting to the line or finding someone for an easy basket as the Kings defense collapsed. The Kings could not really get anything going during these two quarters. Tyreke Evans continuously tried to score, but his jumper continues to be way off, and he found several of his drives to the basket stymied. Tyreke finished with just 10 points on an abominable 5-17 from the field. Jimmer Fredette, the Kings best scoring punch off the bench, played just 5 minutes, mostly in the 2nd quarter. He was in with Evans and Salmons, and the Kings opted to put him against the much taller Omri Casspi. Now Casspi wasn't really an offensive threat (he went just 3-12 from the field), but Cleveland attacked what they saw as a mismatch and got Jimmer out of the game with two quick fouls. He didn't come in again until the final possessions of the 4th quarter when the Kings wanted to spread the defense.
With Jimmer not playing much, that means someone else on the Kings bench was going to have to step up and provide some scoring. Nobody did. John Salmons played 20 minutes off the bench and scored 6 points on 7 shots, missing all three of his three point attempts. J.J. Hickson missed all three of his attempts and grabbed 4 rebounds. Chuck Hayes had just 2 points and 5 rebounds, but also 4 fouls in his 19 minutes. Hayes did a solid job defensively though. Donté played 16 minutes and had 6 points. That's a combined 14 points (on 7-19 shooting) and 12 rebounds for our bench, basically what Tristan Thompson alone did for Cleveland.
At the end of the 3rd and going into the 4th, it looked as if Cleveland was finally gaining some separation from the Kings, and with 10:52 left, the Cavs led 80-70, their biggest lead of the game. On the other end Tyreke missed a shot and Cleveland found a streaking Omri Casspi on the other end for what looked to be an open dunk. Tyreke came out of nowhere to block it though, and took it all the way to find Isaiah in the corner for a three, starting the Kings comeback. If Sacramento had won, this block would have been the turning point of the game.
Over the next three minutes, the Kings would get back in the game, eventually taking the lead back with 6:11 left as Isaiah Thomas drove and found a cutting Marcus Thornton for the layup to make it 84-82. All the baskets the Kings scored in this stretch were assisted, and the pace was very fast as Isaiah really pushed the tempo.
For the rest of the quarter, the lead went back and forth. The Kings had quite a few opportunities to take a two possession lead that they couldn't capitalize on. Eventually, with 35 seconds left Tristan Thompson tipped in a missed layup attempt by Kyrie Irving to tie the game up at 90 apiece.
The Kings missed a golden opportunity on this possession. DeMarcus caught the ball in the low post and was doubled, and he made a good decision to find the wide open man by passing the ball to John Salmons in the corner for three. Salmons attempt rimmed out, but Cousins got the rebound. His attempt was blocked by Thompson, but the Kings had yet another chance to score as Marcus Thornton came up with the ball in the paint. He missed everything on the short jumper though, and probably should have kicked it back out so the Kings could either call timeout or run one final play for either the win or Overtime. But he didn't, and DeMarcus was called for a loose-ball foul trying to go for the rebound, sending Alonzo Gee to the line with 6 seconds left.
Gee missed the first free throw, but sunk the second. Sacramento had plenty of time to score, and they actually ran a play in the final possession that wasn't the 1-4 flat! The Kings found DeMarcus Cousins in the post, and he took it to the baseline and laid the ball up softly off the glass to give the Kings the 92-91 lead with just 2.9 seconds left. All the Kings had to do was play defense for one possession. All they had to do was contest and make sure they didn't foul, for whatever reason.
But this is the Kings, so a foul is exactly what happened. Kyrie Irving inbounded the ball to Antawn Jamison and immediately received it back. The hand off by Jamison served to screen off Isaiah Thomas, leaving Tyreke Evans to prevent Irving from penetrating or getting a good shot off. Evans decides to try for the steal however, and fouls Irving as he runs by, sending him to the line with just 0.4 seconds left, giving the Kings almost no chance to respond if Irving makes both free throws. It was an incredibly dumb decision by Evans, especially considering that he has shown himself to be a good individual defender in these types of situations. It was not a bad call, whatever Keith Smart might say, and it was a foul, whatever Tyreke Evans might say. Even if he hadn't got called for the foul, gambling for the steal and letting Irving get right by still would have been a dumb play. Stay in front of him and force him to take a tough shot and live with the result.
Irving sank both free throws and as expected, the Kings couldn't convert with only 0.4 seconds to operate. They actually got two chances at it, thanks to the first inbound attempt hitting the rim first, which isn't allowed.
This was an incredibly frustrating loss, and it shows just how much this team has to grow before they can be considered a good team. The Kings have a really good shot at coming up completely empty on this road trip, with only trips to Miami on Tuesday and Washington on Wednesday left.