Coming into this game, I fully expected this to be one of the uglier games of the season. The Heat are really, really good, and the Kings are really, really bad on the road. So I was pleasantly surprised by the play of the team tonight in what might have been one of the best offensive performances of the season for Sacramento.
The Kings got off to a great start against the Heat, starting out with a 17-9 lead. Miami would come roaring back, but the Kings remained competitive through three quarters, thanks to some of the best ball movement of the season. The Kings finished with 24 assists, and would have had several more if players had caught the ball cleanly on fast breaks. The best part of the ball movement was how well the Kings were cutting off the ball, particularly Marcus Thornton, who finished with 23 points on 16 shots.
Isaiah Thomas, in his 3rd start, led the Kings in scoring with a career-high 24 points, of which 20 came in the 3rd quarter alone. That is the most points the Heat have allowed by an individual player in a quarter this season. Isaiah hit 5 threes in the quarter, as well as being fouled on another one. The 5 threes in the quarter ties a Sacramento-era record set by Jason Williams in 1999. The Kings as a team shot very well from three point range, making 13-27 overall, with Thomas, Thornton and Francisco Garcia hitting at least 3 each.
Despite the slow start for Miami, they turned it up big time from the 2nd quarter on. This team was clicking on all cylinders and answered every Kings run with one of their own. The team as a whole shot a ridiculous 55.6% from the field, and answered the Kings great three point shooting with a 10-23 performance of their own. Sacramento knew they couldn't guard the Heat one-on-one and resorted to a zone for much of the game, which stymied the Heat a bit at first. The thing about zones though is that they can easily be broken by good outside shooting and good slashing and passing, and the Heat have those two things in spades. Mario Chalmers took full advantage of the zone to the tune of 20 points, 18 of which came off his 6 three pointers.
Dwyane Wade could not be stopped no matter what defense the Kings threw at him, as he scored 30 points to go with 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks in just 30 minutes of play. Chris Bosh (20 points, 10 rebounds) and LeBron James (18 points, 8 assists) played second and third fiddle to Wade, but were still hugely instrumental to Miami's victory, particularly on defense.
To win this game, the Kings needed everything to go right for them. A lot did tonight, but one that didn't was getting DeMarcus Cousins going. The Heat completely stymied the young big man, holding him to just 3-13 shooting for 9 points and 7 rebounds in 31 minutes. He did have 3 blocks and a couple charges drawn, as well as this particularly silly and simultaneously pretty play:
Cousins' counterpart in the frontcourt, Jason Thompson, had one of his best games this season, with a season-high 16 points on 7-12 shooting to go with 10 rebounds for the double-double. Thompson was killing the Heat on the offensive glass early, mopping up several of the Kings misses.
Keith Smart played a very tight rotation tonight, going only 8 men deep (not counting the last minute of the game where he substituted Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Honeycutt after the game had been decided). The bench consisted solely of Chuck Hayes (16 minutes), Francisco Garcia (22 minutes) and Donté Greene (15 minutes).
Garcia played for the first time in awhile due to a sore hip for John Salmons, which knocked him out of the contest. Garcia played pretty well for someone who has seen little to no court time in the past few weeks, scoring 11 points on 9 shots to go with 3 rebounds, 2 assists and a block.
Hayes finally showcased his excellent passing ability, operating out of the high post and dishing a couple of pretty bounce passes to cutters for easy buckets. He seems to be getting a bit more comfortable out there on the floor, although I don't like it when he's in the game without either Jason Thompson or DeMarcus Cousins, because then the Kings don't have a low post threat at all. Donté Greene (who played a lot at the 4 next to Hayes today) is a SF masquerading as a 4, and J.J. Hickson, who didn't play, has proven to be unreliable on both ends of the court.
One thing the Kings did poorly as a team was take care of the basketball. They had 15 turnovers, 10 of which came in the first half. Several of those turnovers were unforced, due to bad catches/passes or trying to do a little too much when something simpler would have been more effective. The Heat punished the Kings to the tune of 24 points off those turnovers.
I have to comment some more on the pure awesomeness that was Isaiah's 20 point third quarter. The Heat had gotten off to a bit of a roll right before halftime and continued right after the break. That's when a switch seemed to turn on in Isaiah's head that he was going to take over the game. And take over he did, at least offensively. Isaiah was absolutely on fire from downtown, making three point attempt after three point attempt. He was single-handedly keeping the Kings in the game at that point, because Miami couldn't be stopped on offense either. After his fifth three pointer went in, I was just left dumbfounded, shaking my head. Many of you know that I was hoping the Kings would draft Thomas this past summer, and was ecstatic when he fell to the Kings at 60 and they picked him. But never in my wildest dreams did I think Isaiah would be playing as well as he has been this season. I don't think anybody can say they saw it. I'm very, very happy that Isaiah is on the team, and think he's quickly solidifying his spot as an integral piece for the future.
The Kings finish up the road trip and the first half of the season tomorrow in Washington before heading into the All-Star break. The second half of the schedule will be easier in terms of the amount of home games, but the quality of opponent will be even better. Hopefully the Kings can win tomorrow and carry the momentum forward.
Post-Game Interviews via Kingsflix: