There are many reasons Sacramento lost this game. Turnovers, bad calls, missed shots, terrible defense. But the biggest factor of all was yet another slow start to the game, as Minnesota jumped out to a 15 point lead to end the first quarter with the Kings only scoring 16 points. Sacramento would outscore Minnesota in each remaining quarter, but try as they might, they couldn't close it out. Donté Greene had an opportunity to win it with a three pointer at the buzzer, but it was just short, and thus the Kings three game winning streak was ended.
For the victorious Timberwolves, they needed someone to step up in the absence of Kevin Love. They found that person in Nikola Pekovic, who had a wonderful game on both ends of the court, scoring 23 points on 12 shots to go with 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. He also completely took DeMarcus Cousins out of the game, and while Cousins finished with another double-double at 10 points and 11 rebounds, he shot just 3-13 from the field. Rookie Derrick Williams started in Love's absence, and while he didn't have nearly the impact as Love would, he did have a big game, scoring 14 points, including a big three in the final minute. Williams also chipped in with 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
Sacramento was led in scoring by Marcus Thornton with 22 points, 10 of which came in the 3rd quarter, but he missed a big free throw with 30 seconds left that would have made it a one point game. Thornton was the only one of the Kings "Big Three" to be on his game though. As mentioned above, DeMarcus had one of his worst nights in a long time, and Tyreke Evans was similarly awful. Tyreke ended with 11 points on 13 shots, with 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 turnovers. The turnovers don't tell the whole story with Tyreke however. Turnovers don't take into account the possessions where he is the only one to touch the ball for 10-15 seconds and then settles for a fadeaway jumper. Tyreke did not play well tonight.
Sacramento's bench had some good contributions tonight. J.J. Hickson was one of the few Kings in the first half that could get anything going and he finished with 8 points on 4-6 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and a block. Jimmer Fredette played sparingly in the first half, making some nice passes but being completely off on the couple of shots he took. He came back in the 4th quarter and looked like a different player. He started out by hitting three triples in a row, then found Donté Greene for a slam, and followed that up with a driving layup off a steal and another jumper on the next possession. Jimmer finished with 13 points (all in the 4th quarter), 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in 17 minutes.
The first quarter that buried the Kings featured a lot of Ricky Rubio doing what he does best: finding the open man. Rubio ran the offense exceedingly well, and had 8 assists in the first quarter alone. In contrast, the Kings had 8 turnovers, mostly off of sloppy play and bad decisions. The spacing was absolutely terrible, and Sacramento telegraphed a lot of their passes. Rubio was a fiend in the passing lanes, coming up with 5 steals and giving Tyreke Evans a lot of problems on the defensive end. Ricky didn't shoot well, scoring just 6 points on 9 shots, but he did have 14 assists and 6 rebounds to go with the 5 steals.
Isaiah Thomas, coming off a big game in New Orleans, did a good job of getting the team into its offense, and finished with 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. However he did not score, and went 0-5 from the field. It was made known before the game that he had a chip fracture on one of his knuckles on his shooting hand, so I don't know if that affected him at all.
Jason Thompson was a complete non-factor in the first half due to foul trouble, but played a good third quarter. He finished with 7 points, but just 3 rebounds, a disappointing game overall.
Let's deviate from statistics and talk about the officiating for a second. Yes, I realize it was bad and they missed several calls. The goaltend on Beasley, the multiple charges that knocked over DeMarcus but weren't called, and a few others. Regardless, the Kings should have won the game, and would have if they had played smarter, because some of the mistakes they made down the stretch were just flat out stupid or unforced.
Let's start with Chuck Hayes. I love the big guy, but the only thing he has proven to be good at so far is defense, rebounding, giving hard fouls and setting a mean screen. He's been awful on offense, and I hate it when he attempts to dribble drive and get something, because it usually misses. He also fumbled a very nice pass from Isaiah Thomas that should have been a layup, but ended up being a turnover. I'm not going to be too hard on Hayes, because his conditioning is clearly not there yet.
Donté Greene came in and played some very solid defense on Michael Beasley, but had a couple boneheaded plays down the stretch. The biggest was when he received the ball at the three point line from Jimmer and instead of kicking it back to Jimmer, the man who was on fire and has a reputation for hitting shots, he stepped in and took a long jumper himself, despite having a reputation of being a terribly inconsistent shooter.
DeMarcus Cousins also head a headscratcher down the stretch when he decided to intentionally foul Ricky Rubio with 33 seconds left and the Kings down two points. The foul sent Rubio to the line because the Kings were in the penalty, and Rubio is a good free throw shooter. Not sure I understood Cousins' logic there, and neither did Keith Smart. Fortunately Rubio missed one of two, keeping the Kings in the game.
The final possession was also unfortunate. The Kings got the stop on defense and Marcus Thornton rushed up the court, finally handing it off to DeMarcus. DeMarcus drove to the basket and made a nifty pass right to the wide open J.J. Hickson... who bobbled the pass. The ball went out to Greene for the missed game winner, but the game would have been tied had Hickson caught the ball cleanly as he had a clear layup or dunk.
It was good to see Sacramento fight back in this game and have a chance to win at the end. It was a welcome sight after seeing them give up early and often in other road games throughout the season. But it wasn't a complete game by any stretch of the imagination, and poor production from the two best players on the team (Evans and Cousins) is not going to win many games, even against a team missing their best player.
The Kings come back home on Thursday in what should be a great atmosphere as the arena will be decked in black in a probable sellout. The opponent will be exceedingly tough however, as the Thunder currently hold the NBA's best record at 19-5 and are 10-4 on the road. Sacramento will need to be on top of its game merely to be competitive.