The Kings started off a 4 game in 5 night stretch on the wrong foot, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers in their only home game of the stretch. The Kings started off well, scoring 57 points on 58% from the field in the first half, but the Clippers made adjustments in the second half and controlled the game from the third quarter on.
Chris Paul was the clear star for Los Angeles, scoring 22 points, dishing 9 of the Clippers' 30 assists, and having three steals to boot. More importantly, he completely shut down Isaiah Thomas, taking away Thomas' penetration. Thomas only had 10 points on just 4 shot attempts, and 5 of those points came in the final minutes with the game already decided. Thomas also had a team and career-high 6 turnovers (I do want to say that at least two of these turnovers were great passes that were bobbled out of bounds by the intended recipient), and had trouble guarding the equally quick but much more experienced Paul. It was a good learning experience for the reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Month.
Blake Griffin was held below his averages, scoring just 14 points to go with 9 rebounds, 10 of those points coming off essentially wide open dunks. The threat of Blake however really opened things up for the Clippers as the Kings were quick to double Griffin down low, and Los Angeles took advantage by finding the open shooters and converting. Mo Williams was a big benefactor there, as he scored 18 points in 25 minutes off the bench, including 4 three pointers. The Clippers as a team shot 12-23 from three point range, with Bobby Simmons (13 points) and Randy Foye (16 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) hitting three each as well.
Sacramento's biggest bright spot was once again DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks in 32 minutes and even hit a corner three. This is the second time in as many games Cousins has shot a three pointer, and while his outside shot has been very good this year, I'm not sure its a trend I'd like to see continue. Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans added 18 points each for the Kings.
As mentioned before, the Kings got off to a very good start, but the Clippers were able to take the lead by the end of the first quarter thanks to the scoring of Bobby Simmons and Mo Williams off the bench. The second quarter saw another bench player for Los Angeles make an immediate contribution. Kenyon Martin came in and scored the Clippers' first 8 points of the quarter, all on wide open jumpers. At this point the Kings had their entire 5-man unit comprised of bench players: Chuck Hayes, J.J. Hickson, John Salmons, Francisco Garcia and Jimmer Fredette. This lineup always scares me when it's in the game because nobody in that lineup has been a really consistent scorer.
At first my fears seemed to be founded, as L.A. extended the lead to 10 after Eric Bledsoe hit a couple free throws with 8 minutes left in the 2nd quarter. Then Jimmer Fredette came alive. He started off by drilling a three pointer to cut the lead to 7. Salmons hit the next shot for the Kings to cut the lead down to 5. Jimmer then got the rebound and ran the fast break to perfection, finding J.J. Hickson for a dunk. The next two possessions for Sacramento ended up in three pointers assisted by Jimmer. Jimmer then capped it off a 22-4 run by hitting two more three pointers of his own, getting the crowd and the Kings bench off their feet. It's these flashes that Jimmer has shown at times throughout the season that make me think he'll be a very good player in this league once he adjusts to the NBA game. Jimmer finished with 11 points (on 3-5 shooting) and 3 assists in just 13 minutes off the bench.
The Clippers finished the second quarter on a 13-5 run of their own to tie the game heading into halftime. Coming out of halftime, it was clear that this was going to be a much more physical game than we had seen in the prior 24 minutes. Los Angeles scored a quick 8 points and that kind of served as the barrier the Kings couldn't get past for the rest of the game. A big reason, but not the sole reason, was the officiating in the third quarter. It wasn't so much bad calls (although there were a few, such as a clear goaltending violation on Kenyon Martin that would have cut the lead to 4 being ruled a block) as the non-calls. Sacramento would attack the basket and despite getting hacked and beat up, were not getting many calls. There was a streak of maybe 4 or 5 possessions in a row where the Kings had calls go against them, a couple rightly so, but a few that were bad or questionable, and it clearly took the players out of their game.
Bad officiating is something the players will have to learn to play through. It was a bad stretch, but it wasn't what cost them the game. The referees didn't cause the Kings to turn the ball over 18 times. The referees weren't the ones who continually left Clippers' shooters wide open. It also didn't really put the game out of reach for the Kings, as they were just down by 6 points heading into the final period.
The Clippers shooters did a number on the Kings in the fourth quarter. The first four Clippers' baskets in the fourth were three pointers, three by Mo Williams and one by Bobby Simmons, while Sacramento scored just 4 points in that stretch. Jimmer Fredette came back in after a solid first half and faced renewed pressure by L.A. which made him turn it over twice on consecutive possessions. The bench, which had played so well in the first half, was quickly yanked after L.A. extended the lead to 14 with 8 minutes remaining.
The starters didn't end up doing much better in the final period. Chris Paul took over the game at that point, scoring L.A.'s next 8 points by himself, and finally dishing to Mo Williams for another three to give the Clippers their largest lead of the game at 108-89 with 2:46 remaining. It was game over for the Kings, and the only thing of note to happen the rest of the game was the Kings scoring 11 unanswered against L.A.'s scrubs, including Hassan Whiteside's first NBA points on a dunk.
In the end the better, more experienced team won. The Kings hung in there for most of the game, but really killed themselves with some of the mistakes. The 18 turnovers led to 27 points for the Clippers, while the Kings had just 11 points off of 9 L.A. turnovers. The hot shooting of the first half petered out in the second, as they shot just 36% from the field in the final two quarters, and as a team the Kings had just 14 assists, their lowest total since January 11th in Toronto when they had just 13 assists.
It was good to see Sacramento's bench make one of their best contributions of the season, and hopefully that won't be a one time thing. Speaking of the bench, J.J. Hickson, who played well in his 13 minutes, injured his hip on an attempted offensive rebound, falling hard to the ground. He is set to be reevaluated tomorrow and will not be with the team when they take on the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow night.