After a hard-fought first half, the Sacramento Kings led by one going into halftime. There were worrying signs though, particularly that Atlanta hadn't gotten much going offensively from their stars and the Kings were playing sloppy isolation basketball. The Hawks really tightened up the defense and got their offense to start clicking in the third quarter, and the Hawks finished the game with their 8th straight victory against the Kings, the longest current opponent winning streak.
Josh Smith was the clear star of the night, with 28 points on 13-23 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists (no turnovers), 3 steals and 3 blocks. The Kings didn't have an answer for him all night, and frankly got a bit lucky in the first half with how many wide open jumpers he was missing. Smith's help defense also really bothered the Kings, particularly Tyreke Evans, who found himself on the wrong end of a couple Smith blocks and had the ball poked away as well.
The Hawks are a really athletic team and when they get out and run, it's very hard to stop them. That athleticism also allows them to get back on transition as well and prevent fastbreaks on the other end. Coming home from the game, I heard the radio broadcast mention that after the 3rd quarter, the Hawks led 18 to 4 in Fastbreak points, and I believe it. It ended up being 21 to 15 by the end, but the damage had already been done.
7 players scored in double digits for the Hawks, with Joe Johnson chipping in 21 points and 4 steals of his own, most in the second half. Is it just me or does Johnson seem like a really, really rich man's version of John Salmons? Jeff Teague also had a great game, penetrating at will against either Isaiah Thomas or Jimmer Fredette on his way to 16 points on 7-11 shooting to go with 7 assists and 3 steals.
The Kings meanwhile were led by a monstrous performance by DeMarcus Cousins (28 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals) who the Hawks didn't have an answer for. The only person that stopped DeMarcus Cousins tonight was DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins had a few silly fouls, and it ended up with him fouling out. He also looked like he lacked energy near the end of the game when he missed a couple of shots that could have kept the Kings in it.
Aside from DeMarcus, the rest of the starting lineup wasn't noteworthy at all. Jason Thompson played just 17 minutes and finished with 4 points and 3 rebounds. Tyreke Evans had just 8 points on 14 shots, although he did lead the team in assists with 7. Marcus Thornton had 12 points on 11 shots, and Isaiah Thomas had 8 points on 7 shots to go with 3 turnovers and no assists. It was not a good performance by the first string.
The bench did a good job at picking up the slack though. Jimmer Fredette continues to look more and more comfortable and he finished with 12 points (5-9 shooting), 4 assists (to 1 turnover) and a steal in 24 minutes of play. There was one particularly noteworthy play that really stuck out to me: Jimmer caught the ball on the wing and Atlanta went to trap him with Teague and Josh Smith forcing him to the baseline. Instead of getting flustered, Jimmer drove the baseline and found Chuck Hayes at the rim for an easy layup. He's also growing more and more confident when deciding when to shoot the ball, and the one at the end of the first quarter over Marvin Williams was particularly nice.
John Salmons led the bench in scoring with 14 points, and he also had 4 assists, 2 steals and a block. He's doing a really good job of running the second unit, playing defense, and simply shooting the ball lately. This is the John Salmons that most of us have been waiting to see all year. The move from the starting lineup to the bench seems to have reinvigorated John and I hope to see consistency like this from now on.
The game really broke down for Sacramento with about 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Up until that point the Kings had kept the game pretty even. Then with 4:05 left, Jeff Teague hit a spot-up three point shot to give Atlanta the 71-68 lead. On the opposite end, Cousins hit a jumper, but Teague ran up the floor fast and answered back with a huge slam dunk that seemed to be a big energy boost to the Hawks as they stepped it up from that point on.
Poor help-side rotations played a big part in the loss tonight as well. There were several instances when the Kings came to double someone (usually Josh Smith or Joe Johnson) but they would leave a good shooter open and the Hawks made them pay.
The Kings also shot way too many threes for my liking. 29 attempts from downtown for Sacramento, and they hit just 10 of them. Marcus Thornton shot 7, hitting just 2, Tyreke Evans and Donté Greene combined to miss all five of their own. There were several possessions where it seems like the Kings simply settled for the three pointer when they could have run a play for a higher percentage shot. The ones I really don't like are the ones early in the shot clock when it's either you make it or get nothing, since there's little chance of an offensive rebound. Cisco's a big culprit in the shooting threes early in the shot clock department, particularly when the Kings don't need them and simply need to score.
Sacramento once again had a poor performance on the boards, getting outrebounded by the Hawks 45-36. Part of that is because Atlanta shot 51.2% to Sacramento's 46.3%, but the Hawks also managed 11 offensive rebounds to just 9 for the Kings. Right now the Kings only good rebounder is DeMarcus Cousins, and when he's off the floor, that's something that really hurts the Kings. It might be something to look into come deadline time this Thursday because it's been a problem all year.
The Kings fall to 2-1 on this 9 game homestand and will look to bounce back this Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors.