Kings 108, Warriors 111: Terrible Defense and Mistakes Down the Stretch Prove Costly

March 24, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings power forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) is called for a foul after trying to take a charge during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Golden State won 111-108. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

For the second game in a row, the Kings and their opponent played down to the wire, but unfortunately for Sacramento, it was the opponent who once again came out victorious. The Kings rallied back from a double digit deficit in the second half, but gave the ball away on several key possessions late that could have won them the game.

Jason Thompson was out with an injury tonight and Donté Greene started in his place. Tyreke Evans also returned to the starting lineup. Tyreke had a pretty good game with 16 points and 4 assists on an efficient 8-14 shooting, but his heavily contested three as time expired was too short to force overtime.

The Warriors had great efforts from several players, but none was more effective than big man David Lee. Lee played 42 minutes and was effective in each one, scoring 22 points, grabbing 14 boards, and dishing 9 assists for the near triple-double. Lee was clutch as well, scoring 6 of the Warriors' last 8 points, and assisting on the other basket. The other player of note for Golden State was rookie Klay Thompson, who scored a game and career-high 31 points in 42 minutes. All of that occurred in the first three quarters however, as the Kings finally decided that it might be a good idea to guard him in the final period.

For Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins pretty much had his way down low, finishing with 28 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and a steal in 38 minutes. He only scored two points in the final quarter though, as the Warriors switched over to a zone defense that really hampered the Kings inside game. Even so, the Kings scored 72 points in the paint on the Warriors, the third time in a row the Kings have scored at least 70 points in the paint.

Four other Kings players scored in double-digits for Sacramento, led by John Salmons' 17 off the bench. John played very well, also grabbing 6 rebounds and getting 2 assists and a steal. Marcus Thornton struggled shooting wise, but still finished with 16 points in 33 minutes. Isaiah Thomas struggled early, but ended with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists to just 2 turnovers. Unfortunately, one of those turnovers may have cost the Kings the game.

Ever since the Nuggets game where the Kings gave up 92 points in the paint, Sacramento's defense has been geared towards protecting the paint at all costs. The Warriors are one of the few teams where almost everyone that plays can nail an outside shot, and so took advantage of all the open looks they received, scorching the Kings for 54.3% shooting in the first half. Golden State also had a remarkable 20 assists to just 4 turnovers, more assists than the Kings had field goals (19) in the first half. Klay Thompson was the catalyst, scoring 21 of his points in the first half on 7-10 from the field. The Warriors shooting opened up room for them to attack inside as well, and with the Kings biting on every pump fake, the Warriors got several easy looks at the basket.

About the only thing that worked for Sacramento in the first half was DeMarcus Cousins, who feasted inside among the Warriors big men. He scored 16 points to go with 9 rebounds and 3 assists in the first half. John Salmons also played well in the first, scoring 10 of his points in the 2nd quarter. The Kings offense was still playing very well despite shooting so poorly, and it was more the defense (or lack thereof) that allowed the Warriors to get out to a 10 point lead going into halftime.

The defensive issues weren't necessarily corrected out of halftime either, even though the game began to turn in the Kings favor during the third quarter. Instead, Sacramento simply turned its offense up yet another notch, outscoring Golden State 37 to 27 in the third to cut the lead down to just one point going into the final period.

The Warriors jumped out to an early lead in the fourth thanks to a quick 5-0 run. At the 8:18 mark of the 4th quarter, with the Kings down 96-92, Coach Keith Smart made a surprise substitution, putting in Terrence Williams for defense. Williams had just signed a 10 day contract with the Kings, but it wasn't expected that he would see much game time, if any. "Ten-Day Terrence" stepped up to the challenge well though, and Klay Thompson didn't score at all during the final quarter with Williams on him much of the time.

Still the Warriors managed to extend the lead back to 8 points about halfway through the quarter on a tip-in by Dominic McGuire. That's when the Kings made their comeback, spurred on by who other than Terrence Williams. Williams scored 5 of the Kings next 6 points and then Tyreke Evans took over. Evans found Chuck Hayes for a very nice up-and-under layup, and Hayes returned the favor on the next possession by finding Evans for an open jumper, which he swished to give the Kings a 104-102 lead with 3:44 left to complete a 10-0 run. Sacramento's defense had finally tightened up and a lot of credit has to go to Terrence Williams, John Salmons, Tyreke Evans, Chuck Hayes and even DeMarcus Cousins for their defense in this stretch.

Unfortunately, the defense regressed a bit from here on out, and the offense fell apart completely thanks to some costly mistakes. The Kings committed 15 turnovers in this game, and 5 of them occurred in the final two minutes. The first two were by Chuck Hayes, who threw a pass to a cutting DeMarcus Cousins, but the ball never got there thanks to the Warriors. The second was particularly bad, as Hayes simply threw the ball away with a pass to nobody on the wing. It's possible he thought Williams was going to be there and Williams wasn't there because he's been on the team for a whole two minutes and doesn't know any of the plays, but regardless, both Hayes and Williams left the game at that point as Smart went back to a smaller lineup.

By this point the Warriors had taken the lead back at 107-104, thanks to a couple of plays where Lee made DeMarcus Cousins pay for overhelping by getting to the rim off-the-ball and finishing up close. Tyreke answered back with a short shot of his own, but Lee backdoored Cousins again, and Charles Jenkins found him right at the basket for a bucket, giving Golden State a 109-106 lead with 1:23 left.

Marcus Thornton got the ball up top for a wide open three pointer on the next possession, but he missed it. The Kings as a whole were terrible from deep, going just 1 of 15 despite a lot of good, open looks. John Salmons got the offensive rebound, but with his back to the basket, Klay Thompson came from behind and poked it out of his hands leading to yet another turnover. Thompson repaid the favor with a bad pass of his own, fortunate for the Kings because if it had connected, Lee would have snuck in backdoor for yet another layup.

Isaiah Thomas quickly took it back up court, blew right by Klay Thompson, and found the open lane for a layup to cut the lead to one with 42 seconds left. Thompson brought the ball up against Isaiah, but could not get by him, forcing Coach Mark Jackson to call a timeout and get his offense set up. The play was set up for David Lee to take it to the rim, but DeMarcus Cousins did a good job of staying in front of him, and ended up blocking the shot attempt out of bounds. Terrence Williams had come back in for Isaiah after the last timeout, and was once again tasked with guarding Klay Thompson. The Warriors had only 4 seconds to get a shot off, so they found Thompson in the corner, but his shot was blocked by Williams, who then streaked up court with Tyreke Evans. Williams fumbled the ball as he was trying to pass it to Tyreke, and the ball went out of bounds. I think Williams would have had better success simply trying to score himself, but for a guy trying to make the team, I can see why he wanted to defer it. Still, it was a turnover and there was only 15 seconds left in the game.

The Kings had a foul to give so they immediately used it on the first inbounds by Golden State, shaving off just a second. The Warriors didn't have a timeout though, so they had to get it inbounds here. Smart had substituted Donté Greene for Cousins to guard Lee on the inbound, and John Salmons was guarding Klay Thompson while Terrence Williams guarded Richard Jefferson. Donté did a great job of not giving Lee an opening, and Salmons and Williams did an excellent job of not giving Jefferson and Thompson room to catch. It was a 5 second violation, and back we go to the other end, giving the Kings another chance to win the game...

... Only to screw it up once more. Isaiah Thomas, so clutch all season, found himself trying to cross over and simply lost the dribble. It was a completely unforced turnover. The ball went out of bounds with 4 seconds left and the Kings slept on Richard Jefferson who streaked towards the hoop, where Lee found him for a dunk on a long inbounds pass.

The Kings still had a chance for overtime, but Tyreke Evans was surrounded by Warriors players and his 30 foot three pointer was short, giving Golden State a victory, and giving Golden State of Mind a migraine.

Games like this are exactly why I don't root for the Kings to tank. They're still perfectly liable to lose any given night, to any given opponent. This is not a good team, not yet. Warriors fans on the other reason have a perfectly logical reason to tank, because if they don't, they won't even have a lottery pick. The Warriors pick has to be 7th or better for it to remain in Oakland, otherwise it goes to Utah. After tonight's victory, the Warriors are slotted 9th, a few games ahead of the Kings and Cavaliers.

There is still a long way to go before this Kings team becomes good. Defense needs to become a focus of every player on the court, for 48 minutes. Every play counts, so don't take any plays off. We've taken baby steps to get there, but you'd be crazy to think we're anywhere close yet.

Sacramento will travel to Houston on Monday before coming back home on Wednesday. Hopefully they can learn a little bit from their mistakes the past couple nights.

Random Observations:

  • For a shotblocker, Hassan Whiteside sure plays with his hands down a lot. He is still so raw, a slab of top-notch marble in need of sculpting.
  • The Kings are going to need to keep JT AND add another big this summer. I don't want Travis Outlaw or Donté Greene to be our emergency backup big men. Hassan is not ready yet.
  • Jerry Reynolds line of the night: "He went from Gladness to Sadness"
  • Tyreke has been going left (and finishing left) a whole lot more. Also, the two jumpers he took tonight (aside from the heavily contested three at the end) both looked very good, and more importantly, went in.
  • Nate Robinson really seems to get extra hyped when he goes up against his friend Isaiah, doesn't he? I have a feeling the game wouldn't have been as close as it was if Robinson didn't hurt himself at the end of the first half and had played in the second. He had 10 points and 8 assists in only 18 minutes.
  • Man, Golden State could have a really good team, especially if they keep their lottery pick. Add a healthy Bogut and Curry, bring in another top 7 pick and you're looking at a really good and deep team with upside potential.
  • Terrence really does play like Tyreke, down to the way he moves in the open floor. This was a good pickup by the Kings. I think he'll definitely stick around the rest of the year, and we'll see what happens this summer.

Kingsflix Videos:

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