I have a rule that I've followed for many years now: Never, EVER bet against a Steve Nash team. No matter what you may think about the quality of his team, or who is injured, or how good the other team is, Steve Nash's team will be in it. That rule proved true again tonight, as Nash came into the fourth quarter and quietly hit several daggers, both in shots and assists, that killed all the momentum of the Kings' comeback from a 17 point deficit. The Suns controlled the game every minute Nash was in, and he led them to a season sweep of the Kings.
The loss overshadowed a huge night by DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins was an absolute monster, scoring inside and out on his way to a career-high 41 points to go along with 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. 25 of Cousins' points came in the 2nd half alone, and on just 10 shots. That's because DeMarcus got to the line 14 times, making 9 attempts. To truly understand the magnitude of what DeMarcus did tonight, I pulled up Basketball-Reference's Game Finder to see what other big men had scored 41 points and recorded 12 rebounds in a single game by the age of 21. The records only go back to 1985-86, but even so it's an impressive list: Shaquille O'Neal (3x), Blake Griffin (2x), Andrew Bynum, Elton Brand and ... Antoine Walker (Durant also made the list twice but I don't consider him a big).
Cousins didn't have much support though as it was basically a three man show for the Kings. Isaiah Thomas continued to prove his value in the league with a 25 point, 7 assist outing, and Terrence Williams continued his great all-around performance with 16 points (7-10 from the field), 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks off the bench. Other than that though it was slim pickings: Tyreke Evans led all other Kings players with just 8 points on 13 shots and Travis Outlaw was second with 4. Ouch.
It was the exact opposite for the Suns who had a very balanced attack. Nash had a very nonchalant 18 points, 12 assists and 6 rebounds, with a lot of that damage occurring in the crucial 1st and 4th quarters, where the Suns killed the Kings. Marcin Gortat was a huge benefactor of Nash's pick-and-roll mastery, scoring 20 points on just 11 shots and grabbing 10 boards. Four other Suns finished in double digits: Michael Redd had 16, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye had 15 each, and Shannon Brown added 12.
The Kings were once again without key players as John Salmons missed another game and Marcus Thornton sat out with a bruised calf, sustained in Monday's win over the Timberwolves. With the loss, that puts the Kings at just 1-7 when Marcus doesn't play.
The Suns inherently cause a matchup problem for most teams because of the fact they only play one true big man at a time. On the other side of things, you could say that teams that play the traditional two big men could have a mismatch of their own on the other end, and that should have been the case tonight. Keith Smart got too cute with the matchups though. In place of the injured Marcus Thornton, Smart started Donté Greene. He put Greene on Frye, which left one of DeMarcus Cousins or Jason Thompson to guard a Phoenix wing. That guy would end up being Cousins, who guarded Dudley for most of the 1st quarter while Thompson drew Gortat duty. Smart said in his post-game that this was due to the fear of the pick and roll, but I think he outsmarted himself on this one (no pun intended). The Suns were still able to get whatever they wanted, and switches just caused even more havoc. Cousins was absolutely useless having to hang out on the perimeter guarding Dudley, and when Dudley did get the ball, he was much quicker than Cousins. Greene was too aggressive in attacking the ball-handler off a pick-and-roll and picked up some quick fouls. Gortat handled Thompson easily enough as well. Smart probably would have benefited more by starting Greene for Thompson and having Williams start for Dudley, but I'm not an NBA coach.
One of the reasons I'm not an NBA coach is because for the most part, that unit with those matchups still performed relatively well. They played together till the 3:54 mark of the 1st and were only down 18-16 at that point. A big part of that was DeMarcus' offense though and less the defense. At the 3:54 mark though, everything changed. Chuck Hayes and Hassan Whiteside came in for JT and Big Cuz, and about a minute later and the score now 20-16, Jimmer Fredette, Terrence Williams and Travis Outlaw came in. On paper, that's a pretty terrible lineup. Turns out, it's a pretty terrible lineup in real life too.
Predictably, the Suns would go on a 9-2 run to end the quarter up 11 points. Sacramento's offense just could not get anything going, mainly because 3 of the 5 players on the lineup are the Kings lowest per-game scorers, another is an inconsistent rookie, and the other is a guy who has played just 6 games with the Kings. Jimmer tried to provide the offense, and got some good looks from three, but unlike against Minnesota, tonight they weren't falling. He finished 0 for 5 from three, and 0 for 6 overall.
The start of the 2nd quarter featured the same lineup for the Kings, and it was more of the same. Former All-Star Michael Redd took over the reins for Phoenix here and got off to a scorching start, featuring in all of Phoenix's first 12 points of the quarter, whether by scoring or assisting. Redd's three with 7:46 left in the half put the Suns up 17 points and the only reason it wasn't worse was because Terrence Williams was taking over the Kings offense. 17 points this early in the game was discouraging, but we know this team can fight and there was still plenty of time left in the game.
And fight they did, coming back from the depths of lineup hell as the A-Team once again returned to the game. Cousins got it going again, Terrence kept it going, and by the time the half came, it was only an 8 point game. After the break, the Kings really poured it on the Suns, particularly Isaiah and DeMarcus, who combined for 21 of the Kings 27 points and assisted for 4 more. The biggest part of the Kings comeback of course came when Steve Nash went to the bench at the 3:32 mark with the Suns up 9. Sebastian Telfair was unable to provide the same leadership and the Kings took advantage, cutting the lead down to one by the end of the 3rd.
Sacramento struck first to open the final period, retaking the lead for the first time since the 1st quarter, but it didn't last long. Both teams kept trading baskets, with the Kings ever being within one possession but never gaining enough momentum to take the lead again or even gain some separation. Big shots didn't fall, particularly from the perimeter, where the Kings were just 1 for 10 on the night. Michael Redd continued to torch the Kings with his shooting and slashing, and the Kings stopped moving the ball as much, going one-on-one. This resulted in another below 20 assist game for Sacramento, finishing with just 19.
Still, the Kings were within reach, only down 5 points halfway through the quarter. Unfortunately, that's when Coach Alvin Gentry decided Steve Nash had had enough of a breather and put him back into the game. Nash immediately made an impact, nailing a tough three and another running jumper to put the Suns up 9. Then he set up Channing Frye for a short shot, getting it back up to double digits. He scored two more points after that, assisted on two more baskets, and passed the ball to Gortat in a place where he got fouled while shooting. He just took over the game and it was as if there was nothing the Kings could do about it. They didn't exactly help either by missing open shots and turning the ball over.
Keith Smart was right to fear the Pick and Roll, but fearing it is not the same as stopping it. According to mysyngergysports.com the Suns P&R ballhandlers were 8 of 15 from the field, their roll men went 4 of 6, and their cutters 5 of 7. Phoenix beat the Kings at their own game too, getting to the basket at will and outscoring Sacramento in the paint 54 to 52.
I sense there were some tired legs tonight. The season is getting into its dog days for non-playoff contenders, and this compressed schedule hasn't helped at all either. This was also the 4th game in 5 nights for the Kings. Jason Thompson is still feeling the effects of his sprained ankle, a big reason he played just 17 minutes. This team has to be hurting all over right now, but that excuse means little when every other team probably feels the same way too. I hope they bring some more energy when the Los Angeles Clippers come into town on Thursday.
- The young lady (probably about 13 or 14) who performed the national anthem tonight did an incredible job. Would have shamed half the people they have perform.
- I was watching Steve Nash during his pre-game routine and he must have hit somewhere between 30 to 40 shots in a row at one point, all from about 17 feet, each shot after one dribble to the elbow, and then alternating. He was barely moving the twine on the shots either. I know he's known for how incredible of a passer he is, but he's just as incredible of a shooter.
- Terrence Williams is Donté-like when he's on the bench, always up and encouraging his teammates and trying to get the fans involved.
- David Garibaldi's speed painting halftime show was really cool.
- Josh Childress hit a halfcourt shot at the end of halftime warmups and celebrated like he won the lottery.
- A very drunk man in the section next to me threw his empty beer cup down the stairs midway through the 4th quarter. The usher came up and asked him why he threw the cup. His response? "It was empty".
- Hassan Whiteside can become a good defender if he puts his mind to it. He was killing Robin Lopez for a while there. What he really needs to work on is going for rebounds. Right now he's very flat-footed and tends to wait for rebounds to come to him. This is probably a result of being taller and longer than everyone for most of his life. He needs to use the great athleticism and explosiveness that he shows in blocking shots to go and grab boards.
- Chuck Hayes makes it very hard to defend him against the haters sometimes. 1 for 7 from the field in 28 minutes is not going to cut it Chuck.
- With Marcus out, tonight was a perfect night for Jimmer to prove that he deserves more playing time by coming out and having a similar performance to the previous night, but he once again showed his inconsistency. And that's ok. He's a rookie and rookies are inconsistent (for the most part).
- Disappointed in Donté. He looked slow on defense and committed quite a few of mistakes. Just really ineffective overall.
- Also disappointed in Tyreke. Without Grant Hill, I would have thought he would have had a field day, but he was sub-par. Kings could have really used his scoring.
- The only way the Jimmer/Terrence/Outlaw/Hayes/Whiteside lineup could have been worse would have been if Cisco were in for Terrence. That's a lineup the 2008-09 Kings would have been embarassed to put on the floor. Just shows that the Kings lack depth.