This is the first loss of the year where I am legitimately upset at the play of the Kings, and if something doesn't change, I suspect it won't be the last either.
The final score is not indicative of how this game went. After coming out and laying an egg in Oakland on Saturday, the effort to begin yesterday's game was much improved. We saw defense, ball movement and a quick double-digit lead. The Kings couldn't maintain the lead for long though.
Beginning in the second quarter, the game took a turn for the worse. After Ben McLemore hit two straight shots to build Sacramento's lead to 12 (their largest of the game), Atlanta's Point Guard combo of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schröder took over the game, accounting for all but two of Atlanta's 29 second quarter points if you count assists. The Kings just could not stop the penetration and once the momentum shifted in Atlanta's favor, they let the defensive frustration affect them offensively. Ball movement disappeared in favor of isolation basketball, passes were sloppy and turnovers started to amass. Worst of all was the breakdown at the end of the quarter where the Hawks scored six straight to push their lead to nine to end the half.
Sacramento's offense was marginally better in the 3rd quarter but the defense continued to be just as bad. This time it was Al Horford and Paul Millsap who made the Kings pay. Horford completely dominated DeMarcus Cousins on both ends of the court. Cousins was a complete non-factor in this game, and he let his frustration affect his game. The Kings aren't going to win many games when DeMarcus Cousins isn't a factor, and he can't let himself be taken out of the game so easily. There's a game plan every night for teams to get under Cousins' skin, and it will only stop when he stops rewarding them for it. Yes, a couple of the foul calls on Cousins were bad. But complaining about it or letting it get to him isn't going to reverse the call. I'm most upset at Cousins' defensive effort, where he allowed Horford a lot of easy looks in the paint because of poor rotations or not putting a body on him. Horford ended up with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds, compared to just 11 points and 6 rebounds for Cousins.
Cousins' ended up sitting out most of the 4th quarter in which the Kings made their comeback and the effort from the guys on the floor was noticeably better. Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes were able to string together a few shots and get the Kings all the way back to within one point with 2:46 remaining. After trading baskets for the next couple minutes, Sacramento had a chance to force overtime with about 9 seconds left, but Isaiah Thomas missed a three that would have sent it into overtime. Thomas finished with 18 points in the quarter and 26 for the game to lead the Kings. Marcus Thornton added 8 points in that quarter to finish with 15.
It was a frustrating game to watch because the changes in momentum from the Kings to the Hawks were so sudden. Sacramento would build up a lead and then give it right back all in the span of a few minutes. If the Kings had simply managed to play with the same effort and tenacity they displayed in the first and fourth quarters, this would have been an easy win. Instead, we have fans (deservedly) booing the team for a lack of defensive intensity when Dennis Schröder walks in for a layup to put Atlanta up 19. The Hawks are a good team but they are by no means a team that should be able to punk us on our homecourt.
The game did have a couple bright spots however. Ben McLemore had his second straight good game in a row, scoring 15 points in just under 23 minutes on 50% shooting to go with 6 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals. He was one of the few Kings playing with energy on both ends of the floor, and I almost questioned why he wasn't on the floor over Marcus Thornton or John Salmons in the final quarter. Isaiah Thomas, once again, nearly carried us back to a win. He's been our best player through four games.
The Kings have a couple days to regroup before they play the Blazers in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. The Kings aren't facing easy opponents to start the season, even if the majority of the games are at home. All I want to see from the Kings is consistent effort from start to finish. If that happens, I'll be happy win or lose. Effort like the last two games is inexcusable.
- Al Horford can hit threes? Yesterday was the 7th make of his career in 19 attempts. I also didn't know that Pero Antic could hit threes or who Pero Antic was. He looks like a mashup of Carlos Boozer, Nik Pekovic and Drew Gooden.
- Sacramento shot 31 attempts from downtown but made just 10 of them. That's a bit much when they aren't falling down. Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore are the only ones to hit more than 1, both finishing 3-7.
- If Greivis Vasquez continues to struggle this much defensively, I don't see how he is going to continue to hold onto the starting position, especially when Isaiah Thomas is playing so well. The same goes for Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore.
- I'd like to see Luc Mbah a Moute incorporated into the rotation sooner rather than later. We need better perimeter defense.
- Atlanta might just have two of the most athletic point guards in the league in both Teague and Schröder.
- Sacramento somehow outrebounded the Hawks, but it sure didn't feel like it.