Just one game after playing perhaps their best game of the season, Sacramento played their worst game of the season. They were dominated in every sense of the word by the Utah Jazz on their home court and there isn't much good to say about this game.
What went wrong? For starters, the Kings couldn't defend worth a damn. The rotations that were so sharp and crisp against the Mavericks were nowhere to be seen tonight. The Jazz shot 53.9% but hovered at or above the 60% mark for most of the first three quarters. Utah had a ridiculous 35 assists to just 6 turnovers, and hit 13-23 from three. Four Jazz players scored 17 or more points, led by Richard Jefferson's 20 points in 21 minutes on 7-9 shooting. All but three Jazz players scored at least 8 points.
The Kings dominated on Monday in part because of their success on the fastbreak. They still managed to outscore Utah on the fastbreak (14 to 9) but when a team is allowed to (and the Jazz were allowed to) shoot that well, you can't get many fastbreak opportunities because the defense is already set. Sacramento looked as slow and disinterested as the Mavericks team they beat two nights prior.
No one person can take the blame for this performance. This is on the whole team, from the coach down. DeMarcus Cousins is the franchise guy. He should not miss the entire second quarter because he might pick up a third foul. The reasoning was supposedly that Utah was going small so Cousins might have picked up a foul trying to guard a smaller player. When I hear "other team went small" that means "nobody available to guard Cousins". Make them play to your strengths rather than to theirs.
Still, it's not as if Cousins made a huge difference. Yes, he scored 21 points and had 11 rebounds, but he wasn't putting in much effort on defense, and he picked up his 6th technical of the season. He was part of the rotation in the third quarter that gave up 38 points to the Jazz. Isaiah Thomas scored 20 points and had 7 assists, but it felt like he got outplayed by rookie Trey Burke, who had 11 and 9 in 15 less minutes.
Sacramento's shorthanded bench didn't fare much better, although I thought we saw a nice step up from Jimmer Fredette after a bad game against the Mavericks. Fredette scored 13 points in 12 minutes, compared to Marcus Thornton's 11 points (on 11 shots) in 34 minutes. Thornton's production and value has fallen off a cliff this season, and that's unfortunate, because it's forcing rookie Ben McLemore to be thrown in the fire much sooner than the team probably wanted to do. McLemore is struggling mightily in terms of shooting the ball, one of his strengths coming out of college. Currently he's at 35.7% from the field for the year, an abysmal percentage. But when the alternative is Marcus Thornton and his 36.4%, you have to go with developing the rookie. (By the way, for those worried about McLemore's shooting percentage, it takes a while for shooters to get a feel for the game. Kevin Martin and Peja Stojakovic were both below 38% for their rookie seasons)
If anything, this game is a reminder that we can't take one or even two game sample sizes too seriously. I'll admit that I myself got lost a little bit in the excitement of the Mavericks game. We need to see this team play well over a period of weeks rather than days before we can truly say that they've improved.
Regardless, Friday is essentially the beginning of a new period of Kings basketball, as the Kings will be welcoming Rudy Gay to the rotation as they take on the Suns. Gay, Gray and Acy were supposed to be available against the Jazz, but Greivis Vasquez did not arrive in Toronto in time to take his physical before the game (even when he's not on our team, he's slowing down our offense!). Gay will up the talent level of this team on both ends of the court if he buys in, and I for one can't wait to see how he performs.