On Monday against Charlotte, the Kings offense was never really able to get going, and the defense wasn't able to get enough of their own stops to make it a game. On Tuesday in Atlanta, Sacramento's offense warmed up considerably, but again, it was defense that cost Sacramento the game.
I saw someone mention on Twitter that it seems like every team has career shooting nights when playing the Kings. That's not simply a coincidence, it's a sign of a terrible defense allowing open shots. It's one thing when guys are making shots with hands in their face, it's a whole other one when they're firing uncontested. In the NBA, anybody can be a sharpshooter if they're left wide open. Remember back in the offseason, when DeMarcus Cousins hit 8-10 threes in Santa Barbara, bested only by Chris Mullin?
Well Kyle Korver is one of the best three point shooters in the history of the game and the Kings left him open way too many times. Sometimes it was because of poor transition defense. On other possessions, it was bad awareness and help defense. The Kings as a team have been overhelping all season to their detriment. Opposing teams have made them pay by finding the open shooters. I have to believe it's becoming part of the game plan against Sacramento, along with running Pick & Rolls, another area of concern for the Kings.
Coach Malone is probably more fed up with the defense than anyone, but he still put the blame on himself after the game. I think he's being a little hard on himself. It doesn't help when the defensive personnel just isn't there. The Kings don't have any stand out defensive vets, and as a whole are a pretty young team. The roster is in flux, and I doubt we've seen the last of the changes this season. Malone can stress and teach defense as much as he wants, but if the team doesn't buy in and execute, it won't add up to anything. I've seen glimpses of great defensive effort from this team, but only glimpses. Tonight those glimpses only came in the first few quarters, and completely disappeared in the 4th when Atlanta took a two point deficit and turned it into an 17 point lead. It didn't matter whether it was the bench or the starters, the Hawks carved up the Kings for open looks and got them.
Aside from the defense, there were several bright spots. Isaiah Thomas finished with a 20 point, 10 assist night after picking up just 4 assists the night before. Rudy Gay also had a bounce back game, scoring 22 points on an efficient 8-13 shooting. Gay had a couple "wow, I can't believe he was able to do that" moves, especially his one up and under take to the rim. I really like it when Gay takes it to the basket, because he's so big and long that he can either get the ball up around the rim, or face up and shoot over the defender.
Meanwhile, Cousins continues to be beast on the offensive end. Horford beat him up early in the season, and it looked like that would be the case again tonight as Cousins got off to a slow start. DeMarcus persevered though, and finished with 28 points on 50% shooting. Most impressive was his passing yet again. When double teams came, Cousins was quick to find the open man or the cutter. Ben McLemore especially did a good job of cutting to the basket at those times, and he was rewarded for it.
Speaking of Turbo Ben, he finally broke out of his shooting slump with 10 points on 5-6 shooting. He looked much more in rhythm when he was shooting, taking his time and staying square to the basket. He got some great looks in the mid-range off of screens, and that's an area where he can really excel.
The Kings will now travel to Florida where they'll play the defending champs in the first game of another back-to-back.
- I don't understand why Atlanta's fanbase isn't stronger. This is a team that has been consistently good for several seasons now. They've got an exciting team, and yet they're 29th in attendance.
- Atlanta's arena plays organ music literally the whole game. It was driving me crazy, but then again, the arena probably would have been silent otherwise.
- Al Horford and Paul Millsap have to have two of the slowest releases in the NBA, and yet they shoot so well.
- Travis Outlaw, after a great start to the season, has regressed back to the mean. He's back at below 40% from the field and near 30% from three.
- Aaron Gray screened a guy so hard at one point that he got called for an offensive foul. It wasn't an offensive foul aside from the fact that the guy who ran into him (if I recall correctly, it was Shelvin Mack) nearly died.
- The Kings could really use a solid spot-up shooter like Korver. The Kings best 3 point shooters are Thomas and Fredette, and both those guys normally have the ball in their hands rather than spotting up. Hopefully McLemore can become such a guy as he develops.