The Kings were due for a letdown after a thrilling and improbable win Tuesday against the Clippers. The Kings routinely play up to the level of their opponent, so tonight was a game I felt that could end up being a disappointment.
At first, my fears seemed to be founded. Sacramento started out lethargic and seemingly uninterested while the Wolves were aggressive and playing smart basketball. Nikola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio were absolutely murdering the Kings with the Pick and Roll. Cousins was failing to rotate like he should and it was costing the Kings buckets right at the basket. The momentum didn't really start to shift until Patrick Patterson came into the game late in the first quarter. Patterson and Isaiah Thomas sparked a little run that got the Kings focused and back into the game, even taking the lead at one point.
Things took a turn for the worse in the second quarter as both teams put their bench units in. Keith Smart made the tactical error of putting Jimmer Fredette in the game guard the speedster J.J. Barea and Barea responded by slicing up the Kings defense and helping to push Minnesota's 1 point lead to double digits. By the time the starters came back in for Sacramento, the momentum was going Minnesota's way mostly from Barea. Sacramento's offense was having a hard time getting anything going, and defensively they weren't getting any stops. Derrick Williams hit a layup with 1:29 to go to give the Wolves their largest lead at 55-43. This is about when Isaiah Thomas decided to take matters in his own hands.
Thomas and Patrick Patterson played the two-man game to perfection in that final minute and a half, spurring an 10-2 run in that final minute and half. It was capped off when Thomas got into the lane and found Patterson open from downtown. This run gave Sacramento all the momentum going into halftime and meant a lot less work needed to be done to make this a ballgame once more.
The third quarter saw a bit of back and forth between both teams, but Sacramento finally retook the lead late in the third on the back of Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has been on a scoring tear as of late and he ended up finishing the game as the leading scorer with 24 points, to go with 6 assists and 3 rebounds. Thomas made a few buckets at the end of the third to give Sacramento the 79-77 lead entering the final period.
Up until this point in the game, Sacramento's defense had been lackadaisical. It really stepped up in the fourth quarter thanks in large part to Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich. Douglas and Aldrich set a great tone on that side of the court and it allowed Sacramento to get crucial stops.
Offensively though, it was Tyreke Evans time. Evans unleashed his full arsenal of Euro-steps, horizontal hangtime and body contortions to get into the paint and make buckets. From the 8:48 mark to the 5:41 mark, Sacramento went on an 11-2 run to go up by 10 points. Evans scored 9 of those points and assisted on the other 2 in a beautiful pick and roll with Cole Aldrich. It looked as if the Kings finally had a little bit of breathing room and would be able to cruise to the victory.
But this is the Sacramento Kings we're talking about. There's no such thing as cruising to victory.
The Kings offense proceeded to disappear over the next five minutes as the ball movement devolved into a lot of isolation plays and careless mistakes. Minnesota's defense played a part to be sure, particularly that of Ricky Rubio and Andrei Kirilenko, but Sacramento was their own worst enemy. On offense, Ricky Rubio decided to take on the scoring load for Minnesota to try to will his team back in it. Rubio scored 8 of Minnesota's final 11 points of the game, with his free throws at the 1:36 mark making it just two point game at 99-97. Both teams missed their next shots and then Tyreke Evans finally got back into the lane for a nice little floating shot that rolled in with 41 seconds left to push Sacramento over the hump and make it a two possession game.
The next possession featured a series of fortunate breaks for the Kings. Ricky Rubio missed a three pointer and the offensive rebound went to Nikola Pekovic, who kicked it back out to Rubio, who nailed the triple on the second attempt. However, the basket didn't count because the referees whistled that DeMarcus Cousins had fouled Pekovic for his fifth foul of the contest. Cousins wasn't pleased, but it ended up being a far better result for Sacramento. Rather than Rubio's three counting, Pekovic went to the line and made just 1 of 2 free throws with 34 seconds left.
The Kings ran the good ol' 1-4 flat on their last offensive possession, with Tyreke Evans running out the clock before trying to get into the lane. Evans got caught in traffic and turned the ball over. Despite having a 20-second timeout remaining, the Wolves pushed the ball up the court quickly. Ricky Rubio tried to get a look from three but thanks to some very good defense by Isaiah Thomas didn't have a clear look. Rubio flipped a behind the back pass to Luke Ridnour, who was trapped in the corner and couldn't do anything. Ridnour found Dante Cunningham coming off the top of the circle for a pretty clean look at the buzzer, but Cunningham's three was too strong and Sacramento won the game.
Ricky Rubio finished with a near triple-double for Minnesota, scoring 12 points to go with 9 assists and 7 rebounds. Nikola Pekovic had a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds, but did most of his damage early on. Cunningham had a good night off of Minnesota's bench despite the miss at the buzzer, scoring 12 points on 6-11 shooting.
The Timberwolves dominated Sacramento on the glass, particularly offensively. The Wolves had 17 offensive rebounds compared to just 4 for Sacramento. Minnesota had 21 second chance points off those offensive rebounds while the Kings had none.
On the other end of the spectrum the Wolves were just 1 for 19 from downtown with Chase Budinger making the sole triple for Minnesota. Many of those were wide open looks. Sacramento didn't have a particularly great night from beyond the arc themselves, but still hit 6 of 18. It comes as no surprise to me that the Timberwolves are by far the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA at just 29.8%.
Tyreke Evans was the star of the night for the Kings with 21 points on 8-11 shooting with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. DeMarcus Cousins had a rough night dealing with Pekovic, but still managed 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. No other King had more than 5 rebounds. Patrick Patterson was the sole King to score in double-digits off the bench with 11 on 5-10 shooting.
Patterson, along with Douglas and Aldrich, continue to make a good impact on this Kings team despite only being here for a short time. All three players have very good defensive fundamentals. Both Patterson and Aldrich saw time on Pekovic and helped slow down the Pick and Roll game that Minnesota was using to pick apart Sacramento's defense early. With Aldrich in particular, I really love how hard he goes out on the ball handler in the Pick and Roll. That prevents easy passes, although Rubio is such a good passer that he was able to find a seam a few times anyway. I also like each player's team first attitude. One tiny example I noticed was late in the game when Toney Douglas was substituted out for Isaiah Thomas. Normally when a player checks out they immediately head to the bench and maybe high-five the player replacing them. Douglas made a point to go up to a few of his teammates before exiting to share a few words of encouragement.
Sacramento is now 19-15 at home and 25-44 overall with just 13 games remaining. A week or so ago I said that I'd love to see the Kings be able to reach 30 wins before the season is out, lottery positioning be damned. That goal seems to be in reach, with just a 5-8 record needed for the rest of the year.
The Kings head back out on the road for a quick stop in the Mile High City on Saturday to play the streaking Denver Nuggets. Denver has won 14 in a row and has a particularly good history of demolishing Sacramento. Hopefully that was the old Kings and these new Kings will put up more of a fight. It would be very nice if Sacramento was able to bring a winning streak into Here We Buy Night 2 on Sunday.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Canis Hoopus.
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