"You shouldn't accept in victory what you wouldn't accept in defeat" - Michael Malone
Those were some of the first words out of Coach Malone's mouth after the Kings 4th win in 5 games, and their first of this road trip, and I couldn't agree more.
The Kings won this game, and almost did it comfortably. Through 45 minutes, the Kings played some of the best team basketball (on both ends of the court) of the season. Rudy Gay was dominant after a lackluster game the day prior in Indiana; Gay scored 33 points, including 22 in the first half alone, and he did so on an efficient 12-19 shooting. He also added 6 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Minnesota had no answer for him.
It wasn't just Gay though, like it was just Cousins in Indiana. The whole team did a good job of both running the offense and playing tough defense. The Timberwolves, one of the better offensive teams in the NBA, shot just 44.3% for the game, and before that final flurry in the last few minutes (we'll get to that), the Kings were on pace to hold them under 100 points. Sacramento ran the fastbreak to perfection most of the night, outplaying the Wolves at their own game. Derrick Williams came back and haunted his old team, scoring 16 points on 7-11 shooting in 28 minutes while Luc Mbah a Moute didn't even get off the Wolves bench (a perplexing move considering Adelman called him their best defender and Gay was going off).
The Kings had a big run in the 2nd quarter that pushed the lead into double-digits. For most of the rest of the game, Sacramento kept the Timberwolves in check between an 8-12 point range, never full pulling away but also never really letting the Wolves back in it. With 3:17 left, Isaiah Thomas hit a three to put the Kings up 11, and that should have been the dagger that sealed the deal. Instead the Kings almost blew the game with some of the worst game management I've seen. Let's break it down.
3:04 - After the Thomas three, the Wolves called timeout. Out of the timeout, J.J. Barea blows right by Isaiah Thomas and anyone else in a black jersey to get to the rim for the easy layup. Nobody contests the shot and Mike Malone calls a quick timeout. DeMarcus Cousins, who had just left the game in order to not pick up his sixth and final foul, checks back in. 102-93 Kings.
2:53 - Isaiah Thomas pushes off of J.J. Barea and commits an offensive foul. For as good a game as Thomas had been having (26 points, 10-16 from field, 7 asissts), he was awful down the stretch. This was his 7th turnover of the game, setting a career-high. He and Cousins combined for 12 of the Kings 19 turnovers.
2:23 - DeMarcus Cousins makes a bad pass and Shved steals the ball.
2:09 - The Kings play decent transition defense, and Nikola Pekovic misses a jumper. Cousins snatches the board.
1:53 - Derrick Williams misses a short jumper, Pekovic boards and Barea races down the court.
1:42 - Barea finds Pekovic for the easy layup. 102-95 Kings.
1:29 - Cousins catches the ball in tough coverage and tries to go up with it despite nearly 11 seconds left on the shot clock. Pekovic swats it away and Wolves recover.
1:23 - Barea gets to the rim and Gay is forced to foul to prevent the layup. Barea hits both Free Throws. 102-97 Kings.
1:05 - Isaiah misses a contested mid-range jumper, Barea grabs rebound.
1:01 - The Wolves get the ball up the court in no time at all and Shved scores an easy layup. Malone calls a timeout. 102-99 Kings.
0:49 - Out of the timeout, the Kings regain some composure. They go to Cousins on the low block. Cousins uses his patience in the post to get around Pek and score a shot off the glass. 104-99 Kings.
0:39 - Shved finds Kevin Love curling around a screen on the left side and hits him. Love drills the three. 104-102 Kings.
0:19 - Gay brings the ball up the court and begins to dribble out as much of the clock as he can at the top of the three point arc. Cousins comes to set a screen, and Gay's man decides to go under the screen. Gay, now with space, doesn't hesitate and drills the long three. Wolves call a quick 20 second timeout. 107-102 Kings.
0:17 - Out of the timeout, the Wolves run the exact same play to get Love a look at three from the same spot he just hit. He hits again. 107-105 Kings.
0:09 - The Wolves are forced to foul Isaiah Thomas, but have a foul to give.
0:08 - The Kings get the ball to DeMarcus Cousins, who asides from Jason Thompson, is the worst FT shooter on the floor for the Kings (72.6% on the season). Cousins calmly nails both. 109-105 Kings.
0:04 - The Wolves have no timeouts remaining. The last thing the Kings want to do is give up a three. They let Barea speed up the court and go right to the rim, where Isaiah bafflingly decides to contest the shot and gets whistled for the foul as Barea makes it. Grant and Jerry think Barea might miss on purpose. Barea opts to hit the free throw instead. 109-108 Kings.
0:04 - The Wolves fouls Isaiah Thomas immediately on the inbounds. Thomas makes both. With no timeouts, Barea races the ball down the court. The Kings can only be hurt by a three, but decide not to foul. Barea gets to about 30 feet and throws up a three that is short as the buzzer goes off. 111-108 Kings Win.
Despite those mistakes in the final few minutes, the Kings played like the better team for most of the night and deserved this victory. We've talked a lot in the past about how the Kings need to learn from their defeats in order to win. This game against the Wolves shows us that they'll also have to learn from their wins in order to keep winning.
- Marcus Thornton hasn't been able to score much lately, but tonight he did a decent job of being physical with Kevin Martin and not letting him get too comfortable. Martin scored just 14 points on 14 shots, and only got to the line once.
- No other big man in the league has bothered Cousins more than Nikola Pekovic. It looked like it was going to be another one of those nights as Cousins had just 2 points and 3 rebounds entering the half, but he came alive in the second half to finish with 20 and 12. He also did a good job himself on Pekovic, holding him to 14 points on 5-12 shooting (considering Pek averages 18.3 on 54% shooting that's pretty good). He had a phenomenal stop late in the game on Pek right at the basket that led to the Isaiah three everyone thought would be a dagger.
- Ben McLemore rolled his ankle and missed most of the game but by all indications will be ready to go for Friday against Memphis.
- Ricky Rubio looked bad. Isaiah Thomas had him on skates all night, and he didn't play in the 4th quarter at all. What once looked like a promising career for Rubio now looks grim. He's definitely got skill, but he's also got a long way to go, particularly with his shooting.
- Quincy Acy needs to learn from Carl Landry to stop taking unnecessary dribbles when catching the ball around the basket and just go straight up. He's explosive enough that he can make things happen that way. The dribble lets the defense get just a little more ready.
- Jimmer played just 6 minutes. I would have liked to see him in just a little bit longer, if only because Isaiah looked gassed down the stretch and that could have contributed to his miscues. I'm guessing Malone didn't want Jimmer having to guard the speedy Barea.