It's hard to describe just how stingy the Grizzlies' defense was late in the fourth quarter of the Kings' loss on Friday. Sacramento scored 17 points in the first eight minutes of the fourth -- a good number. They scored two in the final four.
Sacramento led 88-81 with 4:01 left after DeMarcus Cousins split a pair of free throws and Rudy Gay converted the foul shot after Memphis coach Dave Joerger picked up an ill-timed tech. The rest of the way, the Kings scored two points in eight possessions, shooting 1-8 with two turnovers. On most of the possessions, Memphis just played stiff, active defense. The Kings got one easy shot in that span, the single make ... which was a Gay putback at the rim. The only other shot that wouldn't be considered tough was a face-up Cousins jumper.
Memphis also played pretty physical, and the refs let them. They were three spots where fouls probably should have been called on the Grizzlies: Isaiah Thomas got crushed coming around a screen and lost the ball, Jason Thompson seemed to get hacked on a putback attempt and then there was that disaster at the very end. With the Kings down one, Gay went up for a mid-range jumper in the lane. Replay shows that Mike Conley caught him on the arm. No call. Gay got the ball back before it touched anyone, which could have been called a travel. There was contact with Tayshaun Prince, and referee Marc Davis called ... a jump ball?
The refs could have called any number of things: the missed personal foul on Conley, a travel on Gay, probably a foul on Prince, or nothing. And they called a jump ball with 1.9 seconds left.
Gay won the tip, but the Kings couldn't get the ball or a shot.
The bad calls mattered. But the Kings lost because they couldn't get the ball in the bucket late. Credit Memphis' defense and some pretty stagnant Sacramento offense for that.
* Jason Thompson did a helluva job against Zach Randolph. Z-Bo was held to 12 points. J.T. has been a totally different player the last couple of weeks, and I think that's played a role in the Kings' improved play.
* The Kings' point guard defense is still a problem. This is the only major flaw in Isaiah Thomas' game. Conley picked him apart, finishing with 25 points on 8-13 shooting. A shotblocker will help, but will it help enough?
* A really encouraging game for DeMarcus Cousins, despite shooting 6-20. Why? When he'd shoot that poorly in previous seasons, he'd end up with a 12-7 game or something. But because he's drawing fouls so regularly and keeping his composure, he finished with 22 and 17 in 40 minutes. Those free throws add up.
* Four shots in 25 minutes for Marcus Thornton? With Isaiah-Gay-Cousins in there, the two-guard and power forward aren't going to get a ton of looks. But that's a stunning number for a guy like Thornton. The Kings could use a defensive two-guard right now since offense from that spot isn't a priority. (Ben McLemore was solid off the bench in limited minutes, by the way.)
* Memphis is going to make the playoffs and scare and/or beat their first-round opponent. I want to see Memphis-Clippers again, to be honest.
The Kings are back at it Sunday night in Oklahoma City. The road, ladies and gentlemen.