I really don't understand this team.— Dave Deuce Mason (@DeuceMason) January 8, 2014
Deuce says it all right here. This Kings team has me flummoxed. It's almost as if this team has two personalities, and we never know on any given night which one will show up.
Last night, the good Kings showed up and beat a very good Portland team in what was one of the better overall team efforts on the season. DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay were the premier players for Sacramento, but almost everybody who saw minutes contributed in some positive way towards this victory.
The Kings definitely came out with much more intensity to start the game than in the previous two games (both losses) of this home stand. Coach Michael Malone made a change to the starting lineup by putting in Marcus Thornton for rookie Ben McLemore. Thornton, while still inconsistent, had been playing better as of late, and I thought his early pressure on Portland's Wesley Matthews was tremendous in helping to set a tone. He also did a good job of hitting the glass, grabbing a season-high 8 rebounds.
The Kings had a weird first quarter in that I felt they were playing with good energy and intensity on the defensive end, getting a lot of deflections, pressuring the ball handler, etc. but they still gave up 35 points on excellent shooting. Portland's a good team, and their starters in particular are very comfortable playing with each other. It didn't help matters that the Kings were failing to secure rebounds after good defensive possessions, especially in that quarter. LaMarcus Aldridge was feeling it, even with Jason Thompson providing some good pressure. I really liked Thompson's activity on the defensive end all night, and give both him and DeMarcus Cousins a lot of credit in slowing Aldridge down after his torrid first half. Aldridge had 16 points in the first half, but just 8 the rest of the way (2 on 1-8 shooting in the 4th quarter). Malone was really good about continually throwing different looks at Aldridge, with even Gay seeing some time on him.
The second and third quarters are where Sacramento won this game. The bench unit came in to start the second quarter and brought the Kings back from their 11 point first quarter deficit. Derrick Williams seemed to embrace the bench scorer role, something I've been wanting to see ever since the Gay trade, and it paid big dividends. Williams finished with perhaps his best game off the bench for the Kings with 14 points and 5 rebounds in 31 minutes. Almost all of Williams points came from him attacking the basket, which also got him to the line 10 times.
Jimmer Fredette also continued to look more comfortable in his role as backup Point Guard, finding open teammates and taking good shots. Malone has been trusting Jimmer more and more as of late thanks to Jimmer's improved consistency.
Sacramento's defense really stepped up in the third quarter, where they held Portland to just 13 points to Sacramento's 25. Of those 25 points, all but two were scored by Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. Early in the game, Thomas definitely looked like he was trying to facilitate more, but in the second half he began to look for his shot a bit more. Thomas finished with a near triple-double of 22 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds and most importantly no turnovers. For about 3 quarters, Thomas outplayed Damian Lillard (we'll get to that ridiculous 4th quarter shortly).
DeMarcus Cousins continued his dominant play against the Blazers. This was Cousins 8th 30 point game of the season, of which three have come against Portland. Cousins probably could have had 40+ points himself, but missed a few close shots that touched almost every part of the rim before popping out. He also was uncharacteristically bad at the line, going just 9-15. Portland even tried a "Hack-a-Cousins" strategy at one point, and Cousins responded to the disrespect by swishing both.
Gay was also phenomenal with his best two-way game as a Sacramento King. Defensively, he saw time against Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge and held his own in each matchup. Offensively, he was something else, and caught fire early in the fourth quarter where he, along with Derrick Williams, broke the game open for Sacramento. Gay scored 11 points in the first 4 minutes of the fourth quarter to push Sacramento's lead all the way to 18 points. This is about the time that the game should have been over, but it wasn't, because of two things: Damian Lillard and the officials.
Let's start with the officials. I have a theory that the NBA sent their refs in need of training/seasoning to Sacramento for this home stand because over the last three games the officiating has been appalling. In the previous two games, the Kings defense actually managed to be worse than the officials so it wasn't really a deciding factor. Last night it almost was, as the refs blew several important calls that nearly cost the Kings the game. Wes Matthews got away with a travel to draw a foul on Gay. Gay got called for his sixth foul for barely touching Batum off the ball. The most egregious error was of course when Damian Lillard drew three free throws after getting fouled by Isaiah Thomas with 16 seconds to go and Sacramento up by 5. Lillard pump faked, but Isaiah went to the side rather than jump straight up. Lillard deliberately jumped into Thomas to draw contact and the refs called it for three shots, cutting the game to just two. Fortunately the Kings were able to make their own free throws in response and Lillard then missed a couple threes in a row to end the game.
There were 86 combined free throws in this game. Portland had 36 and the Kings had a whopping 50. I'm not sure what the record for most free throws in a game is, but this has to be up there, at least in the Sacramento-era.
Speaking of records, Damian Lillard set an arena record and Blazers franchise record for most points in a quarter with his ridiculous performance. Lillard had been relatively quiet for most of the game but he absolutely erupted in the fourth. He began hitting three after three after three. As a fan in the arena, it was both terrifying and awe-inspiring. Lillard scored 26 points in the quarter to finish with 41 (a career-high) and nearly brought Portland back from that 18 point deficit by himself. Good thing we drafted Thomas Robinson ahead of him! Seriously though, if I had been in Petrie's seat, I probably would have done the same thing. Lillard has been way better than I ever thought he could be and he'll be a star in this league for years to come.
The Kings now get a couple days off before finishing off this home stand with games against the Magic and the Cavaliers. Hopefully, the good Kings show up again and for once take care of business against bad teams at home.
- Of Sacramento's 11 wins, 8 of them have come against teams that are .500 or better. Yeah, I don't get it either.
- Quincy Acy is guilty of bringing the ball down when he catches it instead of going up strong. But man, when he does go up strong, it's awesome. His driving dunk in the second quarter electrified the arena.
- I'm not too upset at Ben McLemore's demotion. I understand Malone's reasoning for it, and as long as he still gets significant minutes I'm fine with it. I think it was the plan all along to bring Ben slowly off the bench this year, but it was thrown out of whack when Marcus Thornton had the horrific start he had.
- My New Year's Resolution to Marcus Thornton is to only shoot the ball when he catches it squared to the basket. Too often he catches it and shoots before he's square and it usually results in a miss.
- We should probably never have any possessions that end in an Aaron Gray post-up.
- I hope to see more Quincy Acy/Isaiah Thomas photobombs going forward.
- The Kings played a couple of big lineups last night with Rudy Gay at the shooting guard and Derrick Williams, Jason Thompson and Cousins up front. I thought it actually worked alright, although it might not work against most teams.