How many times in the past decade have we lamented when another team gets all the calls, when another team won't stop shooting free throws? I can think of several occasions from this season alone.
Last night was different. Last night the Kings chose to set the tone early by attacking early and often and not letting up. Toronto has become a good defensive team since the Rudy Gay trade, but they don't exactly have an interior presence. Malone knew that, and so Malone had the Kings going inside constantly.
The Kings as a team won this game because of it. Yes, there was a late Raptors flurry at the end (we'll get to that) but it was their aggressiveness through three quarters that won the game. Toronto ended up making four more field goals and six more threes and still lost by 8. Why? Because the Kings did two things: take care of the ball and get to the line. Sacramento had just 10 turnovers and a whopping 51 free throw attempts. That's only happened 12 times in the Sacramento-era, with the last time being a 2009 overtime game against the Warriors that saw both teams break the 140 point mark (somewhat surprisingly the Kings lost 7 of those 12 games).
There wasn't one King that really shot the ball well. Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas all struggled with their shots, particularly from outside. But because they were aggressive in both getting inside and seeking contact, they got to the line. Those three alone combined for 41 of Sacramento's free throw attempts. 15 of Thomas' 23 points came at the line.
All those free throws meant a lot of fouls on the Raptors as well. Hayes, Vasquez and Lowry all fouled out and Valanciunas had 5 in just 21 minutes.
Sacramento's aggressiveness (and another solid defensive effort) helped them get out to a 20 point lead through three quarters. So how come they only won by 8 and almost let the Raptors cut it to 2? Well, they went away from the game plan.
Starting a few minutes in, just after Cousins made a couple free throws to push the lead to 22, the Raptors went on a 19-2 run on the back of Steve Novak. Novak scored 11 of the Raptors next 19 points, including three triples. The Kings offense, which had gone small (they were running a three guard lineup with Isaiah, Jimmer and Ben with Rudy at PF) sputtered as they reverted to a perimeter game that hadn't really been there all game. Toronto made them pay by getting out quickly and knocking down their shots.
In my personal opinion, Coach Malone made a mistake here by sticking with the small lineup. The Raptors were clearly playing better against it, and Steve Novak in particular was a killer. Toronto had just one big man on the floor in Valanciunas. This is where I would have liked to see Malone send in Jason Thompson to play PF next to Cousins and have the Kings take advantage of the mismatch on the other end. Jason's got a good post-game, and the only thing Novak can do is hit threes. Defending big men (or really anyone) is not part of his repertoire.
It got kind of scary with 25 seconds left when Kyle Lowry drilled a three and a whistle was called. Everyone around me in the arena got flashbacks to Paul George a couple weeks ago, thinking Ben fouled Lowry. However, the refs called Lowry for an offensive foul for kicking his legs out and the basket was discontinued. This was a call that I think the Kings were fortunate to get but get it they did. The play also resulted in Lowry's ejection due to six fouls and a second technical just to be sure.
Sacramento held on to win after the Raptors were forced to play the free throw game. It was yet another example of the Kings being unable to close games out, but they had played well enough through the first three quarters that it didn't come back and bite them in the ass this time. As Malone said afterward, this team still needs to learn how to play 48 minutes of good basketball. Not 42, not 45, but 48.
- I got to sit in Sign Lady's seat yesterday since she unfortunately was not able to be there (#LoveForSignLady). It was the closest I've ever sat to the court at an NBA game and the view from there is incredible. You see all sorts of stuff you either don't notice on television or from higher up. For instance, there was one play where the Kings messed up on offense but got bailed out on a whistle. Malone saw it and as the guys prepped for their free throws, he went over to his bench and started explaining what should have happened in that scenario and how to do it right. I asked Mr. Sign Lady if the other Kings coaches of the past years had done this, and he says they had, but Malone has done it more often than the rest.
- I really hope Marcus Thornton is ok. I was sitting right by where he fell, and it hurt me when I saw him fall. He was playing pretty well too, one of his first games where he was actually doing well as a complementary piece within the offense.
- Jason Thompson deserves a lot of credit for helping us get out to that early lead. He was a beast on the boards, especially the offensive glass (he and Cousins combined for 11 offensive rebounds) and I thought he should have played more.
- Derrick Williams was out with a "foot strain". That injury is just a little coincidental, don't you think?
- A lot of camaraderie between the old Raps and old Kings last night. When Chuck Hayes entered the game, DeMarcus started laughing and joking with him like "You're gonna guard me? Really?". At another point in the game with DeRozan at the line after a questionable whistle, Aaron Gray stood up and went "Hey DeMar! DeMar! You know you traveled man, don't even lie." while making the traveling motion. Vasquez and Malone were joking with each other between free throws too. It was fun to see.
- Mike Malone had one of the quotes of the year in the post-game presser: "If I knew Patrick was going to shoot like he has been with that mask on, I would have broken his nose two months ago"