Early last year, the Kings had what I believed to be a signature win -- at home over the Lakers. Before a raucous crowd, the Kings flew around the court, nailed tough shots, worked the ball around, and did just enough to vanquish the hated Lakers. Though Reggie Theus's second season had begun poorly overall, it was a glimmer of hope for the rest of the schedule.
I really hope this game -- a pretty danged shocking 104-99 win at Utah, without Kevin Martin and Omri Casspi -- doesn't fortell the same letdown. Awful teams (like the 2008-09 Kings) win these games a few times a season. Bad teams win them once or twice a month. Not-altogether-horrible teams mix them in every couple weeks. I think "not-altogether-horrible" is about the most optimism I can squeeze out right now, so one of these wins every couple weeks will have to do.
Whether this is imminently repeatable has so much to do with Tyreke Evans, and how he attacked the Jazz defense.
There's really nothing like a 32-point, 7-assist game to buoy your numbers, especially early in the season. Evans (16-19 from the line) pushed his season free throw shooting near 70 percent, pushed his per-game scoring up above 14, and finally took over the per-game assists lead from Jason Thompson. (Evans is now at 4.2 -- behind only Stephen Curry [5.8] and Brandon Jennings [4.4] among rookies.) But all the numbers ... all those numbers are products of the style Evans played Saturday. Those will come if this continues.
Four of Evans's FGAs were long two-pointers (he hit one), three were three-point attempts (he hit two), and the other eight shots came in the paint (he hit four). He drew nine fouls for 19 FTAs, all of those also coming in the paint. So basically: 17 shots in the paint, three behind the arc, four in no man's land. All for 32 points.
I can take that.
The assists weren't always beautiful. In fact, I don't remember any of them being beautiful. But people forget this about Chris Paul: he doesn't average 11 assists on 11 alley-oops. Most of the assists in today's NBA come on perimeter shots. Drive-and-kick, passing to a teammate who is coming off a screen ... we think of point guards earning their numbers with wrap-arounds and no-look bounce passes, but that's not how it works. Getting the ball to your best shooters in positions where they can score -- that's the name of the game.
That's why the second half of the fourth quarter was so troubling -- the team couldn't get anything it wanted, save for a few plays. The sphincters tightened up and the entire squad began playing conservatively. 'Reke stopped attacking, shooters started hesitating when receiving the pass, forcing a drive and dish, and another hesitation, and ... blah. It was one of those moments when you'd actually pray for a rushed Francisco Garcia three, or a frantic creation by Donte Greene.
The Show played almost the entire second quarter, in which the Kings were a +11 (+9 when DG was in). Perfect shooting (4-4 with two threes), decent defense in the 2-3 zone (Orangemen!), and a beautiful spirit (pause). Evans owned the game, and Jason Thompson and Beno Udrih played Pips. But Greene was the spark, and he lit that thing on fire. A thousand claps of applause for DG.
One more player deserves commendation: Ime Udoka. His defense was loads better than I'd seen from Desmond Mason, and he was often seen communicating with Paul Westphal and his point guard (usually 'Reke, but also Udrih and a less-than-receptive Sergio Rodriguez). Udoka's help defense made Sean May look like a capable defender! It was a brilliant debut, and I hope he continues to prove him wrong by becoming a vital cog in the Kings machine.