Competing at this level, for a team this green, must be mentally exhausting. The game of basketball at the NBA level is difficult enough, but it really seems as if the Kings struggle more with the endgame blow-by-blow, the critical possession meets critical possession ebb and flow that is the zenith of pro ball. At the highest levels of the sports, these are the games that decide victors and the defeated. It's a mental chess match, and unfortunately this team is more into free-flowing play.
Tyreke Evans is nearly always deliberate. For 44 minutes of the game, this is a huge positive. He's the rare composed rookie, eager to let the offense unfold and find the best lanes (driving and passing) to attack. In the closing seconds, when the Kings need buckets, that composure can be a curse ... because there's no visible urgency. That's really what so-called clutch play is: deliberation and urgency, together in harmony. There is no "next play" -- you must get it done now. But you need to make the smart, correct play. The need for urgency plays tricks on Evans's mind, and he looks almost paralyzed at times. What worked in Milwaukee and Chicago didn't come close to working against Cleveland and Los Angeles. Shaking Brandon Jennings and Kirk Hinrich just isn't the same as shaking LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Against the latter, Tyreke needs help, help he neither received nor asked for. Alas, two crushing losses.
I'm not a binary person, though, and I can see the wonderful shoots popping out of the grave of this game. Like Swagger McDagger aka The Show aka Donte Greene playing remarkable defense ... until the second overtime, when he gave up a couple open looks to Kobe. Never mind that, though. Have some Padlocks, KBB!
There was also a brilliant first half plus for Spencer Hawes. But at some point in the second half, the Lakers realized they could block Hawes' shot pretty easily, and they proceeded to do so. :-( Jason Thompson had it backwards, starting shy and eventually realizing he needed to take some shots ... but the Lakers got him a bit, too. L.A. had 11 blocks in all.
Beno Udrih was brilliant, and would have looked more brilliant if a late three or two would have sunk in. Beno and The Show combined to hit 5 of 11 threes for the game; the rest of the team went 1 of 11. Omri Casspi didn't hit his own threes, but played a good game, with 15 points and 10 rebounds. He had two huge and-1 baskets, as well.
When I watch Greene and Casspi, I get so excited about the future of this team. These wings are only 21, both nascent pros. And they have so, so much talent and enthusiasm, almost more than they know what to do with, at times.
When I watch Evans, I see the present. Like the others, he's so young, with so much talent and will. But he's ready now, as he's shown, and that makes it disappointing when he disappoints. We've been spoiled to date, and of course he'll improve. He makes it easy to believe. But that willing belief has at times served to suspend reality, and the reality is that he's 20 years old, playing for the first time against the best basketball players in the world. He has forced us to believe in him right now, and that belief comes with the cost of expectation. He bears that burden now.
That, of course, is not without its rewards. If he'd beat L.A., we'd be beknighting Evans this morning. Next time, kid.