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Third Quarter Collapse Strikes Down Kings

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When your team's top beat writer surmises that the team's starting power forward "had perhaps the worst performance of his career" after said power forward looked awful on offense and gave up 32/14/7 to a guy who usually comes off the bench, and you actually have to search your short-term memory to consider whether any of your starting power forward's recent games were actually worse ... that's when you know have a problem. A Big(s) problem.

Paul Millsap treated Jason Thompson badly, very badly. No one else was much better, though, and in the closing minutes no one else really got much of a chance to try. I thought Spencer Hawes played well in his (brief) minutes, but perhaps Paul Westphal disagreed, because Hawes didn't take his warm-ups off in the fourth quarter (except for when he came in to watch the Jazz miss a free throw, after which a time-out was immediately called with no time having gone by -- the substitution that never officially happened in the box score!). In that final period alone, Millsap had 9/5 as the Kings snuck between a small and micro line-up with Andres Nocioni, a touch of Sean May, Ime Udoka and even Omri Casspi at power forward. Nocioni had a few interspersed possessions on Millsap (never good), and Casspi marked him at least once, but the result has been shed from my memory already, so I'm assuming it didn't end well.

Beyond the overall dominance, Millsap had two key stretches in the fourth. The Kings had cut the deficit to four midway through the quarter when Paul went on a spree, hitting a goofy fall-away (plus the foul) and following up with a deep two-point jumper on the right elbow and a lovely finish at the rim off an odd Ronnie Brewer set-up. Seven points in 68 seconds, basically cancelling two lovely Kevin Martin-Tyreke Evans connections at the other end.

The second spell of import came on the glass: inside of three minutes, Jazz up six, Millsap collected a rebound off his own miss and shuffled it to Sundiata Gaines, who finished. Inside of 40 seconds, Millsap came out of nowhere (if nowhere is the line of cameramen on the baseline) to suck up a carom off a Gaines brick. The Kings had to foul Wesley Matthews on the subsequent play, and though Matthews missed both (a familiar refrain for Utah) time and spirit had been sapped.

The Kings really dug a hole in the third quarter. Martin exited with 4-1/2 minutes left in the period, game tied at 59. Brockman came in for Thompson at the same time. Brockman -- who had zero points and two rebounds in 12 minutes, Mama there go them per-minute stats! -- committed two fouls and a three-second violation within 59 seconds of each other. Hawes left for May at that point. The Jazz had taken a three-point lead on all the free throws. Over the next minute-and-a-half Millsap drove easily on Brockman for two, and May didn't close out on Mehmet Okur, who nailed a three. Two minutes left in the quarter, and that tie has turned into a six-point Jazz lead. Thompson re-enters for Brockman, who had committed another foul, and Evans leaves for Udoka. So at this point, the Kings line-up is Beno Udrih, Udoka, Casspi, Thompson and May. A veritable juggernaut, right? The Jazz add four more to the lead by the end-of-quarter buzzer. 73-63. The Kings never get closer than four in the fourth quarter.

The line-up +/- data really mimics what I saw (or vice versa). There were 5 min, 15 seconds in the first half in which both Evans and Martin sat. The Kings were -3. There were two minutes without Evans and Martin in the second half (the aforediscussed end-of-the-third): the Kings were -3. So that's -6 over 7 min, 15 seconds.

The Kings were +4 in the roughly 34 minutes in which both guards played together. Martin was +1 in his non-Evans minutes, and Evans was -6 in his non-Martin minutes (which all came in that third quarter). The team was far more effective when they played together. Unfortunately, since each played upward of 37 minutes, I'm not sure you can play them together any more than Westphal did and still survive the minutes without them, especially on nights when Beno shoots 0-for-5.

***

I'm not going to talk too much about Martin's reversal of fortune, because ... well, this is the norm. This is what the world expects now. It didn't take a genius to believe a brilliant shooter/scorer would eventually end a slump. It's like predicting a new Kevin Smith film will be unwatchable, or that Mehmet Okur will wince when he's about to take a charge. It's just common sense, based on years of observation.