The Kings had their first halftime lead of the season (seriously) and looked good through three quarters. Then it all came crashing down.
Chicago started the fourth with a 9-0 run to take a two-point lead, and ran away in the end with a 96-85 win. The Kings were outscored 27-9 in the fourth quarter, and you read that correctly, they scored just nine points in the fourth. That dreadful finish included eight turnovers and 3-21 shooting. Seriously.
Of particular frustration was the fact that Paul Westphal never once returned to his starting five -- a starting five that played energetic, well-executed ball to get the Kings a lead in the first place -- in the fourth. Each of the players got some late run, but never together as a unit. As such, the offense was a simple mess on nearly every possession. There are two exceptions: Tyreke Evans, who was incredible in the first quarter, had a tremendous stuttered drive off a pick to spring Donte Greene for a wide open three, and Beno Udrih and Greene hooked up on a great cut.
Other than that? Wild post moves, unbalanced jumpers by the wrong dudes, woefully inadequate plays.
Down eight with 2-1/2 minutes left and sorely needing a basket, Westphal took a timeout. What play resulted? A contested 25-footer from Evans off the dribble. Needless to say, it missed. Did Westphal call for a Tyreke three off-the-dribble? Did Westphal request something else and Evans freelanced? Either way, it doesn't look good. That can't happen. Not now, after all these losses. Not now, in the 97th game with Westphal at the head of the team. Either way, the coach needs to take some responsibility for the readily apparent problem with what's going on right there on the court.
In the post-game press conference, Westphal blamed his players. He called them "guilty," even. "Guilty." (He's right. They were guilty of unfocused play in the fourth. Almost across the board.) Westphal had rather pointed answers to questions about Evans' rough second half, and while he will no doubt deflect it as honesty or frank talk, it seemed pretty clear to this observer that he understands the heat he's about to take. I've seen coaches thrash for a life preserver before, and it ain't pretty. It wasn't pretty when Reggie Theus talked about his blinking hard hat, or when Eric Musselman boasted to reporters that it was only he who would get to the arena at 6 AM.
This is the beginning of the self-preservation phase of Westphal's tenure, and it's not a good look. A couple wins can turn it around, but they need to arrive by express mail, and hell, they'd might need to be neatly wrapped, too. Whether it's his fault or not, Westphal's clock is a'tickin'.