Entering the third quarter, the Sacramento Kings were down just five points to the Miami Heat, 47-42. A great first quarter had limited LeBron James and Dwyane Wade completely, and though the pair turned it around in the second quarter to some degree, the Kings fought hard and avoided being blown out.
Then the third quarter happened.
In less than six minutes, the Heat had turned that five-point lead into a 20-point lead, first getting there at 64-44. That's right: the Kings scored two points (a free throw by Tyreke Evans and a technical free throw by Beno Udrih) in the first five minutes and 42 seconds of the third quarter. In that span, the Heat scored 17. In the 42 or so minutes of the game, the Heat only outscored the Kings 87-81. The early third quarter made this contested game into a blow-out.
That may seem like small comfort, except for that this Heat team is incredible and the Kings had little business being within a dozen at the half. Only superb effort nearly across the board and some great, hope-sparking play from players like Omri Casspi, Donte Greene, Samuel Dalembert, Jason Thompson and Pooh Jeter kept this from being an embarrassing performance in front of a nearly sell-out crowd at ARCO Arena.
Casspi was the team's biggest offensive sparkplug, hitting five threes off the bench on his way to 20 points on 14 shot attempts. The rest of the Kings shot 1-11 from beyond the arc, with the make a desperate, fading Beno heave as the shot clock expired in the third. Thompson (13 points) was the game's first player to hit double-figures, thanks to superior effort in that first quarter. J.T. went 4-5 for nine points in the first, and just 1-6 for four points the rest of the way. He continued to play with effort, but the Kings offense stalled, the passes dried up (thanks in great part to a tightening Miami defense) and J.T. couldn't find open space.
Udrih was the only other King in double figures; he had 12, and wouldn't have gotten there if not for four technical free throws (he made three) and that aforementioned crazy three. Take those away and that's six, and that more accurately explains how Beno played on the offensive end. This isn't to say he didn't play with effort -- he had a couple nice defensive possessions in transition; he's clearly playing hard out there.
Tyreke was just 2-10 with LeBron guarding him most of the night. Evans played about 31 of the first 36 minutes, and nothing in the fourth quarter as Paul Westphal rested him ahead of the team's road trip this week. Evans took and missed three three-pointers -- he's at 27.5 percent on the season -- and had trouble finishing around the rim as, surprise!, the Heat packed the lane against him. (His shot was blocked only once, but plenty where altered.)
Donte Greene was, next to J.T., the star of the first quarter, almost completely shutting down LeBron. Help came quickly -- the Kings doubled James and Wade on touch most of the game -- but Greene did just a marvelous job forcing James to take jumpers or pass to players not in scoring position. All that changed in the third quarter, as LeBron started hitting jumper after jumper, and as the Heat got into transition. (I enjoyed Erik Spoelstra running halfway down the court to encourage the Heat to push the ball. Westphal isn't the only coach out there who has trouble getting his team to consistently push the ball!)
DeMarcus Cousins had another rough, uneven outing. Two makes in 11 attempts ain't getting it done. I like to believe he's figuring out his moves and NBA defenders, and that it will come together. I like to believe it. He only had foul trouble in the first half; he sat in the second because he simply wasn't effective. Samuel Dalembert was solid on defense (team-high 11 rebounds, three blocks), not-so-solid on offense (3-8, and he was blocked three times) and generally good to have on the floor. Pooh Jeter was no great shakes in terms of performance, but he let LeBron and Wade each barrel into him in the second half (the former called as a blocking foul on Pooh, the latter a charge), and that's worth applause. The dude is fearless, and tough to boot. Not fugazy.
This is an outcome we all expected, and that the Kings (for the most part) fought hard and showed signs of life ... that's enough for me. We can't compete with the elite teams yet, so I'm fine with seeing us compete on a nightly basis. They succeeded Saturday.