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Kings Crippled at the Line, Fall to Celtics 95-92

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The Kings from the free throw line over the first 36 minutes of action: 17/20, or 85 percent.

The Kings from the free throw line over the final 12 minutes of action: 2/10, or (ahem) 20 percent. And one of those two makes was a shot Omri Casspi intended to miss.

Wooooo, what a painful way to lose a quite winnable game against a typically brilliant team. The Kings worked so hard from tip to buzzer, and if not for a few goofy bounces on those free throws they'd have had a marquee victory in ARCO. As it is, it's a marquee moral victory. We love those!

I'd prefer an immoral but real victory to a moral but fake victory any day (I'm sure that what the win in Detroit was, and I was happier on Wednesday of last week than Tuesday of this week). But it's hard to complain much. Remember that the Kings lost to Boston by 48 points when the Celtics visited last season. I remember, I was there, I was in excruciating "moral" pain the entire game. Brutal, not brutale. It was the most boring game I'd ever witnessed live -- the only stakes were whether Lady Ziller's second quarter bet that the Celtics would win by 50 would pay out. The loss then was a microcosm of the entire season: the Kings were routinely completely overmatched.

If this loss, a game in which the Kings held a late, brief but real lead and had two chances to tie the game from the free throw line, if this is a microcosm of the balance of this season, well then, giddy up. This team fights, and while it's not quite there, it's almost there, there enough to keep these interesting (to say the least), interesting enough to make contenders sweat when @SAC pops up on the schedule.

I couldn't have picked a better day to write a "I'm Not Worried About Jason Thompson" post, let me tell you that. Thompson started slowly, but I challenge you to find a better fourth quarter (ignoring two missed free throws). In the fourth, in which Thompson played nearly every second, Shock racked up six points on 3-4 shooting to go with (ready?) seven rebounds, two of them on offense. He had (still ready?) zero fouls and zero turnovers, and one block ... his fourth of the game. If you bottled the Essence of Jason Thompson on a perfect day, that'd be his fourth quarter (ignoring two missed free throws). His work on defense, on the boards, and on offense got the team in position to miss critical free throws with the game on the line. I'm not being cutely sardonic here -- with Thompson's floor work, we aren't talking about free throws. We're talking about a 7-point loss.

Similarly, another player who had a rough go at the line -- Omri Casspi -- kept the Kings in the pole position through the first quarter. Omri had 10 points in the first quarter -- he actually scored them all in one bunch, hitting four straight field goals in the middle of the period. He didn't so much cool off as the game wore on; he just didn't get as many looks. For the game? Nineteen points on 7-13 shooting, to go with six big rebounds, two blocks (including a masterpiece on Kevin Garnett), two steals, three assists, just one turnover. If not for the 2-6 free throw shooting, I dare say that'd have been a perfect game.

Tyreke Evans hit 6-8 free throws before missing a pair early in the fourth. As Boston's defense cinched up in the fourth, Reke had trouble breaking past Rajon Rondo into the paint. It was, again, really Thompson's activity and stroke that opened up the offense enough to get the Kings into a one-possession game late. Kevin Martin sat the entire fourth quarter, except for some spare seconds at the end. Paul Westphal actually sent Martin to the table with about seven minutes left. As the clock hit six minutes without a stoppage, Martin went back to the bench, waiting on the mandatory time-out. That didn't come for another two minutes plus of game time. At that point, the Kings unit on the floor -- with Evans and Beno Udrih in the backcourt, Casspi at the three, Thompson and Spencer Hawes up front -- had gotten the game to within a point; in his postgame comments, Westphal said at that point Martin indicated the unit on the floor had done so well he wouldn't be mad if they stayed out there. They did, and but for some missed free throws it would have worked.

Hawes played quite solid defense. On a late Paul Pierce three, which ended Sacramento's all-too-brief lead, I thought Hawes should have closed more quickly instead of sticking on a rolling-to-the-hoop Kendrick Perkins -- Perk was above the free throw line, Thompson was swallowing Perkins and spitting him out all game, and Paul Pierce is the mothaflubbing Truth. But otherwise, Hawes rotated well and generally caused trouble for Boston in the paint, which is a bit of a stunner, really.

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Sean May had two blocked shots. I don't know what you want to do with that, but he did. I saw them. They happened.

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Evans's final line: 17 points on 5-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, seven assists, one steal, one turnover. The man he marked, Rondo? Four points on 1-6 shooting, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals, three turnovers. Advantage: Rookie.

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Welcome back, El Flaco. Roughly 1-1/2 minutes for Francisco Garcia in his return. Two fouls, one missed jumper. Can't wait to see more of him.

(Note that Flaco got only those 90 seconds or so, Andres Nocioni played 4-1/2 minutes, and Ime Udoka played a few seconds in the closing minute of each half. The Ron Artest Trade combined for 62 minutes. That's where we're headed, y'all.

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The single biggest difference between the Kings on Tuesday night and the Kings we've seen over the past two months: the interior defense was astoundingly outstanding. Boston shot 11-23 at the rim. The C's usually shoot 65 percent at the rim, and Kings opponents typically shoot 65 percent at the rim. Had Boston shot 65 percent at the rim Tuesday night, they would have hit 15 of 23 shots, an extra eight points. So, um, interior defense matters! Keep it up, kids.