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Kings finally clamp down on defense and it results in an impressive win

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The Kings toppled the champs by playing their best defense of the season.

Ezra Shaw

Coming into last night's game, I was not expecting a Kings victory.  I was, however, expecting the team to come out with some great energy and effort after being called out by their coach a few days prior.  Then the game started and Miami got out to a 23 to 6 run on the back of sloppiness on both ends of the court.  I could hear coach Michael Malone thinking "Here we go again" through the television set.

The Kings didn't lay down and take it though.  As Rudy Gay said after the game, they responded.

The initial credit for Sacramento's comeback has to go to Sacramento's bench in the second quarter.  The starters had been playing bad defense, and the offense wasn't really able to get what they want.  They had particular trouble trying to get the ball into DeMarcus Cousins; Chris Bosh was doing a great job of fronting Cousins whenever possible.

The bench unit of Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, Travis Outlaw, Derrick Williams and Quincy Acy came in and brought some life to the Kings on both ends.  Quincy Acy in particular was phenomenal.  Acy scored all 8 of his points  in the first five minutes of the 2nd quarter on an array of ferocious slams and a nice jumper.  I really like what Acy has brought to the team thus far, and think he's a solid piece going forward, considering he's in just his second year.  He's active on both ends of the court, and unlike most players that play the style he does, he can step out and hit a 15-20 foot jumper.

Thanks to Acy and the bench, the Kings cut Miami's 17 point lead to a much more manageable 7 points midway through the second quarter.  The starters for both teams came in at that point, and while Miami was able to stretch the lead back to double digits at 10, it felt as if the team had had new life breathed into them.

The 3rd quarter is where Sacramento made their move.  The Kings starters came out of the locker room ready to make a point.  The defense noticeably tightened.  LeBron James, who had scored 19 points in the first half, was held to just two points in the quarter.  Rudy Gay did a good job of giving him space and encouraging him to shoot jumpers.  The help defense and rotations by the Kings were timely and they didn't allow much penetration.  In last week's loss to Miami, the Kings allowed the Heat to kill them both in the paint and in transition.  Tonight they held Miami to just 38 points in the paint and 13 fast break points, huge on a night where they committed an uncharacteristically high 22 turnovers.

Miami had no real answer for DeMarcus Cousins, but it was Rudy Gay heating up that really brought the Kings back into the game.  Gay had missed his first five shots of the night but caught fire in the second half.  With the Kings down by 11 points early in the third quarter, Gay went to work, scoring 11 points in the quarter, most of them with LeBron James on him.  Gay's shot with 2:21 left in the quarter gave Sacramento a 71-69 lead, their first lead since the first minute of the game.  The Kings ended up outscoring Miami 29 to 18 in the quarter and taking a 74-73 lead into what was supposed to be the final period.

The beginning of the 4th quarter was awful.  Sacramento and Miami's benches, which had played like polar opposites in the first half, switched roles here as Miami tightened the screws on their defense and Sacramento couldn't handle the pressure.  Jimmer Fredette especially seemed unable to get anyone the ball, and the first four possessions of the quarter for Sacramento all resulted in turnovers.  The Kings had a valuable opportunity to extend the lead on Miami with LeBron and Bosh resting on the bench and they squandered it.  Fortunately, the Miami bench wasn't able to push their own lead far enough, getting it back to just six points by the time both teams put their starters back in.

This is about the time that Miami started really helping the Kings out.  Sacramento made a lot of mistakes in the quarter (8 turnovers in the quarter) and Miami failed to take advantage.  With 2:42 left in the game, LeBron James found himself with Cousins on him on the perimeter, and his take to the basket resulted in Cousins picking up his fifth foul and James heading to the line.  At this point, James had yet to score a single basket in the fourth quarter.  James made just one of his free throws to push Miami's lead to 89-85.

The Kings missed their next shot and Miami found themselves with three opportunities to score on the next possession.  First, Mario Chalmers missed an open three point attempt.  Then Chris Bosh missed the putback.  Chalmers got the offensive board off that and was fouled by Marcus Thornton, sending Chalmers, a career 77.9% free throw shooter, to the line.  Chalmers ended up missing both free throws, keeping the Kings in the game yet again.

On the other end of the court, Cousins got the ball down low and missed a short hook, but got his own rebound in the midst of several Heat.  In the process, he was thrown to the floor by LeBron James on a hard foul.  Cousins had already picked up a technical foul in the first quarter, and you could see in the way all his teammates and coaches ran towards him that they wanted to prevent his ejection.  Cousins didn't lose his cool though, getting up and walking calmly to the bench.

Sacramento's possession after the foul left a lot to be desired.  Isaiah took a bad long shot that was blocked by Chris Bosh, but Cousins got hit with another hard foul, this time by Mario Chalmers.  Also surprisingly, the refs called this a flagrant, even after reviewing, meaning the Kings got two shots and the ball.  To my eyes, it didn't seem particularly flagrant (it was most definitely a foul though), and I think Cousins did a good job selling it.  Cousins made both of his free throws and now the Kings had a chance to tie the game with just over a minute left.  Isaiah found Gay, who pulled up from about 15 feet for a jumper that was nothing but net.

Michael Beasley made a bad pass to Chris Bosh on the next Heat possession and the Kings had a prime opportunity to take the lead.  Isaiah missed a 17 foot jumper though and LeBron ended up with the ball with 20 seconds left and Gay on him.  The smart move for James would have been to attack the basket as the clock winded down; The Kings had been unable to stop his penetration for most of the night, and there was a good chance that even if he missed, he'd get fouled.  This is the strategy Chris Paul employed against the Kings in Los Angeles last month.  Instead, James threw up a contested 25 footer that wasn't even close and we headed to extra time.

By now, all the momentum was in the Kings' favor, and Isaiah Thomas was determined to keep it that way.  Isaiah quickly found Gay open for a three on Sacramento's first possession and Gay drilled it.  It was Gay's only make from long distance after badly missing (and I mean badly, his first was an airball) his other four attempts.  After the Kings came away with another stop, Thomas came back and knocked down a stop and pop jumper to push Sacramento's lead to five, forcing Spoelstra to call a timeout.  James responded with a quick layup out of the timeout, but Isaiah came right back and nailed a three from the top of the arc.  It was originally ruled a two but I'm not sure how since Isaiah was a full foot behind the arc.  Thankfully there's replay available (and it was used judicially by the officiating crew).

Cousins came up big in this final quarter.  He was playing with five fouls and the Kings needed him to stay in the game.  He was grabbing so many important rebounds and Miami had no answer down low for him.  With 1:20 left in OT and the Kings up six, Cousins made perhaps the biggest play of the night when he stepped in and drew a charge on Michael Beasley, forcing a Miami turnover.  The Kings ended up extending the game to 8 points with 50 seconds left on Rudy Gay's free throws and the game seemed about over.

LeBron, of course, wasn't quite done yet.  He drilled three consecutive threes in the final minute to keep the Heat somewhat in it.  The Kings responded with a basket or free throws after each make however so it didn't make a difference in the end.  Sacramento came away victorious.

Sacramento's defense was a dramatic improvement over anything we've seen to date.  The Heat are the best offensive team in basketball, and even without Wade, Allen and Anderson, they're extremely potent.  After giving up 32 points in the first quarter, the Kings held Miami to 23, 18, 16 and 14.  It's even more impressive when you realize that 9 of the overtime points came on contested threes by James in the final minute with the game all but decided.  Sacramento dominated the glass 51 to 35, with Cousins leading the way with 17, including 6 on the offensive end.  Every single King had at least one rebound, and 8 of them had at least three.  Sacramento also held Miami to 44.2% from the field and 34.4% from three.  LeBron James, after scoring 19 points and looking unstoppable in the first half, scored just 3 points in the second half (not including overtime where he had 11).  Yes, James did say he sprained his right groin, but I think the Kings did a good job of encouraging him to shoot jumpers rather than letting him drive into the paint.

This was a great win for the Kings, but it can't be a one-off effort.  It should be noted that this team has had just two practices since the trade that brought in Rudy Gay, and chemistry takes a while to build.  Last night was a step in the right direction, but it takes a lot of work and focus to continue on the right path.

Hopefully, this game was a sign of things to come, rather than an aberration.

Random Observations:

  • The Kings honored Sign Lady's entrance to the Fan Hall of Fame and she got a huge standing ovation that was really nice to see.  Shaq even joined in with a sign of his own that said "Sign Lady made the Hall of Fame before me".  Here's the video.
  • Speaking of Sign Lady, the "Insane in the Sleep Train" sign was awesome.
  • Rudy Gay has trouble taking care of the ball when pressured, likely because even though he has a good handle, he's so tall that the ball bounces pretty high each time he dribbles.
  • So many already elite teams had the opportunity to draft Isaiah Thomas and passed up on it.  Could you imagine this Heat team with Isaiah coming off the bench instead of Norris Cole (who is pretty good in his own right)?
  • Chris Bosh is, in my opinion, one of the most underappreciated players in basketball.  He gets a lot of flak, but he's a star in his own right, and the way he's been able to adapt his game from being the man in Toronto to being a super roleplayer in Miami has been nothing short of amazing.
  • I agree with Grant Napear that the refs shouldn't be taking so long to review the replays, especially when the call in question (Thornton's clear path for example) seems so clear.
  • For full interviews on the team after the game, check out News10's interviews here.