Greg recently wrote a piece about how he had "made his peace" with Keith Smart. It was and remains a good piece.
However, this is one of those rare occasions where I get to disagree with Greg. I have not made my peace with Keith Smart, and only take solace in the fact that he's highly unlikely to be the Head Coach of the team next season. That may sound callous, but it's true. To be fair, I understand that Keith Smart has been dealt a bad hand. In a game of five card draw, he's got a King of Clubs, 7 of Hearts, a coupon for free Jack in the Box tacos, the Baltic Avenue Property Card from Monopoly and a plastic spoon.
But what frustrates myself and frustrates so many other fans is the fact that he doesn't make the use of what good he does have. Tonight was a good example as any.
I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt for benching DeMarcus Cousins. Reports after the game seem to indicate that it wasn't for a disciplinary reason, and Smart simply said it was a Coach's decision, but Cousins' reputation speaks for itself. Plus, the starting lineup did a magnificent job of getting out to a good start, holding Dallas to just 18 points and establishing a 9 point lead.
In the 2nd quarter, things began to fall apart. The Kings went with a lineup of Jimmer Fredette, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. That's the first time that lineup has seen the court the entire season. For the first half of the second quarter, they actually held their own, trading baskets back and forth with the Mavs and retaining an 8-10 point cushion. That's when Sacramento, already having trouble getting stops, went even smaller, substituting Toney Douglas for Tyreke Evans. Over the next few minutes, Sacramento squandered their entire lead as Dallas penetrated at will to either get to the line or in the paint. Then, when the starters all came back in, Dallas had all the momentum and finished off the half with an 8-0 run. In the end, after scoring just 18 points in the 1st quarter, Dallas scored 41 in the 2nd and took a six point lead going into the half.
All the good energy was sapped from the building at that point, and it got even worse when the Kings came out sluggish in the 3rd and were continuously decimated by the Pick and Roll game, courtesy of Shawn Marion and O.J. Mayo. Marion was definitely the MVP of the night for Sacramento, posting up the smaller Kings guards and anchoring the defensive side of things. He finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds to lead Dallas in both categories.
The 4th Quarter is where things got really confusing however. Sacramento was down 11, a large deficit but in no way insurmountable. The defense definitely needed to step up, and guys needed to start hitting shots.
(On a quick aside, it appears that the fluky three point shooting that was sparking Sacramento's insane offensive output last month was just that, a fluke. Salmons has really cooled off and Isaiah, who was so good getting to the basket, went 0-7 from range. In the last three games, all losses, Sacramento's just 19 of 71 from three, or 26.2%)
With a chance to win the game still there, Sacramento opened up the 4th quarter with a lineup of Toney Douglas (understandable, played well to end third, lets Isaiah rest a bit), Jason Thompson (also understandable, as he was Sacramento's best big tonight, finishing with 16 points, 16 rebounds and 4 assists), Tyreke Evans (Need him on the floor)... and Travis Outlaw and James Johnson. Travis Outlaw is shooting 38.4% on the year yet has a 21.2% usage rate. James Johnson hadn't played all night and hadn't actually played in a game since March 5th. He hadn't actually played double digit minutes in a game since February 27th. Yet here he was, in the game during crunch time, ostensibly to guard Dirk Nowitzki, who wasn't exactly killing Sacramento tonight, as he finished with just 16 points on 14 shots, most of that damage coming in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. Still, the Kings got out to a good start, going on a 9-2 run to cut it to just 94-90 with 10:17 left. That run was largely spurred by Toney Douglas and Jason Thompson. It would have been a perfect time to get more of the starters back on the floor, at least for Johnson & Outlaw, who weren't really part of the run.
But the lineup stayed on the floor and James Johnson and Travis Outlaw finally started to try to make their own impact on the game. Just over a minute later, Dallas was back up by double digits and the closest Sacramento was able to cut it from then on was just 8. Darren Collison and Brandan Wright played the two man game to perfection, with Wright getting open shots at the rim consistently, finishing with 20 points on 9-14 shooting, which I'm amazed isn't his season-high (that would be a game last month against the Celtics where he scored 23). Collison, who for some reason isn't starting for Dallas anymore, scored 18 points on 7-10 shooting to go with 8 assists.
Marcus Thornton played just 6 minutes (in a weird lineup that in no way suited his strengths) and shot just once. DeMarcus Cousins got only 9 minutes. Those are the 1st and 4th leading scorers on the team, and Thornton actually led the team in scoring the previous one and a half seasons. They were not on the floor during crunch time, in favor of TRAVIS OUTLAW and JAMES JOHNSON.
Even more frustratingly is that this is Sacramento's 4th straight loss at home, and with so much going on outside of the franchise with regard to its future, it's maddening when we can't even enjoy what we're fighting for.
The Kings play next against the Grizzlies on Sunday in an early tip.
For the opposing perspective, visit Mavs Moneyball.