Fresh off winning Western Conference Player of the Week, DeMarcus Cousins faced a big test on national television going up against Roy Hibbert, the anchor of the best defense in the NBA. Last season, Hibbert held Cousins to just 14 of 44 from the field, a miserable 31.8%. Would Cousins be able to keep up his high level of play?
We shouldn't have been worried. Cousins ended up having a fantastic game, scoring 31 points on 12-21 shooting to go with 13 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block, all in just 30 minutes. 19 of his points came in a dominant 3rd quarter, where he couldn't be stopped around the basket, even with Hibbert draped all over him. In a game against the best team in the NBA, Cousins was the best player on the court.
So how did the Kings lose by 24?
Well for starters, nobody else on the Kings but Cousins had what you could call a good game. Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas have been great as his supporting cast recently, but both weren't able to get their games going against Indiana's defense. Gay scored just 12 points and Thomas 7, well off their averages. Thomas' performance was one of his worst of the season, as he really struggled to get the Kings into their offense or to get clean looks for himself. Thomas had just 1 assist to 3 turnovers, and the team as a whole had just 13 assists to 15 turnovers. Many of those turnovers were unforced errors that the Pacers took advantage of.
Indiana made a couple big moves that set this game apart. The first came in the second quarter. Sacramento's bench had been able to keep it close and even managed to take the lead at one point, but that was short-lived. Indiana went on a 23-5 run over the next 6 minutes and what had been a close game turned into one that the Kings had to fight desperately just to stay in it.
The second move by Indiana started when Paul George banked in a buzzer beating three to end the 3rd quarter. The Kings had just cut the lead to 9 but now faced a double-digit deficit to start the fourth quarter. Indiana used that momentum and blew the game wide open, turning a 12 point game into a 23 point game in just 4 minutes. It was enough to cause Michael Malone to wave the white flag and not bother putting his starters back in (a wise decision because of the back-to-back).
Considering how bad Sacramento's defense was during the game, it was kind of a miracle that they even stayed as close as they did for three quarters. Sacramento allowed Indiana to score a season-high 116 points on 54.9%. Eight Pacers players scored at least 9 points, and while George led the way, each player stepped up at different times. Stephenson got it going early by attacking the paint. Hibbert hit some big jumpers to stop a couple Sacramento runs. David West bullied whoever Sacramento threw at him and thoroughly outclassed Jason Thompson. Luis Scola nearly had a double-double off the bench in just 16 minutes. The Kings meanwhile played a lot of isolation ball, making the job easier for an already great defensive team. It was a total team effort from the Pacers and it's easy to see why they are considered among the favorites to win the Championship this year.
The Kings won't face anywhere near as tough a defense on the rest of this road trip, but their own defense will have to step up big time if they want to have a chance to come back home with a win or two under their belts. The Timberwolves, who the Kings play tomorrow night, have one of the best offenses in the NBA and aren't too shabby on the other end of the court either. The Kings need to take a lesson out of the Pacers play book and step up as a team if they want to have a chance to win in Minnesota.
- The Kings reaaaally need someone at SG, whether it be Marcus Thornton or Ben McLemore, to start playing better because right now it's like they're playing 4 on 5 on both ends.
- Speaking of Marcus Thornton, I wonder why he doesn't take it to the basket more when he's so good at finishing around the rim? Especially with his shot not falling, I'd like to see him drive the ball a little more.
- The big lineup that had done so well against the Cavs and Magic didn't seem to do anything against the Pacers. In fact it seemed to do worse, probably because Jason Thompson was having such a bad game.
- Didn't realize Donald Sloan, a former Sacramento Kings summer leaguer, was on the Pacers. Good for him.
- I don't know how Quincy Acy finished that one alley-oop sequence from Jimmer Fredette in the second quarter, but he did and it was amazing.
- With the win, Frank Vogel clinched All-Star coaching duties a full month before the game. That's how bad the East is. Nobody but the Heat can possibly catch the Pacers record by then, and Erik Spoelstra isn't allowed to coach in consecutive years.