Last night's loss against the Dallas Mavericks was a spectacular one, with Sacramento giving up a 24 point second quarter lead in a very short amount of time. The Mavericks used two big runs to get back into and eventually take control of the game: A 17-2 run at the end of the second quarter and a 17-4 run in the early third quarter. The Kings weren't able to recover after that point, and couldn't get on any runs themselves, never scoring more than 5 consecutive unanswered points from the early second quarter on.
So how did it all fall apart?
Dallas' first big run came at a crucial juncture when both DeMarcus Cousins and Carl Landry left the game with three fouls each. Cousins and Landry are Sacramento's only two post presences, and both have been big net positives for the Kings when they've been on the floor (Cousins especially). Without Cousins and Landry (Thompson was also in foul trouble), the Kings were forced to go deeper into their big man rotation than they've had to all year, playing Derrick Williams and Ryan Hollins. Williams picked up three fouls in the span of a minute, all on Dirk Nowitzki, sending the Kings into the penalty with over half the quarter remaining. Dirk, who up until that point had been relatively quiet, was able to get into a rhythm from the line and then began hitting shot after shot. Once that happened, the rest of the defense fell apart as the Mavericks took advantage and started finding open shooters like Chandler Parsons. Together, Nowitzki and Parsons combined for 19 of Dallas' final 26 points of the quarter, and only a big Rudy Gay three at the end of the quarter saved it from being a complete disaster as Sacramento still held a nine point lead.
That run by the Mavericks should have woken the Kings up but it was as if they were still punch drunk coming out of the locker room. The Mavs continued to hit hard and fast, and the Kings were forcing it offensively. Dallas played DeMarcus Cousins tough and got into his head a little bit, especially once the whistles stopped blowing. It became every man for himself instead of the cohesive unit we saw in the first quarter. It didn't help matters that shots that were falling in the first half (like McLemore's threes) stopped falling. Rudy Gay began trying to do too much, and as we saw last year when Rudy would run the offense for large periods of times (notably when Isaiah Thomas was out towards the end of the year), he gets in trouble with his high dribble and other decision making. The Kings as a team had 22 turnovers on the night, and 17 of those came in the second half (Rudy and Cousins combined for 12).
Sacramento has definitely taken a step forward this year, but it's nights like yesterday that remind us we still have a long way to go. As we saw with Darren Collison's injury and whenever Cousins gets in foul trouble (which is happening all too often considering he leads the league in fouls), the depth on this team is lacking, and even just one key cog being out place is enough to make the wheels fall off. Ramon Sessions was very capable offensively, but his solution to Sacramento's scoring woes was to shoot rather than get others involved (0 assists), and his defensive work left much to be desired. Sacramento's defense as a unit takes a big nosedive when the bench unit has come in so far this year. The Kings need some stoppers in that unit because right now they have none. Whereas last year the Kings were looking for talent anywhere they could and thus shipped Luc Mbah a Moute for Derrick Williams, this year they need more guys like Mbah a Moute who can step in and reliably fill a role. This team has enough talent, especially now that Ben McLemore is coming along nicely.
There's a lot to be excited about as a Kings fan. This is a Kings team finally on the cusp of being good again. This is still a team that has gone 5-3 and probably could have won a couple more games than that if they played as a unit, rather than as a collection of individuals. But this isn't a finished product, nor should we expect it to be. It's time to learn from this loss and move on. We've got a long season ahead of us.