The Sacramento Kings haven't won a game without DeMarcus Cousins since 2012, and facing the defending champions San Antonio Spurs on the road was a tall task. Especially so considering the Spurs were looking to avenge a loss they suffered to the Kings just a few games back. The Kings fared well offensively, but defensively could not stop the Spurs' trademark dizzying aray of offensive execution and fell to the Spurs 112-104.
Rudy Gay was exactly who the Kings needed him to be tonight in order to compete. Gay looked like he barely missed a beat after missing two games to injury, scoring 23 points and added 8 rebounds and a season-high tying 8 assists on 9/17 shooting. Gay was excellent all game long picking his spots and making plays for his teammates, rarely forcing the action. The Kings also got a much-needed boost from Ryan Hollins, who shrugged off his lack of minutes and delivered about as well as you could hope filling in for Cousins. Hollins scored 15 points total and added 6 rebounds on only 7 shots. Ben McLemore continues to blossom as a player, scoring 14 points total (11 points in the third quarter) on 9 shots and 2/2 from three point range.
Unfortunately, the story of this game was the defense. Missing their defensive anchor, the Kings can be serviceable enough on that end, but serviceable will get you run off the floor against the Spurs. The Kings had particular trouble bottling up Tony Parker, who had a masterful game, scoring 27 points on 17 shots and adding 8 assists. Parker worked the pick and roll game to perfection; it was Parker drawing just enough Kings defenders to himself to find rolling bigs to the rim, Parker getting around defenders to collapse the team defense and find shooters open beyond the arc, and Parker punishing the Kings for going under screens with his midrange game. The Kings also had massive issues containing Manu Ginobili off the bench, who was an assassin in a similar style but at a much lower volume than Parker, chipping in with 7 points and 8 assists on 6 shots off the bench. The Spurs as a team shot 50% from the field and added 12 three pointers, doubling up the amount of threes the Kings hit (six).
To defend the Spurs, you need to have guards that will efficiently navigate screens and a big that can take away multiple threats with their positioning. While Hollins and Jason Thompson are effective defenders in certain spots, neither is as good as Cousins in this regard. Cousins has the ability to deny the pass, the lob, and the drive simultaneously for just long enough for his guards to recover off of screens. Today, along with the fact that Darren Collison was just coming off an injury, the Kings would usually successfully take away two or three threats of the pick and roll, but both Parker and Ginobili were able to diagnose exactly where the weakpoint was in the defense, causing the rest of the rotations to scramble and fall apart. Whether it was a pass slicing through two Kings defenders to a rolling big man, a split of the trap to get to the rim, or an open midrange jumper, the Spurs' guards were laser-like in their dissection of the defense.
Defensive issues aside, it wasn't a terrible loss for the Kings. The team is a little banged up from injuries, but overall held serve at 2-2 on a tough road trip. Standing at 9-7, the Kings are now off until Sunday where they begin a lengthy homestand with some unfinished business against the Memphis Grizzlies.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Pounding the Rock