That crash you heard was the Sacramento Kings and their fans plummeting back down to earth, as the Kings dropped their first road game of the season 101-93.
Behind Reggie Jackson's 22 points, the Oklahoma City Thunder jumped all over the Kings, playing a physical and aggressive style that had the Kings on their heels. Usually, its Sacramento who is the aggressor in the paint, but the Thunder feature some quality defenders down low in Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. The lane was barricaded and loaded up all night, as the Thunder employed a zone scheme to choke off the precious painted area from the Kings' offensive players.
DeMarcus Cousins was limited tonight to 16 points on 7/15 shooting. Perhaps the biggest reason is that Cousins failed to get to the free throw line at his usual rate. Give credit to the Thunder's defensive gameplan. Their zone had the Kings struggling to find their way into the paint to draw fouls all night. Cousins in particular did not see the same volume of possessions he normally sees in the post, and the budding superstar was largely held in check.
The Kings needed the perimeter game to step up big, and got mixed results. On one hand, Ben McLemore had a breakout game. The sweet stroke he was reputed to have at Kansas shone through in a big way as he bombed his way to 16 points on 6/9 shooting. Rudy Gay had a bounceback game as well, scoring 23 points on 9/19 shooting. On the other hand, Darren Collison struggled mightily on the night, scoring 12 points on 5/15 shooting, and only 1/6 from three point range, most of which were wide open. For the most part the three point shooting let the team down, with the team going 6/24 overall. Pete D'Alessandro made it a point to improve the shooting of the team, but it seems like the team has a ways to go in that category.
The Kings again got off to a slow start offensively and defensively, much like Friday's affair with the Phoenix Suns. The Thunder seemingly got where they wanted, led by Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Sebastian Telfair and Ish Smith. On offense, the Kings were rattled by Oklahoma City's physical play in the paint. The referees allowed a lot contact go uncalled, which played right into the hands of the Thunder's physical defenders like Adams and Ibaka. The Thunder led the first half 52-39.
The second half began with the starters roaring back. Beginning to match the physicality the Thunder showed in the first half, the Kings ramped up the defensive intensity, getting their hands in passing lanes, forcing turnovers, and getting out in transition. One particular fun fast break led to Gay romping over a hapless Ish Smith on a spectacular poster dunk. The Kings sliced the deficit down to only two heading into the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, the reserves could not keep pace with the Thunder bench. Omri Casspi and Carl Landry chipped in their roles, but their contributions were overshadowed by the again disappointing play of Ramon Sessions. Sessions' bad defense and terrible decision-making have made bringing the bench at all a risky proposition. If this play continues, its only a matter of time before Ray McCallum takes over the backup PG spot. The lead swelled back up to double digits, and by the time the starters came back with six minutes to go, they were facing a 9 point hole.
Behind sharp shooting from McLemore and with Collison chuggins his way back to some semblance of life, the Kings would whittle the lead down, but would ultimately be let down by several mental errors and defensive breakdowns. Reggie Evans inexplicably picked up a technical foul off the bench, and Gay fouled Adams after he had gotten rid of the ball, which results in a technical under the new Hack-a-Shaq rules. Meanwhile, the Kings were unable to keep Jackson out of the paint, and ultimately the Thunder's promising young guard drained a difficult fadeaway with Collison draped all over him to essentially ice the game.
After a magical start to the season, it felt like the Kings would never lose. A 5-1 start against tough competition had the team and its fans on cloud nine. Unfortunately, this is the NBA, and no team is ever going to go 81-1. There will be nights such as this where the team doesn't have it in them to win. It doesn't mean that the team is back to the doldrums, but it does present a unique situation for the team to respond after a deflating loss against an undermanned club. On with the marathon.
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