Its never easy. The Sacramento Kings walked into Indiana and gave one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference all they could handle by buillding a big first half lead before escaping with a 108-106 win to finish off an utterly perplexing road trip.
The Kings' best player again was Darren Collison, who looks like he's settling into a real rhythm. He dropped 24 points and 5 assists, and the Kings needed every bit of it. Collison was devastating in transition, attacking mismatches against an unsettled defense, hitting shots all over the court, and playing some sticky ball defense.
Besides Collison, the Kings got some solid but imperfect performances from their Big Three. DeMarcus Cousins put huge numbers on the board with 25 points and 16 rebounds, but wasn't terribly efficient with his shot selection. He did miss some easy chippies that are high percentage looks, but looked out of control at times. Rajon Rondo put up his daily eye-popping assist total with 16, but did have a sloppy 9 turnovers as a counterweight. Rudy Gay was smooth as silk operating in midrange, but he missed all of his three point attempts, several of which came when the Kings really needed them.
Omri Casspi also stepped up with a big performance. He is really developing into a solid all-around utility man, providing everything the Kings need. He played solid defense on Paul George, busted his butt on the glass with 11 rebounds, spread the floor shooting 40% from three, ran the break wonderfully alongside the speedy Collison... it seemed like whatever the Kings needed, Casspi was there to provide it.
After a half where the Kings jumped all over the Pacers to a 15 point lead, Indiana responded in the second half by ratcheting up the defensive intensity and quickly erasing the deficit. From then on to the end of the game, the entire game was hotly contested. The Kings bench was able to beat down the Pacers bench and rebuild a nine point lead with about five minutes to go. But the Pacers once again responded and retook a 106-104 lead with two minutes remaining. It is in these situations that the Kings have frequently folded, included the recent outing against Minnesota. Instead, the Kings played excellent defense, with both Cousins and Rudy coming through hitting some clutch baskets and free throws, to finish the game.
- The Kings finish the roadtrip 2-2, which is perfectly acceptable. Nobody would have guessed beating Indiana and Toronto, who are a combined 34-24, while losing to Minnesota and Washington, who are a combined 23-31. There just is no figuring this team out.
- The Kings had a bad third quarter results-wise, but I didn't hate the coaching decisions in it. Paul George just got hot and hit some unguardable shots, while making some superstar-type dishes to his teammates. And when George went off the court, Jordan Hill caught fire, hitting some post moves against solid defense by Kosta Koufos he had no business hitting. The Kings defended the three point line much better, but there really wasn't much you could do against what George and Hill were doing.
- This is in direct contrast to what was happening in the first half, where the Pacers got easy wide open threes practically at will. The half just looked much better because the offense was flowing beautifully and the Kings put 60+ on the board.
- The Kings are consciously trying to get Cousins in the post more, which is a good thing. His decisionmaking attacking from the perimeter has been poor, so to get him going the Kings should get him on the block and run some pick and rolls with Rondo to get Boogie going downhill against a rotating defender. In the post, Cousins still lacks polish on his finishing moves, and at times the Kings use him more as a predetermined passer instead of letting the defense dictate where the ball goes, but he's so relentless attacking the defense he draws consistent contact and gets to the free throw line. It also helps to limit his turnovers.
- Rondo's first quarter was a marvel. He scored 9 points and 8 assists in the frame, but the way he had the entire game on a string was jawdropping. Wheter in the half-court and in transition, whether pick-and-roll pocket passes or finding shooters on the perimeter, there just isn't a better passer in the game today. Round of applause should go to Vlade for picking him up and Karl for unleashing him.