I know I've shared a similar sentiment after a Kings win earlier this season, but after losing three-straight games, none of which I felt particularly good about, this win was really important. The Kings successfully defended their home court, defeating the Utah Jazz 114-106, improved to 8-15 on the season, and knocked one of their 8-seed competitors down in the standings. It's a start. Or maybe it's another instance of fools gold. We'll find out shortly.
The Kings outplayed the Jazz for most of this game. Utah deserves some credit for hanging tough on the road without rim protecting extraordinaire Rudy Gobert. Gobert absence was noticeable, and while the Jazz still took it to the Kings on the glass, Sacramento was getting a lot of easy opportunities at the rim. Rudy Gay, Omri Casspi, Rajon Rondo, Ben McLemore, and DeMarcus Cousins all had positive moments at the rim that Gobert would have made infinitely more difficult.
Perimeter defense was still an issue. Utah kept the game close off of their rebounding dominance and three-point shooting. The Sacramento Kings lose shooters. It happens all the time. You can blame scheme, you can blame poor perimeter defenders (you should probably blame both) but it's an issue that isn't going away.
Offensively, I thought a lot of players played with more purpose than we had been seeing. Rudy Gay, for example, played an extremely simple, straight-line-to-the-rim offensive game. No flash, no moves, no long possessions holding the ball. He got the pass and went to the rim, or he got the pass and shot the ball. It's simple stuff, but that quick decision making worked for him. It was one of his better games this season, and his play allowed the Kings to survive while Cousins took a breather in the middle of the fourth quarter.
DeMarcus Cousins still looked hobbled, to an extent, but he at least he played with some post presence. The Kings need to get him more post touches, but the some post touches he got tonight were a lot better than the none post touches he had been getting. Beyond just the post ups, it looked like he was playing closer to the rim (at times!) particularly late in the fourth quarter where he had a couple 'I'm the biggest, strongest guy out here' offensive rebounds and putbacks. I don't know what's keeping him out of the post, I don't know if it's coaching, if it's health, if it's flow of the game, or if it's Rondo's traffic directing, but it needs to be rectified. I saw some of that start to come back tonight. Not nearly enough, but it could be a sign of things to come.
Oh, and that Rajon Rondo pass.
Kings' Rajon Rondo dazzling in the open court pic.twitter.com/rRPB6kqDat— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) December 9, 2015
Alright, let's take a look at the notes -
- Darren Collison was the first King off the bench tonight, which I only wrote down because it was a different substitution pattern than we're used to seeing from George Karl. He played Collison and Rondo early, and he played Rondo and Collison again to close this one out. I have my issues with that lineup, but Collison is probably the Kings best perimeter defender right now. It is what it is.
- Omri Casspi, guys. I cannot get enough of how he makes the rest of his teammates play. We can debate how fast this team should or should not play, but Casspi's style promotes transition basketball unlike anyone else on the roster. He's always running, always moving, and that full court speed is what got the Kings off to such a hot start tonight.
- The Utah Jazz look like a completely different team without Rudy Gobert. Also, that team needs a point guard desperately.
- I thought the Kings did a really good job defending Gordon Hayward in the first half, particularly on the ball. In the second half, they starting losing shooters and Hayward starting to do his damage.