Well, you can't say they didn't have their chances. After the Sacramento Kings played the part of matador to perfection in the first half, the team woke up in the second and made it a game in the second. The Orlando Magic didn't exactly execute a pristine offense down the stretch, but the Kings still found a way to out-bonehead the youngsters. The Magic won 119-114.
It was truly a tale of two halves. In the first, Victor Oladipo got wherever he wanted on offense. The Kings decided to start the game defensively switching pick-and-rolls on the perimeter, leading to utterly disastrous results. Oladipo frequently found himself lining up to a hapless Kings big man, tonight mostly Jason Thompson, and feasted by getting layups, open jumpers, driving-and-kicking... pretty much whatever he wanted. Oladipo torched the Kings with 32 points, 10 assists, and 5 steals. The Kings also forgot to guard Channing Frye, who got loose for a season high six three pointers and 20 points. Thankfully, the Kings offense was humming along nicely all night, mostly thanks to Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, who finished with 39 and 29 points respectively. But the Magic still 68-57 at half.
The Kings comeback came once the defense started stepping up in the third. George Karl switched to a more traditional defensive scheme, and the team was able to take the Magic out of their offense. A lineup featuring Andre Miller, Nik Stauskas, Omri Casspi, Gay and Cousins was particularly effective. The Kings found themselves leading 100-99 on a Stauskas three with 6:45 remaining.
Unfortunately, the late game execution was, um, shaky. The Kings lead would last a good 15 seconds before an Elfrid Payton floater would swing the lead right back. Then, in three straight agonizing possessions, Cousins would rush a shot in the paint, Gay would rush a fadeaway two, and Miller missed a three off the dribble. The Magic built a 108-100 lead, but fortunes reversed for the Kings one last time as the referees waived off a Tobias Harris three for failing to beat the shot clock. The Kings would grind their way back into the game and take the lead after Casspi was fouled shooting a three; Omri calmly knocked down all three free throws, giving the Kings a one point lead with 32 seconds remaining.
But the stupid just kept on coming. On the very next possession, an unexcusable mixup on defense gave Tobias Harris a wide open corner three, and the Kings would never see the lead again. Cousins would miss a shot in the paint, the Magic made free throws on the other end, and with six seconds to go the Kings were down 115-111. Gay hit another miracle three in the corner to cut the lead to one, leading to two more Magic free throws. The Kings had the ball with 3 seconds to go, but Miller turned it over getting the ball inbounds, and that was the end of it.
Unfortunately for Kings fans, these growing pains are all too familiar. Seeing as how this is the third coach this season, its excruciating watching the team adapt to the new system. Karl isn't without blame in this one because his defensive strategy in the first half was awful, but the late-game execution is something that has plagued this team all season, and that isn't something that won't be fixed overnight. Just another hurdle for this team to clear on its way to respectability.
- Ben McLemore was completely shut out of this game. In a contest of 2013 lottery shooting guards, Oladipo wiped the floor with Ben, 32 to 0. Not only was McLemore missing from deep, he was surprisingly unaggressive, settling for jumpshots instead of attacking closeouts off the dribble. The Kings didn't need him offensively today, but the team really is that much better when Ben is aggressive.
- I wasn't a huge fan of Andre Miller's game tonight. Miller got plenty of assists, but made some serious mental errors. He was a big contributor in the Kings' comeback though, which is more than anything a backup Kings point guard has done all year.
- Ray McCallum sure does get beat up a lot without foul calls. I know he's built like a bowling ball, but come on refs, throw him a bone.
- Omri Casspi was a mixed bag today; Casspi has only one thing on his mind when he goes to the rim, but hit some big shots and those three clutch free throws showed some serious icewater in the veins.
- Boogie the rim protector was out patrolling the paint tonight. Played some great defense around the rim with three blocks. Unfortunately, the Magic decided that they were going to destroy the Kings from the perimeter tonight with 13 three pointers.