No Chris Bosh, no Goran Dragic, no Luol Deng, no Hassan Whiteside... but all the Miami Heat needed tonight was a zone defense to completely shut out the Sacramento Kings offense in the second half. After a blistering start, the Kings led by 16 in the first half, only to come crashing down to earth by one of the simplest defenses in basketball to lose 114-109.
The Kings in the first half did exactly what they needed to do, the complete opposite of what happened last night in Orlando. The Kings scored 61 points and were blazing hot from three point range at a 8/12 clip. Ben McLemore and Rudy Gay combined for 35 points on 23 shots, with Ben hitting threes and getting out in transition, and Rudy working his smooth inside-out game to perfection. After some porous defense in the first quarter, the Kings tightened up in the second, only allowing the Heat 21 points in that quarter.
The second half, however, was a nightmare. The Kings were able to maintain a double digit lead on the back of DeMarcus Cousins, who shook off some early foul trouble to rumble his way to 27 points and 17 rebounds in only 35 minutes, helping the Kings run out to a 74-58 lead with about 4 minutes to go in the third quarter. Unfortunately, thats when the Heat instituted the zone defense, which had the Kings scratching their heads as if they've never seen one before. The Kings are already a poor passing team still learning George Karl's offensive system, and with the Heat going small and athletic to harass the passing lanes, it was both extremely sad and oddly wondrous at the same time to watch the Kings offense die a horrible death. The lead began whittling down slowly and surely, and sure enough, well into the fourth quarter, Miami found itself leading 94-90. Thankfully, a Boogie inbounds play and an Andre Miller driving layup tied up the game. Gay had an excellent chance to win the game at the last second in regulation, but his driving layup spun out and the game headed into overtime.
The extra period was going decently, with the Heat and Kings exchanging baskets, until Cousins fouled out of the game on a charge call where he didn't get his feet set. From then on out, the Heat pulled away from the Kings as once again, the defense fell apart without Cousins anchoring the paint. Dwyane Wade was unstoppable, scoring 10 points in the extra period, both getting into the paint and hitting his patented midrange jumpers.
Ultimately, its another day, another disappointing loss in Florida. The Kings have now lost 13 straight in Miami and fall to 1-3 on the road trip. This is really a game they should have won, with Miami missing practically half of its rotation. And they were well on their way to doing just that before they crumbled against the mighty zone defense, the same one that terrorizes middle school teams and rec league games alike. I don't know how much work Karl has put in beating the zone, but clearly it wasn't enough yet. Again, the Kings are a poor passing team learning a new system, and against Miami's small and quick lineup those passes never stood a chance. The fact that it was their fourth game in five nights didn't help, after flying halfway across the country within a few days time. The schedule doesn't exactly get easier with a league-best Atlanta Hawks team on tap for Monday.
- Ray McCallum needs to do a better job keeping his head up when he drives to the rim. He's gotten into this habit of throwing himself into the paint without any kind of plan, which leads often to offensive fouls and some wild chucks in the general direction of the rim.
- Ben McLemore had a nice bounceback game with 20 points, but most of those were in the first half. Part of why the zone was so effective was because McLemore went 0/3 in the second half from three point range, never really getting the ball in a position to take shots.
- Karl went with Gay on Dwyane Wade in overtime, which turned out to be a big mistake. Some shots Wade hit were unguardable, but Rudy frequently couldn't get through screens fast enough while Wade got deep into the paint, kicking out to shooters, including the backbreaker by Tyler Johnson
- Speaking of Johnson, the guy could not miss and was in general extremely impressive. Makes me sad that Nik Stauskas, who is only a year younger, hasn't shown nearly as much as some other rookies in the league.
- Derrick Williams had a solid offensive game, but I get the feeling that Karl is getting tired of his constant defensive breakdowns. He has an extremely quick hook.