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Kings 91, Hawks 88: Grit and Grind

It was a scrappy and chippy game, but the Kings found the energy to grind out a win

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

There is only one motto for this Sacramento Kings season: Nothing easy.

In another game going down to the wire, where both teams couldn't shoot a lick fighting through fatigue, somehow it was the Kings who found a way to out-execute the Atlanta Hawks down the stretch. With both teams on the second night of a back-to-back, it certainly wasn't a night for beautiful offensive execution. The Kings shot 35% from the field and 19% from three, while the Hawks didn't do much better at 42% and 24% respectively. Both teams turned the ball over 19 times. The Kings found a crucial advantage on the glass, outrebounding the Hawks 56-42 overall and grabbing 17 offensive caroms.

The Kings were, as usual, led in scoring by DeMarcus Cousins with 24 points. But this time it was a slugfest getting his points, as the Hawks played Boogie with strong physicality and help defenders flying in from all kinds of angles. Boogie took 25 shots to get his points, only went to the FT line four times the entire game, and he had 6 turnovers. Al Horford and Tiago Splitter did a wonderful job frustrating Cousins all night. Rajon Rondo notched his fifth triple double of the season with 11 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds, but this was a poor game from him. He had 6 turnovers himself, and was just off the entire night. His passes were off target, his decisonmaking was questionable at best, and he was only 5/16 shooting from the field.

With their second leading scorer Rudy Gay missing, the Kings got a much-needed boost from their starting duo of hyper athletic 22 year-olds. Ben McLemore was consciously looking for his shot and looked smooth doing it, finding himself in decent scoring position by running off the ball and using his speed to attack off the dribble. He wasn't super efficient shooting the ball, but the Kings needed Ben to make an impact, which he did. He also did an acceptable job on Kyle Korver; he still gets destroyed by screens too easily, but Ben never gave up on a defensive play, and saved points several times just by running back hard in transition.

Its hard to describe just how important Willie Cauley-Stein has been. He fits into a Boogie and Rondo-centric offense so well, running hard in transition, crashing the offensive glass, and positioning himself in gaps in the opposing defense. He is so lively on defense, causing havoc disrupting the opposing offense with his length and anticipation. Willie recorded his second straight double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

The Kings' starting lineup was very successful on the night, building multiple double-digit leads in both halves. Unfortunately, the bench had a very disappointing night. Darren Collison, already limited by a lack of plays run for him, was smothered by Dennis Schroeder and the Hawks' athletic bench defenders. Meanwhile, the Kings continue to invest possession after possession in getting Marco Belinelli shots off of screens, and he's simply not showing the reward. Belinelli was 0/7 from the field, including 0/5 from three point range, and brought his customary porous defense. Kosta Koufos was borderline useless on offense, blowing easy shots all around the paint.

This game was a dogfight down the stretch. Somehow, the Kings were able to out-execute the Hawks to scrape out a win. With the game tied at 88 after a Schroeder three pointer, Cousins set a jarring screen on the poor third-year guard to get Rondo open for a layup.

On the other end, Paul Millsap just fumbled the ball trying to drive against Cauley-Stein, and Omri Casspi called a timeout with two seconds remaining. The Kings set up a great play getting Collison into a footrace with Schroeder and nearly got away, but the referees called the fingernail Schroeder got on him as a foul to stop the clock. Collison hit one of two, giving the Kings a three point lead with about a second left. After the Hawks used their last timeout, they were unable to get a shot off because the inbounds pass wasn't clean.

Its hard to figure out exactly what the Kings were trying to do here on defense. It was simultaneously a ballsy call by George Karl and a massive risk. Basically, it looks like the Kings had Cousins zone the strong-side corner, anticipating the Hawks to run a play to get a man open there. The defensive look confused pretty much everybody on the court, both offense and defense. The correct response to this defensive look would be to take advantage of the Hawks' numbers advantage at the top of the key to screen for a shooter to get an open look. But the Hawks, without a timeout to adjust to the defense, were forced to run the script of their final play regardless. Watch Millsap run his route to the corner confusedly after screening nobody in particular. But the defense also confused the Kings defenders; watch Collison straight up LEAVE Korver to cover Bazemore near half-court. Korver was open, but I think Cauley-Stein was able to tip the inbounds pass, and the ball squirted to Horford, who was unable to get a shot off. Ballgame.

Overall, its nice to see the Kings win a grindfest where their offense isn't clicking. The team's offense in January has been humming beautifully, ranking fifth in the league for the month. The defense has been its achilles heel, and although fatigue was undoubtedly a  major factor for the Hawks, the Kings did play much better on that end than usual. Now, some other observations:

  • I thought Quincy Acy gave the team a much-needed shot of energy at the beginning of the fourth. The Kings were struggling to score with Rondo and Cousins on the bench, and the Hawks were whittling the Kings' lead down. Acy brought his usual energy and enthusiasm, torturing the Hawks on the glass and drawing several loose ball fouls to get the team into the penalty early.
  • The Kings really missed Rudy Gay when Rondo and Boogie were on the bench. With Collison blanketed and Belinelli shooting blanks, the Kings needed a focal point to get their offense chugging, and Gay's ability to create his own shot would have been really handy.
  • The Kings' starting lineup of Rondo/McLemore/Casspi/Cauley-Stein/Cousins was outstanding, posting a +19.5 net rating in 21 minutes. They really propelled the Kings in the first and third quarters, building multiple double-digit leads.
  • The Kings now move to .500 at home at 11-11 on the season. The road to .500 continues!
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