The Sacramento Kings ended their three-game road trip with a 121-117 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Kings’ 4th-straight loss dropped them to 20-27 on the season, and 10th in the Western Conference just behind the Utah Jazz and the Portland Trailblazers.
Without context, a 4-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at home is an acceptable outcome. The Grizzlies are a solid, tough, veteran playoff team that employs Marc Gasol, one of the best defensive options against DeMarcus Cousins in the entire league. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality, and to the Grizzlies credit they played really well for the first three quarters of this basketball game.
The Kings couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. They surrendered 36 points in the first quarter on 65% shooting. In the interest of not sounding like a broken record, the Kings are a horrendous defensive team. Willie Cauley-Stein struggled with Marc Gasol’s size and strength early, and Memphis just pounded the Kings in the paint for at least half of the first quarter. Jeff Green and Courtney Lee took over from there, and the Kings couldn’t get anything going offensively. Rajon Rondo was a turnover machine, but I’ll give some credit to the Grizzlies defense for that. They played the pass on every Rondo possession, and came away with steals more often than not.
The next two quarters saw the Kings teasing a few different runs, only to have the Grizzlies answer with a big three, or buckle down defensively, grinding the Kings offense to a halt.
The Kings didn’t play well, but they haven’t been playing well. Honestly, I was more impressed by the Grizzlies than I was surprised at how the Kings were playing. The Kings have regressed back into a team that doesn’t look confident in what they want to do offensively, so seeing them struggle against a strong defensive team like Memphis wasn’t particularly surprising.
I'll give Omri Casspi credit for sparking a little bit of a run to close out the third quarter. Darren Collison followed Casspi’s lead, adding some contributions of his own, leaving the Kings a very small window to make this game interesting down the stretch. They did exactly that.
Transition opportunities and increased defensive focus brought the Kings all the way back to a 104 – 102 game with 5:00 left. The Grizzlies finally stopped the bleeding with a clutch Mike Conley jumper over DeMarcus Cousins as the shot clock was about to expire. Memphis would go on a little run, and then Marc Gasol fell on DeMarcus Cousins’ ankle, and it was hard to really focus on the game after that. Cousins wouldn’t return, and you’ll see why below.
It looked really bad. After the game we’d find out that it was just a sprain. DeMarcus Cousins has been rolling his ankle multiple times in just about every game over the last week, and it never gets easier to watch. I wouldn’t be surprised if he misses a few games, and it might be the right call even if he wants to play. He’s clearly hobbled right now, and the Kings are going to need him closer to 100% if they want to sniff the playoffs this season.
With Cousins out, the Kings still managed to make a late game run only to have a plethora of mental breakdowns hand the game back over to Memphis. Let’s run it down, shall we?
Ok. Down three with about 30 seconds to go Rudy Gay inexplicably intentionally fouls Mike Conley despite having everyone on the bench and on the court screaming "don’t foul". Fortunately for Gay and the Kings, Conley missed one of his free throws. Darren Collison nailed a quick three, leaving the Kings down one with 18 seconds left. James Anderson, for whatever reason, didn’t foul immediately on the inbound, but Kings would eventually get the intention foul on Courtney Lee. Lee hits both, Kings call a timeout, and out of the timeout attempt to go for the quick two on a Collison drive that ends in a turnover. That was basically your ball game. I would have looked for one solid three-point attempt there, but it is what it is. The Kings didn’t deserve to win this game, but that doesn’t make the Kings’ late game lapses any more tolerable.
Watching that Rudy Gay foul again and again, seeing the Kings bench reaction, other players. Chad Iske fell to his knees in disbelief— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) January 31, 2016
The Kings dodged a bullet with that DeMarcus Cousins ankle injury. That’s about as good of news as I can offer you tonight.
There just wasn't any tangible positives to take away from this one. Ineffective basketball against a good defensive team that still managed to torch the Kings' broken defense. The Kings gave us just enough to keep it interesting down the stretch, but fell apart when it counted most.