The Sacramento Kings, fresh off a disappointing loss last night against the Los Angeles Lakers, continue to be inexplicable. In arguably their gutsiest performance of the year, the Kings fought tooth and nail with the Portland Trailblazers into the dying moments of overtime. They had plenty of chances to just lay down and die, but didn’t. This on the second night of a back-to-back, the third game in four nights, fourth game in seven nights, and you can honestly keep panning all the way out to the beginning of the season at 11 games in 17 nights. And they played with the most intensity they’ve shown all year. Say what you want, I’m proud of them.
The game itself was quite a thriller. The Kings were led by efficient nights from DeMarcus Cousins (33 points on 12/22 FG, 3/7 3P, 6/9 FT) and Rudy Gay (29 points on 9/18 FG, 2/4 3P, 9/10 FT). The Kings also got a strong performance from Darren Collison off the bench (20 points on 9/16 FG, 0/2 3P, 2/2 FT), although his days as a reserve are probably close to over. The Kings’ offense was very good tonight; they had an overall 113.9 offensive rating and shot a pristine .58 TS% from the field. The only negative is that they once again did not hit their threes; outside of Cousins and Gay, the team was 1/10 from three.
The Blazers were powered by their usual culprits, the phenomenal guard duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who combined for 67 points on 43 shots. The Blazers did a ton of damage capitalizing on the Kings’ mistakes; the Kings coughed up the ball 15 times, leading to 25 points by the Blazers. The Blazers do as well a job as anyone not named the Warriors at punishing teams on the fast break.
The game was controlled by Portland for most of the first half, keeping the Kings at an arm’s length for the most part. The Blazers built a 12 point lead in the first quarter, and an 11 point lead in the second quarter. But the Kings were able to cut the lead to 5 at halftime behind Gay and Collison’s strong play.
The Kings made their move in the third quarter, going on a 12-2 run to take a 71-68 lead. The game would be a see-saw into the fourth quarter and overtime, with neither team able to gain much separation. The Blazers actually held a five point lead with 1:20 to go in the game, but a three pointer and a drive into the paint by Cousins tied it up to send the game into overtime. Down the stretch in OT, the Kings had their chances to match the Blazers’ offense, but Gay missed an open midrange shot at about the free throw line, Cousins missed a three, and Gay ended the night missing a tough, well-contested midrange fadeaway out of an isolation play.
Basically, it was tough to end tonight with a loss, but I’m still proud of the team. Its a shame they weren’t this sharp last night or they probably win that game too.
Onto the observations:
- Dave Joerger continues to juggle players in and out of the rotation to get everyone minutes. Today, it seemed like to me that Joerger scrapped his pregame determination of DNP-CDs at halftime, and in my opinion he nailed it. Originally, it looked like Garrett Temple was going to take a turn on the bench in favor of Ben McLemore and Omri Casspi. But with McCollum going off, the Kings needed Temple’s defense badly, and boy did he deliver. Temple saw his first minutes in the third quarter and played 19 straight minutes for the rest of the entire game. McCollum was 2/5 from the field in the time Temple was on the court in regulation, but exploded in overtime, hitting some tough, tough shots.
- Joerger also did a really good job staggering Cousins and Gay’s minutes so that one of the two was on the court at all times. In the second half, when Cousins went to the bench, Joerger went with the more dependable Kosta Koufos to anchor the middle instead of Willie Cauley-Stein. A Collison/Temple/Gay/Barnes/Koufos lineup helped build a six point lead in the fourth quarter before Cousins checked back in the game.
- More rotation notes: to finish the game, Joerger turned to Arron Afflalo at small forward. The Collison/Temple/Afflalo/Gay/Cousins lineup played some spirited defense but may have overextended themselves.
- I just can’t say enough about how good Collison’s defense was on Lillard in the fourth quarter. Lillard hit some shots where you just shrug, but Collison was basically his shadow, navigating screens like a champ and deflecting Lillard’s dumpoff passes.
- I thought Cousins did a good job keeping his cool tonight. Meyers Leonard was incredibly physical with him, getting into his face several times. He did get hit with a double-technical that I felt wasn’t deserved.
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