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Kings 105, Spurs 110: Kings steamrolled by Spurs machine

The game was not as close as the final score

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Sacramento Kings Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

So, lets just get it out of the way: that final score is crazy deceptive. The Sacramento Kings were trailing by 18 points with 3:11 left in the game when Gregg Popovich emptied the bench. The fact that they made a desperation run against the Spurs’ third string doesn’t erase that this was a Grade A buttkicking. The Spurs are simply on a different plane than the Kings right now.

That’s not anything to be ashamed of, though. It wasn’t that the Kings just laid down and died. The Spurs were just playing outstanding basketball. They put the squeeze on Rudy Gay, who was limited to 11 points on 3/11 FG. Kawhi Leonard was in his jersey all night, and there were lurking defenders waiting for him. The Spurs were all on the same page that looked borderline telepathic; they stretched and carved up the Kings defense with pin-point ball movement. The Kings had several possessions where they made solid rotations, but the Spurs simply made the extra pass or extra cut, and the defense inevitably broke down after three, four, even five rotations. The Spurs notched 29 assists to 11 turnovers and they earned them.

I don’t even think the Kings played all that unreasonably bad. DeMarcus Cousins scored 23 of his 27 points, dished 5 of his 6 assists, and grabbed 12 of his 17 rebounds when the game was still in question. The Kings overall shot pretty well from three point range, which kept them kind-of in the game by keeping the lead at between 8-15 points. Ben McLemore (14 points), Matt Barnes (15 points), and Darren Collison (11 points) all had productive outings off the bench. Even Willie Cauley-Stein (11 points on 3/5 FG, 5/7 FT) was aggressive and good.

However, note all the guys I mentioned came off the bench. The starting unit was not good; Gay’s struggle was already mentioned, but Ty Lawson (3 points, 0 assists), Kosta Koufos (1 point, 0/4 FG), and Arron Afflalo (7 points, 3/8 FG) also were not pulling their weight. Lawson and Koufos’ presence in particular completely wrecks the starters’ spacing; the Spurs had the defenders checking those two frequently play free safety to double-team, harass the passing lanes, and overall just muck up the Kings’ sets. Dave Joerger has not changed his starting unit all season long but something needs to happen there.

Basically, the Spurs came in focused and determined not to have a let-down game, so the Kings were easily outclassed. Its not at all a surprising outcome; the Spurs are looking to compete for a championship and the Kings are just trying to establish a foundation. The Kings are now 4-8 on the season and still have a handful more brutal home games before they head out east for another road trip.

Some observations:

  • One thing I’ve noticed about the Kings defense is that they get overexcited about when they poke a ball loose. Very often, without much of a chance to create a turnover, they lose all defensive discipline trying to get the ball. The Spurs were clinical in punishing these gambles. The Kings would have been much better off just keeping their defensive integrity in tact instead of rolling the dice trying to get a steal.
  • How do the Kings fix the starting lineup? If it were up to me, I would start Collison and Garrett Temple together at the guard spots. Both play excellent defense and can shoot. It feels like moving Collison into the starting lineup is only a matter of time, but I don’t know if that shooting guard spot is
  • There doesn’t seem to be a clear fix at power forward; Cauley-Stein’s inability to win the spot has put the Kings in scrambling mode, and while he’s been better lately, I’m not sure he’s earned the spot back yet. Barnes is really old and might not hold up for a full season as a starter, and both Anthony Tolliver and Omri Casspi aren’t even in the rotation right now. One solution might be to go super small by shifting Afflalo to small forward, and then go with a frontcourt of Gay and Cousins. That would open up a can of rebounding worms, but the Kings’ starters are starved for for more spacing and more speed defensively.
  • Koufos missed one of the worst free throws you will ever see. I have no idea how the ball went in that direction, but the video doesn’t lie. I’m old enough to remember Koufos as a high school NBA prospect, and his jumper was supposed to be one of his assets.

For the opponents’ perspective, visit Pounding the Rock.