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Kings fall apart late, lose to Celtics 97-92

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The Kings really could have had this one.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings started tonight’s difficult road game in Boston with their oft-criticized, rarely efficient DeMarcus Cousins – Kosta Koufos frontcourt, and early returns were what they have been all year. The Celtics got off to a hot start, built up a double-digit lead, the Kings looked a step or two slow, and left it up to the bench unit to drag the team back into this one. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Credit to the Kings’ bench, because that is exactly what they did.

Dave Joerger brought in Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi, and Matt Barnes to play with DeMarcus Cousins. Four players the Kings can count on to play hard on every possession, and their most talented player. Surprise, surprise, it worked. The Celtics’ double-digit lead evaporated thanks to a huge Kings run that didn’t really feature anything out of the ordinary. They just played hard. They ran. They got to the line. They defended. Simple stuff, really. We even saw a little first half Willie Cauley-Stein, and with that hustle bench unit, he was reasonably effective!

The Kings went into halftime down 47-46, but considering the hole they dug themselves into early, it wasn’t a bad spot to be in on the road. Not to mention the fact that Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins shot a combined 5-19 in the first half. You’d like to think that wouldn’t be the case in the second half. You’d like to think.

I shouldn’t be surprised that Dave Joerger trotted the Cousins – Koufos frontcourt out there to start the second half. In fairness to Joerger and those guys, it wasn’t as big of a problem to start the third as it was at the beginning of the game. They didn’t play good, mind you, but they did enough to hang with the Celtics, and Koufos was pulled very early in that third quarter.

I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but if Koufos is only going to play 9 minutes, why do the Kings bother starting with that unit? How highly can you think of a unit that features a key cog in said unit only playing 9 total minutes? Anyway.

If Cousins and Gay were bad in the first half, they were below average in the second half. Not good, but better. I was more frustrated with Cousins’ shot selection than anything else. Rudy was bad, but off nights happen. Cousins just did too much outside shot settling for my liking. A lot of threes, a lot of long-twos, etc. Al Horford is a tough post defender, so I don’t hate the strategy of taking him outside, but if the shot isn’t falling, and it wasn’t, you have to try something different. It never really happened.

The game started to slip away nearly halfway through the fourth after DeMarcus Cousins was subbed out to deal with a cut he received over his right eye thanks to an inadvertent elbow from Ty Lawson. With Boogie out, the Kings’ offense was nonexistent, and the Celtics built a single-digit lead that felt insurmountable because of how poorly the Kings were executing offensively.

Cousins finally returned after getting that cut glued shut, and the Kings went on a very little run that pulled the game back within reach. Boogie’s passing out of the double team was excellent on back-to-back possessions, but poor defense never let the finally-clicking offense make a big enough dent into that Celtics lead.

Everything came crumbing down for the Kings and Cousins after Boogie lost Al Horford on a dagger-ish three very late in the fourth. Some late-game shenanigans brought the Kings within three one more time with ten seconds left.

What did the Kings run down three with ten seconds left?

It looked an awful lot like a clear out for Cousins on the perimeter with Horford guarding, unless that was some kind of freelance on Cousins’ part. Whatever the call was, Cousins and the Kings executed it horribly. DeMarcus attempted to draw a three-point foul on Horford. Horford got the clean strip. Game, blouses.

This was a frustrating loss. If Gay gave the Kings an average game, they probably win. If Cousins gave the Kings an average game, they probably win. If they executed better down the stretch, they probably win. If Joerger tightened up that rotation earlier, they probably win.

And yet, they lost a close game to a good team on the road. I can’t say I expected much else.