Wow. In a wild, um, thing that they for some reason are calling a basketball game, the Sacramento Kings emerged victorious over the Portland Trailblazers in a thriller that went right down to the wire. The Kings trailed the Blazers for much of the game, with the Blazers keeping the Kings at a comfortable arm’s length until the very last quarter. The Kings were shorthanded without the offense of Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi available, and had to rely on a host of roleplayers to chip in little contributions here and there to keep pace.
That is, except for DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins was utterly dominant tonight. His 55 points are his second highest output of his entire career, behind only a 56 point effort last year in double overtime against the Hornets. But the key was the efficiency; he shot 17/28 from the field, 5/8 from three, and 16/17 from the line, for a ludicrous 77.5 TS%. He did have five turnovers, but when you score 55 on that kind of efficiency, nobody is going to care.
The key for the Kings was the defense. The Kings were getting utterly eviscerated all night because of two main reasons: guard defense and rebounding. Poor Ben McLemore got the start, and while he’s a nice kid, getting around screens has been a major issue for him his entire career. CJ McCollum basically ate him alive for lunch, scoring 30 of his 36 points before the fourth quarter had even rolled in. And in the off-chance there was a miss, you could count on a Blazer to grab the offensive rebound. Cousins also carried the team on the glass with 13 rebounds, but nobody else on the team grabbed more than four. The Blazers grabbed a completely unacceptable 35.7% of available offensive rebounds, which is a team-wide embarassment.
However, the fourth quarter changed everything. The Kings stuck with a five man unit of Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple, Arron Afflalo, and Anthony Tolliver with Cousins, and the unit defended their little hearts out. The Blazers over the course of the game had an offensive rating of 124.0, but in the fourth quarter that plunged to 86.6. This allowed the Kings to erase the Trailblazers’ double digit lead and even build a 7 point lead of their own.
The Blazers would tie the game back up at 113 with 2 minutes remaining, and given how god-awful the Kings have been to close out games, it didn’t look promising. But the end of the game was DeMarcus Cousins and even more DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins hit a jumper, back-to-back threes, and then scored on a drive while drawing a foul on Mason Plumlee to power the Kings offense and give the Kings a three point lead.
And then, in a moment going down in the WTF Hall of Fame, Cousins picked up a technical foul for spitting his mouthpiece towards the Blazers bench. It was Cousins’ second technical foul, and Cousins actually left the game into the tunnel. From the TV angles, it actually did look like it was on purpose. But the TV cameras only captured the back of his head, and another referee apparently believed that the mouthpiece fell out unintentionally when he was talking. Cousins was called back into game and promptly sealed the game with a huge block on Damian Lillard.
Yeah, you can’t make that up if you tried.
So, that’s where the team is now. The Kings now stand at 11-17 in 10th place in the West, tied with both the Blazers (13-17) and the Nuggets (12-17) in losses. The bottom of the West has fallen apart, and so the race for that last seed remains wide open. The Kings next play against the Jazz tomorrow night in Utah, who just got wrecked by the Warriors, are probably steaming, and are a much better opponent. Sounds like fun! Onto the observations:
- Ty Lawson had an outstanding game for the Kings. His jumper, which has been completely MIA for the entire season, decided to show up at a greatly opportune time. Lawson has been driving and dishing really well all season, but his lack of scoring punch has hurt the team. Not tonight. Lawson scored 16 points on only 8 shots, dishing out 8 assists while setting his teammates up on a platter all night. In the fourth quarter, the Blazers had no answer for a pick and roll with Lawson as the ballhandler and Cousins as the roll/pop man.
- Dave Joerger continues to juggle the starting lineup, going with Matt Barnes, McLemore, and Kosta Koufos alongside Darren Collison and Cousins. It didn’t work; Barnes has been ineffective all year, McLemore (as noted above) got worked over by Portland’s guards, and Collison got squished as the second scoring option and only Cousins offering anything on offense.
- I’m starting to get concerned about how no big that Vlade Divac picks up is better than mediocre on the glass. From the draft, both Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere are bad, and George Papagiannis is just mediocre. In free agency, Barnes and Anthony Tolliver are both awful for power forwards, and Koufos is average at best. The Kings are getting crushed regularly on the glass and its not an accident.
- Speaking of Tolliver, while his rebounding was atrocious, his jumper finally showed up again. He was also a part of that terrific defensive unit to end the game, using his speed and mobility to rotate effectively.
- Arron Afflalo actually checked into the game today off the bench and made an alright contribution. He was part of the unit to end the game at small forward (which may be the only position he can guard anymore), scoring 11 points on 7 shots for a much-needed offensive boost. He was starting to wobble towards the end as his overdribbling got the Kings in trouble, but thankfully he kept the damage to a minimum and the Kings pulled out the win.
For the opponent’s perspective, visit Blazer’s Edge.