If God himself had to craft a player with his own hands designed specifically to take down the Sacramento Kings' bogus defensive schemes, it would be hard to come up with something better than Chris Paul. He's smart, has an airtight handle, can shoot it both from midrange and from three, and has the vision to zip the ball through tiny passing lanes.
Naturally, Paul's dominance over the Kings was completely predictable; the future hall-of-famer had one of the best games of his career, notching 40 points and 13 assists with only 2 turnovers on .820 TS% (!!!). Today, without Rajon Rondo, everyone's favorite scapegoat for the poor defense wasn't even around to lay the blame on. The Kings as usual defended CP3 by letting him go wherever he wanted instead of playing ICE and limiting his choices. They still sagged off shooters on the weakside, especially off of Jeff Green, who shot 4/5 from three on his way to 22 points. Chris Paul's shot chart encapsulates the dominance:
That's a lot of green.
Interestingly, even the Kings recognized that the scheme wasn't working and began switching the pick and roll later in the second half. A full switching strategy is usually a last-ditch resort for a defense out of options; it was a testament for how limited the Kings' defensive vocabulary is. Unfortunately, switching didn't really work either. Paul just danced all over the Kings' bigs, whether it was DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein, or Rudy Gay.
On offense, things were going swimmingly for one half. With Rajon Rondo sitting out, Darren Collison had a terrific game, scoring 18 points on only 9 shots. DeMarcus Cousins was given majority of the playmaking duties, and nearly put up a triple double with 26 points, 15 rebounds and 9 assists. Seth Curry also came off the bench and gave the team a huge boost with 19 points, including 3/4 from three point range. The Kings put up 67 points in the first half and the offense looked revitalized; there was a lot of creative action setting up dribble drives towards the basket, and the Kings supplemented those drives with some hot three point shooting.
Unfortunately, it was not to last in the second half. In the decisive third quarter, the Clippers ratcheted up the defensive pressure, and the Kings folded. The Clippers won the quarter 34-16, at one point going on a 20-0 run and turning an eight point lead into a deficit that reached as high as 19 points. The Kings once again lacked the necessary discipline to keep up with the Clippers; they turned the ball over Cousins led the team with seven miscues, rushed into one-on-one isolations, and simply didn't execute with patience. The freelancing offense returned, and the Kings looked like they were out of ideas. Cousins may have put up numbers, but as usual shot the ball poorly from the field (7 of 20) and had a ton of turnovers (7).
But really, the story of the game was, again, the defense. The scheme continues to fail miserably and there doesn't appear to be any urgency to make fundamental changes.
- Seth Curry was awesome today. With Marco Belinelli struggling to even hit free throws and Ben being Ben, Seth stepped up in a major way. Normally this kind of production from a third stringer can be taken with a grain of salt, but it seems like Seth has been solid whenever he's been given a chance. I don't necessarily agree with the urgency with which a lot of fans have called to ditch Belinelli, preferring to give Karl the benefit of the doubt because the coaching staff has seen these guys much more extensively than just the court. But at this point it may be reaching a critical point, and I hope Seth's minutes aren less just the result of Rondo's injury and more a conscious rotation choice.
- This game was drunk in many ways. Whether it was Napear going completely ballistic over an obviously inadvertent Boogie swipe that poked CP3 in the eye, Boogie auditioning for a career in dodgeball, Omri Casspi saddling up DeAndre Jordan for a flagrant foul (missing the leaguewide memo prohibiting treating players like horses), or Vanilla Ice rising from the dead for a halftime performance with... Ninja Turtles.
- I don't know what about the Clippers gets Cousins so worked up, but he was clearly in a foul mood, even for Boogie's own moody standards. I'm honestly shocked he didn't get ejected; he was in the officials' ears all night long and was super demonstrative about his displeasure. The one tech he did get was when he vociferously complained about a supposed backcourt violation when he clearly knocked it to the backcourt, and I mean got an entire palm on the ball. The refs gave him a looooot of slack.
- Rudy Gay really needs to work on making faster decisions when he's off the ball. He's killing the flow of the offense when instead of smoothly either rising up for a shot or driving, he takes a half second to process what's happening before making his move. This often leads to much worse shots off the dribble than he would have gotten if he had just been decisive.
- Doc Rivers was practically begging for the Kings to get back into the game. He kept trotting out a five-man bench unit of Pable Prigioni, Jamal Crawford, Wes Johnson, Cole Aldrich, and CJ Wilcox at the beginning of the second and fourth quarters. I honestly don't know how five man bench units are still a thing in the NBA. For the most part Karl has done a good job minimizing those lineups on the court.
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