The Sacramento Kings exorcised several demons in tonight’s 104-101 win over the Mavericks in Dallas. First and foremost, they ended a 22-game in-Dallas losing streak that dates all the way back to February 27th, 2003. Good Lord.
For a record that has quite a bit more immediate relevance, tonight’s win in Dallas is the first win the Kings have had against a playoff team since January 23rd. We’ve seen a lot of bad basketball since then.
And, finally, Rajon Rondo had one of his best games in a Kings uniform against his former team, in front of his former fans, (who appropriately boo’d the bejesus out of him all night) and you could tell by his mood during the post-game interview with Kayte Christensen that he was feeling good about this win.
It was a good night for Sacramento.
I thought we saw solid defensive aggression out on the perimeter for most of the night. I’ll give Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore a lot of credit for that. Starting guard defense has been one of the biggest problems all season for the Sacramento Kings, and those guys were active. J.J. Barea broke through the Kings’ defense more than you’d like, but by and large – you can live with that defensive performance. It helps that the Mavericks don’t have the most prolific or dangerous offense, but I don’t want to take too much credit away from the Kings in that regard. I’ll nitpick and say we still saw both Rondo, Collison, McLemore, and Bellineli get switched on to bigger players like Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons, but it wasn’t a major issue tonight. We’ve crushed them when it’s bad, so we might as well praise them when it’s better.
Ben McLemore may have had the most aggressive four minutes of his career in the first quarter of this game, and I don’t know how notable this actually is, but it reminded me of what Rajon Rondo used to do with Ray Allen in Boston. He’s give him a few looks early to sort of keep him engaged throughout, because he knew most late-game touches were going to Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. Unfortunately, McLemore was ice cold to start the game, and never really got his offense going outside of a nasty ankle-breaking dribble move that ended with Deron Williams on the floor and three points on the scoreboard for Sacramento.
The Kings went on a solid run in the second quarter with the not-optimal-but-effective-tonight Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison, Marco Belinelli, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins lineup, which I only mention because Karl must have noticed the same thing as he went back to that crew in the fourth quarter. And while I wouldn’t advocate for a lot of that lineup, it’s much easier to stomach when Marco Belinelli is hitting his shots.
Hey, Marco Belinelli is hitting his shots!
For the second game in a row, Marco Belinelli had a positive impact on the game in the minutes that he played. I’m not exaggerated when I say that I don’t think that has been the case in more than 10 games all year, and two of those just happened in a row. Needless to say, if Belinelli is going to contribute like this, it’s a good sign.
The Kings were up 10 in the third quarter when the Mavericks went on an 8-0 run to cut the lead to two. Like most of you, I was praying for the best but expecting the worst, and, surprisingly, the worst never came.
The Kings rebounded, building up another healthy lead in the fourth quarter, and to the Mavericks’ credit, they came surging back, but the sheer fact that the Kings could go toe-to-toe, back-and-forth with a decent team was encouraging.
There was one single play late in this game that made me extremely happy. I’ll give you guys a minute just in case anyone wanted to take a guess. Don’t look down!
The Mavericks had the ball in transition, they were on a bit of a run, feeling good, feeling confident, and they were zipping the ball around the court as they do, searching for the best possible transition shot, but the Kings hustled back! Not only did they hustle back, but they rotated perfectly on every single Mavericks pass! This went on for 3-5 quick, smart passes, and the Kings rotated on every one of them. It was beautiful, and the possession would end with a Kings steal. Poetry!
There was a lot of late-game garbage after that. The Mavericks did some hacking, the Kings blew some free throws, there was a mad scramble after Marco Belinelli missed two free throws that Rondo managed to half-rebound and sort of guide toward Darren Collison in the corner, and that was essentially game. Kings win, monkey off back, demon exorcised, etc, etc.
If nothing else, we get this one night of relief. Next up, San Antonio…