The Sacramento Kings are nearing the end of the road trip from hell, but were inches away from making it as good of a trip as could have been expected. Unfortunately, it was a familiar story from the trip: build up an early lead, relax and let the opponent back in. From then on out these games are basically coin flips, and the Kings were on the wrong end of lady luck this time.
The story of this game starts with defense. After a solid start to the game where the Kings held the Sixers to only 21 points in the first quarter and built a 46-30 lead with six minutes remaining in the second, they took the rest of the night off on the other end. The Sixers scored 92 points the rest of the way on 59% shooting from the field and 47% from three. That’s roughly a 140 offensive rating through 2.5 quarters of the game. Woof.
The mistakes came in all kinds of different ways. Missed rotations, poor ball containment, and bad matchups all played a factor. A lot of the problem was that the Kings were playing with dead legs, this being their third game in four nights and the seventh game on this mammoth road trip, but its not like the Kings have been lights out defensively for much of the season.
Offensively, things weren’t so bad. DeMarcus Cousins was scoring at will, spraying 46 points at the Sixers on outrageous efficiency (11/16 FG, 4/6 3P, 20/22 FT for 89.6 TS%). The Kings overall shot 55.4% from the field and 44.8% from three, dishing out 31 assists. But the turnovers were brutal; the Kings coughed up the ball 21 times, led by Cousins’ 8, which the Sixers ran back for 30 points. Willie Cauley-Stein continued his strong recent play with 17 points, and Matt Barnes chipped in 16.
The Kings still had a shot to win the game. They were only down by one with one minute remaining in the game. Unfortunately, Cousins turned the ball over and in frustration reached in on Gerald Henderson in the backcourt, fouling out of the game. The call was late; the Kings had already retrieved the ball by the time the referee blew the whistle. The referees pretty much call that foul to stop the fast break by reflex, so while the contact wasn’t egregious, Cousins was pretty much asking for a foul there. It had looked like the refs were just going to let it go, but decided to call it once the Sixers had turned it over. Bad look for the refs.
The Kings were behind by seven with 20 seconds left, and looked dead in the water. But the Sixers helped them out to make for a wild finish. Arron Afflalo hit a three, Barnes picked the ball and hit another three, and then Henderson hit two free throws. Down 122-119, the Kings had the ball with five seconds to go. Afflalo then got as open for three as you could ever be in the corner after some good movement. But the shot was short. Ballgame.
The Kings now fall back into a tie with the New Orleans Pelicans for 10th place in the West, three games back of Denver for the 8th spot in the Western Conference. The Sixers, on the other hand, creep a half game behind the Kings looking for a pick swap. The Kings play tomorrow in Houston, and then have three days off before beginning the season-defining homestand in Phoenix.
- Ty Lawson and Cauley-Stein are developing some serious chemistry off the bench. Willie exploded for his best offensive game of the season, and many were off of some terrific passes by Lawson. Still, some of the finishes Cauley-Stein made around the rim required some deft touch. He even pulled off a funky looking post move. Willie is developing right before our eyes
- Dario Saric murdered everybody the Kings put in front of him, whether it was Anthony Tolliver, Barnes, or Cousins. I think Saric was Philly’s best player on the night, with 17 points and 6 assists. It begs the question why Dave Joerger waited until the very end of the fourth quarter to put Cauley-Stein on him. It was frankly incredible; even when Cousins and Cauley-Stein were on the court together, Boogie matched up with Saric while Willie guarded Nerlens Noel in the paint. Willie was the only one with the footspeed to challenge Saric’s drives, which he used to pick the Kings apart with his passing. Its inexcusable that Joerger waited so long to go to that matchup. Willie has grown up tremendously on defense in the last few weeks, and its time to start trusting him with more defensive responsibility given his physical profile and potential on that end.
- Barnes had himself a good shooting night and nearly helped steal a miracle for the Kings, but god his defensive lapses drove me insane. From the full court pass where he lost track of Henderson for a dunk, letting Nik Stauskas drive on him and put up an uncontested underhand floater in the lane, and failing to grab critical rebounds the Kings needed, it was a sketchy performance from the guy who is supposed to be our stabilizing vet.
- Speaking of Sauce Castillo, he got himself free for 16 points (4/6 3P) tonight, mostly because Cousins and Kosta Koufos were both slow to show out when he came off of screens. Meanwhile, Ben McLemore notched a DNP-CD.
- About the Philly trade: its on the precipice of being a disaster, but not quite certain yet. The Kings already had enough capspace to sign Rajon Rondo last year, so the capspace they got from the deal netted them Marco Belinelli and Kosta Koufos. Belinelli turned into Malachi Richardson. So basically, you have Malachi vs Stauskas on one hand, and Koufos against a 2019 first round pick on the other. The pick swap this year could change the equation but I still think Chicago gets our pick this year given our favorable schedule down the stretch of the season. Regardless, we’ll all be grimacing in pain until 2019 and the final tally is added up. Cross your fingers and pray its not catastrophic.
For the opponent’s perspective, visit Liberty Ballers.