Okay, I don’t really believe in moral victories. It’s fun to through the cliché around from time to time but in professional sports, you shouldn’t be content with losing no matter how bad your team is.
So I’ll still say there is no such thing as a moral victory. But I do believe in games of progress and this 97-92 loss in New Orleans was definitely a game of progress.
After the Kings looked like they were a lock to repeat as the worst record in the NBA in the loss to the Thunder, they turned up the intensity across the board on offense, defense, and rebounding. They didn’t just look respectable. They looked flat out good. Granted, the Hornets made a ton of mistakes and the Kings missed a ton of close shots. But overall, the Kings played a brand of basketball that should make themselves and their fans proud.
Let’s start out with the last couple minutes of the game. The Kings were not only in position to win but they also were in control of the game. With two minutes left in this game, Kevin Martin banked in a little runner to put the Kings up 91-88 and after a James Posey missed three, the Kings had a chance to really put the Hornets on their heels.
The Kings ran some disjointed play that ended up with Kevin Martin starting way too late into the shot clock (with about eight seconds left). He split a double team, took the ball to the baseline and instead of putting up a little jump shot, panicked and passed the ball with one second left on the shot clock cross court to Tyreke Evans at the right elbow three-point line. Evans caught the pass in the air and let it fly all in one motion (and actually banked it in for three). Unfortunately, for the Kings the shot clocked expired about two seconds before the ball even got to Evans and resulted in a turnover.
Chris Paul answered on the next possession by absorbing a lot of contact from a Brockman knee to the groin, made the basket and got the free throw to tie the game. Jason Thompson missed on the ensuing possession and the Hornets responded with an Emeka Okafor tip dunk off of a Chris Paul miss. Evans missed an optimistic three-point attempt to put them up one; Martin got the rebound and missed another shot. Jon Brockman was fouled on the rebound, made one of two free throws and Jason Thompson grabbed another offensive rebound.
The execution on the final sequence of the game was just unfortunate for the Kings. Tyreke Evans drove the lane, was out of control and had his desperate attempt knocked away by Emeka Okafor. There seemed to be some possible contact on the play but Evans was out of control and is not going to get the foul called in that situation.
After a couple of free throws, Kevin Martin received an entry pass in the corner and threw up a desperation three-point shot that was blocked by Okafor (this guy was everywhere). The problem I had with this play is the Kings had five seconds left on the clock and did not need to rush. If that was the play called, I think it was a bad decision by Westphal. Sure, the Kings don’t really have a better three-point shooter than Martin but he was having a terrible game and you trap him in the corner there with that pass.
Now here are some observations from the game about certain players with more analysis and number crunching to come tomorrow:
- Tyreke Evans. I mean, Tyreke. Freaking. Evans. What an incredible game by the youngster. He went toe to toe with the best point guard in the NBA and stood his ground. He took away Paul’s playmaking ability and made him work a lot on defense. Evans knocked down jumpers, pulled up for a three and nailed it, and got to the free throw line eight times. He finished with 22 points on 13 shots. He only finished with two assists but he had a lot of assists blown for him by his teammates misses.
It’s clear that Evans is not going to be kept from making it to the basket. He just went up against two of the better, young defenders at the point guard position in the league and got to the hoop whenever he wanted. And his decision-making in running the offense was really good until a sloppy stretch in the fourth quarter in which he recorded two of his three turnovers. One of them was a complete rookie mistake with throwing a poor pass cross-court to Kevin Martin. You could see the respect that Chris Paul had for Evans when he greeted him right after the game. That was a moment for the young Kings stud to remember.
(One quick note: I rarely get chills while watching a game at the beginning of the regular season. But when the Kings had Evans bringing the ball up the court and the camera was tight on him, I get a rush over me that was hard to quantify. You could just tell Evans was one of the special ones, the way he was already taking over an NBA game against the best individual competition he could face. Just a cool moment to witness.)
- Jon Brockman, a.k.a. the Brockness Monster (see above), played the entire closing stretch of the game and it was well deserved. In 19 minutes of play, he grabbed 10 rebounds with five them coming on the offensive glass. He played really solid defense against David West and helped the Kings win the rebounding battle 52-43 (21-10 on the offensive glass). Sean May played much better in this game and I loved the effort of Jason Thompson. But Jon Brockman was one of the big reasons this team was able to take a playoff team in the West down to the wire.
- How killer was Andres Nocioni off the bench? He came in, ready to shoot, much like Omri Casspi did against the Thunder. This was the Noc that fans probably recall from last year. His 16 points off the bench were huge but he only grabbed one rebound in 24 minutes.
- Speaking of Omri Casspi, welcome back down to Earth. He got a dose of reality in the NBA early when he blew a defensive assignment that lead to a Peja three and then came down the court and took a rushed, mid-range jumper. Westphal pulled him from the court. It’s what a rookie should expect to experience more than the amazing success he had against OKC.
- And finally (again, there will be more breakdown tomorrow), let me briefly address Kevin Martin’s performance tonight. There seemed to be a fair amount of vitriol headed his way right after tonight’s performance. Some of it is justified. He played a mentally weak game tonight and forced some bad shots. But he also didn’t get the bounce on a lot of shots either. As the Kings best scorer (and not much of a playmaker outside of that), what do you want him to do on a poor shooting night? Personally, I’m fine with him trying to shoot his way out of it as long as they are good shots.
A 9/29 shooting night with just 2/10 from downtown is a BAD night. In fact, it’s a horrible night. I think the most alarming part of it is the fact that he didn’t attempt a single free throw, one night after attempting 14 in one half. He’s only had one game in his career in which he played more than 20 minutes in a game and didn’t attempt a single free throw. Just a weird, tough game for him against the Hornets.
That’s all for now. More analysis tomorrow. Perhaps, even a love letter to Tyreke.