Young teams often have to find a way to win in the fourth quarter by closing out the games strongly.
If you watched the Kings’ fourth quarter against the Hawks then you saw the opposite of how that needs to be accomplished.
The Kings played incredible basketball for the first 36 minutes of this game. They executed well, battled on the boards as well as they could, and hung with a team that was far more athletic than them. But when the fourth quarter came, the Kings seemed to be tentative with their offensive decisions and overmatched in their defensive attempts.
The Kings failed to find way to get Kevin Martin shot attempts and didn’t have an adequate backup plan during this period. Martin checked into the fourth quarter around the 10-minute mark but didn’t attempt a shot until there was 3:43 left in the game. The Hawks made a concerted effort to keep the ball out of his hands and to force any other King to beat them. And it worked.
“They had a pretty good plan. Every time we set a ball screen, they were doubling it,” said Martin on why the Hawks were able to keep the ball out of his hands.
In the fourth, the Kings shot just 6/22 from the field and missed four free throws (which seems to be a real issue with this team this season). Coming into the game, the Kings were second to last in the NBA with 68.5% from the line. In this game, they were somewhat improved by making 74% of their free throws but they’re still giving away opportunities for free points.
The Hawks on the other hand could hardly miss in the fourth. Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson killed the Kings. Joe Johnson made 5/8 shots in the quarter for 10 of his 26 points and Jamal Crawford hit a HUGE three to put the Hawks up seven to seal it with two minutes to play. And it was completely emblematic of the fourth quarter. Marvin Williams swung the ball from the right corner to Mike Bibby, who penetrated due to a slow defensive rotation and kicked it to Joe Johnson in the corner who swung it to Jamal Crawford on the right elbow extended for the three. The Hawks were just a step quicker on that play and in that quarter and the Kings were always recovering and reacting instead of dictating what they wanted to do.
For the Kings, Kevin Martin was the high-scorer and Jason Thompson was the best player on the floor. But Tyreke Evans seemed to be the key for everything that went right and wrong in this game. Evans had a spectacular second quarter in which he scored 10 points on three jumpers and two shots inside. Everything was in rhythm and the offense was clicking. But in the fourth period, Evans was slow to make decisions with the ball, took too much time to develop things on the court and forced things with his own shots.
“Get it across the half court line, the timeline quicker. You don’t want to put your point guard or anyone else in the situation with 14 seconds and they have to make a play because you can’t set your offense with 14 seconds,” said Kevin Martin.
The Kings just never seemed in sync and a lot of that had to do with Evans playing far too slow. The Kings just wasted too much time on offense. With Beno out there, the offense seemed to flow better. But the Kings had to see what Evans had out there in a pressure situation like this. And I’m all for it.
The Kings are not going to make the playoffs this season. They’re going to lose a ton of games and be towards the bottom of the league in doing so. The only solace you can take out of this type of situation is player growth. Evans, JT, Hawes, even Martin need to learn how to close out games they should win. And they should have won this game against the Hawks.
With the efforts that Kevin Martin, Beno Udrih and Jason Thompson put out, this was a game to take at home. Thompson completely neutralized and outplayed Josh Smith. He was big inside, didn’t get into foul trouble, and moved the ball extremely well. Kevin Martin outplayed Joe Johnson for the first three quarters until the Hawks made a concerted effort to take his opportunities away from him in the fourth. And Beno came through with some big baskets to keep the offense flowing in the third quarter.
But they gave it away by trying to teach their top prospect how to win games.
It’s frustrating. It’s annoying. And it brings about thoughts of complacency amongst the cellar dwellers of the NBA. But if a year from now, this team has added some talent and Evans is winning these games instead of looking slow in them then these frustrating nights will be distant memories.