With Kevin Martin out, there is invariably going to be more attention to the starting backcourt in order to see if the Kings can pick up the dropped production/scoring/brilliance that their starting shooting guard had given them through the first five games of the season.
And when you go into a game against the Golden State Warriors, you have to pay close attention to their starting backcourt because they have a lot of potential firepower in the two guard positions. Sunday night, the Kings put Beno Udrih and Tyreke Evans up against Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry and it didn’t go very well… for the Warriors.
Udrih ripped apart the Warriors defense by proving he’s no longer the bad contract we all assumed he was. In fact, if he keeps playing like this he’s an absolute steal for the money. He was too strong for Stephen Curry and he was too smart for Monta Ellis on the court as he picked up the scoring in the second half to build an insurmountable and spirit-breaking lead for the Kings. Why did he pick up the scoring in the second half? Because Tyreke Evans had his way with the Golden State Warriors and didn’t even leave his number.
Evans destroyed the Golden State defensive attempts to stop him in the second quarter and accounted for 18 of Sacramento’s 35 points in the quarter. The Warriors couldn’t do anything to slow him down. In the two games since Kevin Martin went down, ‘Reke has scored 27.5 points per contest on 50% shooting. In face, he’s scored 48 points in his last 50 minutes on the floor. Sunday night, he just obliterated the interior of the Warriors. On five of the Kings first seven possessions in the second quarter, Evans had a scoring opportunity in the paint with three field goals and two trips to the free throw lines. He made six shots around the basket in the entire period.
He was simply too much of a bully for Ellis and Curry to deal with and he was too quick initially for Stephen Jackson to handle him.
“By the second half, I figured out how to guard him. I just denied him the ball. He didn’t want to work for the ball after that, but he is going to be real good. He has got Rookie of the Year locked in,” Jackson said after the game.
Perhaps, Tyreke didn’t work for the ball in the second half because he didn’t need. With all of the attention on slowing Evans in the third quarter, the rest of the Kings stepped forward and broke the game wide open. They used two big runs that were fueled by a total team effort in the third quarter.
After a 9-0 run by the Warriors to cut the lead to four, the Kings went on runs of 12-2 and 10-2 to extend the lead to 19 points. Nocioni had two of the points. Evans had a big three. Udoka scored four, Donté scored five, and JT scored five points including this gem at the end of the quarter:
And also in those big runs, Beno Udrih had six points. Beno finished with 20 points on 9/14 shooting and six assists. Over his past four games, he’s played with a ton of confidence and put everyone who has doubted him (myself included) in their place.
“It’s a lot of trust. I feel the coach trusts me. I’m out there with a lot of confidence. Getting my guys in the offense. It’s not like the coach calls the plays every time. He tells us what we’re playing in the locker room and let’s us play basketball,” Udrih said after the game in response to questions about his confidence out there.
And that trust extends throughout the entire roster, especially with Martin’s production shelved for the next eight weeks. Credit Coach Westphal and the entire coaching staff for essentially throwing the roster into the fire and seeing what they’re made of. Nobody saw that trust with Reggie Theus and Kenny Natt. Everybody was too worried to make any kind of mistake and thrust into roles that didn’t suit their games. But with Westphal, everybody gets a chance to do everything. There’s trial and error with no fear of failure instantly crushing your playing time.
The two guys you can see that with the most are Omri Casspi and Donté Greene. Greene has been biding his time with several inactive games and a couple of very limited stints on the floor. In the last two games, he’s come out ready to play and making the most of his chances. He had the great game in Utah and followed it up with a better performance against the Warriors. He had 17 points in 20 minutes and did so without making a single three-pointer. He attacked the paint, got to the free throw line and played the aggressive basketball everybody wanted to see from him this season.
Coach Westphal was also happy with his second year forward, “Donté came off the bench and played like a real pro out there. He got excited once or twice and tried to turn on the crowd with a little extra – we want him to take the extra out of his game – but he’s really coming around and showing a lot.”
Omri Casspi is the other young guy battling for minutes at the wing position with Donté and continued his brilliant rookie campaign so far. He finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. He knocked down his first three long distance shots in the first quarter of the game and was able to keep the floor spread so that Evans and Jason Thompson could work inside. And his work on the boards surprised everybody.
“He’s been hiding that skill from us… he’s rebounding like Brockman and shooting free throws like Brockman,” said Westphal after the game. He nearly doubled his season total of rebounds from 11 to 21 after this effort against the Warriors but also dropped his season free throw shooting to 2/12 from the line.
Overall, this was the Kings kicking in the teeth of a terrible and dysfunctional Warriors team. If they’re going to improve from last year, they have to beat the Warriors at Arco by double digits. But to see the team go out there after what happened last season and do this without Kevin Martin is damn impressive to see. It shows incredible growth with such a young team just seven games into the season. To Omri Casspi, last year doesn’t matter anymore; it’s all about the current team and what they can do on the court.
“It’s a new team. You can’t compare. It’s a new team, a new age.”