It’s a simple thing that most people are too stubborn to do. It’s the reason relationships and understandings break down every day.
And it’s the reason the Kings were a lousy defensive team last season. They didn’t communicate on that end of the floor.
This year? They’re communicating – especially, over the past four games. And it’s no coincidence they’ve won all four of those games.
Tonight’s game was nothing like last season’s team. The defense, the defensive intensity and the rebounding were the strong assets of this team. The scoring and offensive flow was the problem. The Kings settled down after a frustrating first 15 minutes, and clamped down on the Rockets’ shooters. They went from giving up wide-open threes to forcing the Rockets to beat them inside without much of an offensive attack to work with.
Overall, the Kings finished the game giving up just 41% from the field, 29% from three and outrebounding the Rockets 54-35 with 16 offensive rebounds. The second and fourth quarter efforts for this team defensively were huge. They went from giving up 50% shooting in the first quarter to holding Houston to just 37% from the field in the second quarter. In the third quarter, they struggled on both ends of the floor by giving up 47% from the field but followed that up with another 37% quarter, defensively.
“I don’t really know what’s the difference (from last year’s defense to this year’s). I just think we have a confidence. We’re not confused on offense. Usually when defense is good, it’s because the offense is even better. We’re communicating with each other. We’re not getting mad at each other when someone says, ‘hey, you’ve got to be on the weak side,’ we just listen. I think we learned from last year,” said Beno Udrih after the game.
The Kings just found ways to respond to adversity throughout the game. Early in the game, they were dominating every aspect of the game, except they were allowing wide-open threes to Trevor Ariza and turning the ball over at an alarming rate. They allowed 13 points off of their first seven turnovers with four of those coming off of steals. In fact, Ariza’s first seven baskets came off of four three-point shots and three breakaway dunks off of steals.
Coach Westphal said, “We told them before the game to watch out for (Trevor) Ariza – he’s got panther-like reflexes, he gets in the passing lanes and if you dribble near him he takes it away from you. After he had five steals I think they believed us and they started watching out a little bit more for him.”
The encouraging part of this was not only the Kings decided to make a concerted effort to take better care of the ball, but they also cranked up the defense. The catalyst was the trio of Kenny Thomas, Jon Brockman, and Ime Udoka. Yes, you read that correctly. The three players combined for 17 rebounds off of the bench and a boatload of defense. Brockman provided the team with some much-needed toughness and rebounding early in the game and showed the Kings that the Rockets could be knocked backwards with some physicality. And K9 and Udoka both finished the game with +/-‘s of +10.
You can’t really say enough about the way Kenny Thomas battled with the Rockets big men inside. He went into the game without trying to be a factor on offense and just gave up his body on defense. He threw his body around with Hayes and Scola in the game and made things very difficult for the Rockets’ interior. Said Thomas, “The best thing about us is we’re starting to communicate more on defense. I want to accept that role. I think it’s going to continue to get better.”
The Kings were pushing the Rockets around and Jason Thompson was a huge reason for that. Once again, he played out of his mind… or maybe this is in his mind. Maybe this is the player he is now. He’s a double-double machine. Over his last five games (four of them wins), JT is averaging 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, shooting 50% from the field and making 86% from the free throw line (with 9 attempts per game!!!). Those aren’t just good numbers; those are freaking All-Star numbers. If the Kings continue to be a respectable team and he keeps this production as the norm rather than his crest, he’ll be hard to keep off of the All-Star team. Who would have thought that about him for this season when Anthony Randolph lit him up in Las Vegas?
(Clearly, that debate of Randolph vs. Thompson has been put to rest.)
And finally, let’s talk about Tyreke Evans. He started out of the gate in this game like his name was Secretariat. He played the entire first quarter with 12 points, four rebounds, two threes, and 5/6 shooting from the field with his only miss coming on a desperation three-point attempt at the end of the quarter. Then the Rockets took him out of the game for a couple of quarters by trapping him when he touched the ball and throwing weird double teams at him whenever he drove the lane.
But that wasn’t how he was going to finish this game. He took the final couple of minutes and decided to make them his own personal show. He made a jumper with 1:27 left in the game and then followed it up with a broken play, which ended up sealing the game. He had the ball with the shot clock winding down and Trevor Ariza playing solid defense. He stumbled out of a screen-and-roll play to throw up a 22-footer that banked in to put the Kings up nine.
Then he punctuated the game in exclamatory fashion with a transition alley-oop to Jason Thompson.
He finished with 20 points, six rebounds, and four assists. He also helped cap off the Kings fourth straight victory, which hasn’t happened since March 30th to April 5th of 2008.
“I’m just playing. The first couple of games I was thinking too much. I was the number four pick so there was a little bit of pressure. But after that, I said just go out there and play like it’s any other game. I feel comfortable right now,” said Evans after the game.
He’s just playing, the team is communicating, and the Kings are rolling.