“This ‘close but no cigar’ is going to end. I don’t know when but it’s going to end.”

That was Paul Westphal after another tough, close loss by the Sacramento Kings. It was another game in which their effort was good but never quite good enough. It was another game in which Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi and company couldn’t quite pull out that final run to get them over the hump.

The Kings can blame their first half effort for this loss. The Kings trailed by as many as 20 when Steve Nash found Amare Stoudemire for another easy bucket with 2:46 left in the first 24 minutes. Then the Kings’ rookies decided to step up the energy and come out to give the Suns a game. Omri, Brockman and Tyreke helped charge a 9-3 run to end the first half that proved to be much more significant than the numbers indicate.

In the second half of the game, the Kings total effort was kicked up to 11. The Suns went from shooting 55% in the first half to 40% in the second half. The Suns were up nine in rebounding in the first half but down 17 in rebounding in the second half. The Suns had just eight assists in the final 24 minutes of the game after 13 in the first 24. This was all predicated on a defensive change. You can accredit that to Jon Brockman, Tyreke Evans and the rest of the Kings that decided to bust their collective asses. They flew at open jumpers. They challenged jumpers. They fought through picks and played physical basketball. They decided that finesse wasn’t going to beat them. The Suns were going to have to play tough basketball.

The problem was that they dug too deep of a ditch for themselves to crawl out of.

When the Kings finally got over the hump and tied the game with an impressive Evans pass inside (some might call it a point guard type of pass) to Nocioni for a score inside, the Kings seemed to relax a bit. They had tied the game that looked to be lost and mistakenly let up against a relentless offensive force in the Phoenix Suns. The Suns responded with a 7-0 run to get a bit of breathing room. The Kings charged back with a 7-0 run of their own and it ended up being a game of execution and Connect Four to see who pulled out the victory.

Unfortunately for the Kings, they could never get that fourth piece in a row to swing the final outcome.

Beno scored eight straight points in one fourth quarter stretch to keep the Kings in striking distance of stealing this game. And then after Stoudemire put the Suns up two with 1:09 left in the game the Kings just couldn’t get one to drop in a key stretch that ended up producing the final margin of victory for Phoenix.

Tyreke Evans was a machine driving the ball to the basket in the final minute of the game but before he did that, he drove to the basket and missed a lay-up attempt. Jason Thompson tried to tip in the offensive rebound and it just barely fell out of the rim. Then ‘Reke got the offensive rebound and missed a point-blank shot. Channing Frye got the rebound, Steve Nash and Amare both made jumpers to sandwich a JT dunk and the rest of the game was decided on Steve Nash free throws outlasting Tyreke Evans layups.

It was just another one of those games for the Kings. They gave their heart when they were supposed to and just couldn’t get the bounce they needed or the defensive stop that was essential for completing the victory.

“For whatever reason, we’ve had a string of having our heart pulled out of our chest but there’s just no option,” said Westphal. “This team is coming back and we’re going to keep coming back and we’re going to start winning these close games.”

Game Notes

- Remember the part in Starship Troopers in which they’re trying to trick us into believing that Denise Richards and the guy that spurred the Kelly Kepowski-Zack Morris break-up can actually fly a spaceship the size of Jerome James? I was always impressed by the idea that those bug aliens could continually shoot fireballs out of their butts to pelt the spaceships orbiting above. Well, that’s kind of how the Phoenix Suns offensive attack is. It’s relentless. It keeps coming. And the entire time, you know it’s bound to run into and destroy your ship.

- Omri Casspi should be a starter… like forever. You can’t help but be impressed with the way he’s responded in the starting role. He played 44 minutes, scored 24 points on 19 shots and rebounded well with seven boards. He also made half of his threes again (get him in the three-point shootout!). He’s now averaging 17.7 points per game as a starter with 48% from the field.

- There was a sequence in the fourth quarter in which the Kings couldn’t have defended Steve Nash any better than humanly possible. It started with Tyreke ripping the ball from Nash in a one-on-one situation that led to a Tyreke transition bucket. Then Thompson was switched out onto Nash and forced him into an errant jumper. Then two plays later, Evans jumped all over a Nash jumper and blocked the shot. Considering Nash shredded them for most of the night, it was a nice sequence for Kings fans.

- Can’t end this recap without talking about Brockman a little bit more. I feel like he’s about to be the most hated man amongst NBA bigs. Nobody wants to bang with this guy. I talked to him after the game and asked him about his mentality going against a softer, less physical lineup. He gave me the expected answer that he really doesn’t change the way he plays based on matchups. He really only knows the one way to play. And you know what? I completely agree. He has one gear and that gear is to create some chaos inside. He fights for position, knocks guys down and commits hard fouls. Nobody wants to bang with him. Who thought that a 6’7” power forward would be someone that imposes his will inside? Well, I guess Geoff Petrie did…