I’d like to come out and say that this was a great defensive battle between a cagey-veteran type of defensive team and a young up-and-coming franchise trying to make a name for themselves but that just wasn’t the case.
The first half of this game was a lot better looking than the second half and really the only good basketball was played in the first quarter of this game. It was a nice little shootout between two middle of the road offensive teams. Both teams shot the ball well with the Kings knocking down their threes and the Celtics capitalizing on the turnovers they forced. Donté Greene, Beno Udrih and Omri Casspi were all hot to start. The Celtics countered with more balanced scoring from their veterans.
But then things got progressively worse offensively throughout the rest of the game. In the second quarter alone, the Kings received 4/15 shooting from the Kevin Martin-Tyreke Evans-Jason Thompson trio. The Kings shot horribly in the second and third quarters combined. They were 12/42 over those 24 minutes after making 11/20 in the first 12 minutes of the game. The Kings simply couldn’t knock down jumpers when they needed to over this stretch.
Luckily for them, the Celtics were just as bad offensively. It was a big, long stretch of missed opportunities by both teams. The Celtics held the Kings at bay with a two to three-possession game for a big chunk of it by benefitting from their missed shots. The Kings were able to force the Celtics into some tough jumpers, challenge their shots and turn the ball over. It was a chaotic crap-fest disguised as defensive guile.
Now, that’s not to completely discount what the Kings did defensively. They took on a physical, bullying team and stood toe-to-toe with them for much of the night. The Kings blocked 11 shots and only turned the ball over once in the final period. That’s not a common occurrence for this team. 10 of the blocks came from the barbershop quartet of Jason Thompson (four blocks), Spencer Hawes (two blocks), Omri Casspi (two blocks) and Sean May (two blocks). Even with the Kings limited defensive options inside, you wouldn’t guess that those four guys would combine for double-digit blocks on most nights.
And they were significant blocks. Kevin Garnett was getting tossed around inside. Kendrick Perkins couldn’t put the ball up softly or he’d have it shoved back onto his forehead. Paul Pierce and Glen Davis had their stuff thrown about like the Kings were ransacking the key. It was an active defensive effort for three quarters (wasn’t quite there in the first quarter) that I don’t think we’ve seen this season. Paul Westphal thought it was their best defensive game of the year and even though it was really sloppy, I think he’s right.
But there were plenty of lapses on the defensive end as well. A lot of times when the Celtics were turning the ball over, it seemed like it was more about the Celtics being careless than the Kings being forceful. And Sacramento was horrible at finding Eddie House on the court. Poor defensive rotations and lazy closeouts led to four big threes by Eddie whenever it seemed like the Kings could make a little run (especially his three to put them up seven in the fourth).
Ultimately, poor shooting and missed free throws shot the Kings in the collective feet. When the Kings needed to make free throws, they choked like Nick Anderson. When they needed to miss free throws to give them a better chance of tying the game, they accidentally went it. Overall, the Kings shot 38% from the field and missed 11 free throws (eight in the fourth quarter). Omri, Tyreke and JT were the biggest free throw culprits. They missed the eight errant free throws in the fourth quarter and six of them came in the final 1:31 of a three-point loss. Make half of them and you go to overtime. Make the two Tyreke missed at the beginning of the quarter and you probably win.
As far as individual performances go, Omri, Tyreke and JT had the best games for the Kings by far. Omri was great early by scoring 10 points in the first eight minutes of the game and getting the Kings rolling offensively. He finished with a game-high 19 points on 13 shots that would have been padded if he hadn’t failed on four clutch free throw attempts. He was able to set the Kings defensive tone early by swatting away a KG shot inside. And whenever he was in he brought a lot of energy and spaced the floor extremely well.
For Jason Thompson, he came off the bench again and was spectacular. Did he struggle a bit on offense with 6/14 shooting for his 14 points? Absolutely. Nothing came easy against a tough defensive frontcourt in which they hacked and played physical ball with JT. But he was so active on the boards (11 of them) and defensively with the way he protected the rim, it was good to see him out of his funk. He didn’t get into foul trouble. He was energetic and seemed to have enough confidence to make three big baskets down the stretch of the fourth quarter. It was good to see him back.
As for Tyreke Evans, he had a rough offensive game despite a couple of nice drives (see videos below) but found other ways to get involved and help the team. 11 rebounds to help outrebound a bigger more physical team with the two best rebounders on the court. He had four of his seven assists in the fourth quarter to help create big scoring opportunities for his team. And he completely took All-Star Rajon Rondo out of this game by bottling him up and taking away his playmaking ability. If you were curious about his defense before this game, watch the tape. He dominated Rondo and shut him down. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Final Game Notes
- Curious thing about Kevin Martin sitting out all but 15 seconds of the fourth quarter is that apparently he wanted to stay out. Um…what? I guess the deal was (according to Westphal) that Kevin was set to check in then it wasn’t going to happen until the next dead ball, which was a timeout. And that didn’t come for a long time. So it was decided that the unit on the floor was playing well so Kevin decided to pull back? That’s not what you want out of your $11 million per season shooting guard, right? Omri would have thrown a tantrum if he was in that situation and wasn’t put back in the game. I find this whole thing odd because at the same time, shouldn’t the coach put him in anyway when the Kings offense bogged down? Wasn’t the problem when he was out that you didn’t have that pure scorer when the offense became stagnant?
- Speaking of Mini-Mart, he was awful in this game. Felt like he got taken out of the game that was a bit physical with the Celtics defense. He did get to the free throw line six times in 32 minutes but only two of them came after the first quarter. He seemed to get smothered a bit after the good first quarter and willingly hid himself on the floor. Maybe it was the defensive scheme the Celtics employed or maybe it was a mental roadblock by Kevin. Whatever it was, the Kings could have used more of the aggressiveness he showed in the first 12 minutes.
- Francisco Garcia played in his first game of the season after losing the first 52 games to a mishap with an exercise ball. He checked into the game early in the second quarter to a very nice ovation. He missed his only shot, which was blocked and committed two fouls in 1:23 on the court.
- Even though Spencer Hawes had a bad game scoring the ball (3/10 shooting), he found other ways to contribute on the floor, much like Tyreke did. Hawes hit the boards with eight rebounds, passed well for three assists and played active defense. Ever since Sam Amick gave him a D+ in the mid-season review, Hawes has been a ball of activity.
- I almost forgot. Here are a couple of nice highlights by Tyreke Evans on two drives to the basket: