How do you solve a problem like Tyreke?
When the Kings are moving the ball and making their shots, Tyreke Evans is nearly unstoppable. Yes, you’ve seen teams build walls behind their defender who drew the short straw for the night. And you’ve seen truly elite stars like LeBron and Kobe slow down the 20-year old rookie. But when the Kings are making the extra pass, getting to the paint and knocking down jumpers, how do you sanction enough help defenders to stop Tyreke Evans from doing whatever the hell he wants on the floor?
For Deron Williams, it’s become a persistent problem every time the Kings and Jazz play. Tyreke and Deron have technically split the season series thus far with Evans choosing the November 7th showdown in Utah as his coming out party and Deron’s team getting a home retribution victory without the All-Star point guard on January 29th. So for tonight’s game, it was a chance to see if Deron could finally check Tyreke and if Evans could win the season series against one of the more formidable teams in the Western Conference.
The answer for the Jazz was that they had no solution for slowing down Tyreke. Deron Williams is a very capable defender and a big enough guy to absorb Tyreke’s bulk a little bit. But for some reason, he is now 0-2 going against Evans and the future Rookie of the Year is averaging 28 points, seven assists and 5.5 rebounds against Williams with just two turnovers per game and 50% shooting (16/32). He’s also been to the free throw line 30 times in these two games. Now clearly, this isn’t all against Tyreke. He terrorized plenty of players in both games.
He took it to Deron off the dribble and in the post (seems like his baseline spin move out of the post against Deron is a certainty when they play). He took Wesley Matthews into the post and made him resort to flopping. He “dunked on” Kyle Korver (okay, he didn’t really dunk ON HIM but if you know ‘Reke’s lack of hops, this is as good as it gets).
And when the game was potentially on the line, Tyreke Evans ended up one-on-one with Deron Williams and took him to the hole for what looked like the clincher.
However, this game isn’t all about Tyreke. This was one of the few TEAM efforts of the past two months. Coach Westphal said afterwards, “we played a very solid NBA basketball game,” and he’s absolutely right. Maybe that seems like something that should be a guarantee in this league but for a team like the Kings who have been struggling, it’s never a certainty.
It all started with Spencer Hawes and Beno Udrih. Spencer Hawes had just gone through a couple of days of being pitted against Coach Westphal. When they came out for their introduction chest-bump, it was symbolic of the turmoil being put behind the team. And Hawes seemed to be completely energized by this new berth to the rest of the season. He was a force on offense, a force on defense and a force on the boards. Yes, THAT Spencer Hawes.
Westphal said, “I’m so happy for Spencer, I can’t even talk straight about it.” He added, “That’s exactly the kind of performance he’s capable of. It’s hard to bring that every night but he was one of the absolute key reasons we were able to get this win tonight. At both ends of the floor he was exceptional.”
Spencer was a complete player tonight. He was boxing out players like Kevin Love. He was knocking down jumpers like Brad Miller. He was attacking the rim like Gerald Wallace and he was challenging shots like Marcus Camby. Are those all exaggerations? Absolutely. But to see the effort out of Spencer was truly incredible for what the majority of Kings fans have witnessed this year.
He played really well in the two-man game with Tyreke but he played better with Beno Udrih. I’ve long contended through most of this season that we need to see more of the Beno-Spencer dynamic duo. They play well off of each other and make great decisions. They seem to know when to pass it off to the other, when to take the shot and when to swing it to the other side of the court. Westphal agrees.
“It’s always great to have a lot of passers on the floor. Both Beno and Spencer are excellent at reading situations, passing the ball and keeping the defense honest because of their ability to shoot the ball. I think it really helped our offense and our continuity. I thought our offense was the best it’s been all year with the ball movement, the decisions and the patience.”
Beno finished with the team-high of 25 points and found ways to kill the Jazz from all over the court. He combined with Tyreke for 49 points, 11 assists and only three turnovers.
Was this a perfect game for the Kings? No. They still gave up too many points inside, got killed on the boards and let the Jazz feast at the free throw line. But they did things well outside of that. They didn’t turn the ball over (eight team turnovers). They got to the line themselves (28 attempts but only 16 made). They didn’t give up threes to the Jazz and contested the majority of the outside shots (5/21 from deep for Utah).
The Kings benefitted from Deron Williams and his still healing wrist. Williams shot just 4/16 from the field but made up for it with 13 assists. Wherever you stand on the Chris Paul versus Deron Williams debate, you should still be able to realize that Williams runs a team as good as any point guard of the last decade. He finds his guys, never kills his dribble and gets the ball in the right shooting/scoring position for his teammates.
The Kings used Carl Landry’s toughness and Spencer Hawes’ activity to attempt to neutralize what the Jazz frontcourt did to them. Kirilenko had 16 points, Mehmet Okur had 11 rebounds and three blocked shots, and Carlos Boozer was a bull with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Boozer seemed to destroy Carl Landry for much of the night and there wasn’t anything the Kings could do about it.
But overall, it was a great and much-needed win for a team that was on the brink of anarchy and chaos. When you put this kind of team effort and execution around a budding star in Tyreke Evans, how do you stop this Kings team?
Jazz couldn’t tell you.