Game 81 Recap – Rockets 117, Kings 107 (Realistically, Everything Went Right For the Kings)
This was a symbolic game of the Kings season as everyone is going to write. Tyreke got his numbers, Kings started hot and finished poorly and with the loss. We’ve seen this same script and story throughout much of the season. Tyreke has a big game in terms of historic numbers and yet the Kings don’t have enough defense or offensive execution. And it’s supposed to sully the historic benchmark that Tyreke Evans wrapped up last night.
As everybody knew, Tyreke Evans was gunning for rookie season averages of 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Only Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James had done it before in their rookie season. Tyreke was going to become the second youngest of the bunch to do it. Regardless of what you think of the team or what you think of Tyreke, it’s a special milestone to accomplish those numbers as a rookie and to get to have your named tossed around with living legends of your craft.
With the assists and rebounding numbers already cemented for Tyreke’s rookie campaign, he just needed 24 points in the final two games of his rookie season to secure the 20-5-5 accomplishment. And without Shane Battier’s services and Rick Adelman confusingly letting Kevin Martin guard the rookie in his return to Arco, it seemed very plausible that Tyreke would get those 24 points. Early on in the game, he bullied Mini-Mart in the post and on drives. He scooped and scored quite nicely. And all of a sudden, he had 22 points with 1:15 remaining in the first half.
The next quarter and a half of basketball was sort of excruciating to watch. In the final minute of the first half, Tyreke had three shots (even though the last attempt shouldn’t have counted because it was after the buzzer) at securing 20-5-5 and everybody knew it. He missed a jumper and he missed a layup. The Rockets had switched up the matchup with the longer Trevor Ariza guarding him and a Rockets teammate showing hard on every screen. And this is how the third quarter was going. The Rockets claimed they had no idea what was going on and why the crowd was getting so into every possession but they seemed to be playing defense a little harder whenever the Kings pushed for Tyreke to get the milestone.
He had jumpers just falling off the rim instead of in and layups finding their way out of the hoop. All in all, Tyreke missed eight straight shots (even though it should have been seven because of the end of the first half attempt) before securing the 20-5-5 season with 6:46 remaining on two free throws. During this time, the Kings blew a double-digit lead and the Rockets eventually closed out the game and the victory with an 18-8 run.
Now all you’ll hear about is how Tyreke was gunning for his own personal accomplishment while the team lost and suffered because of that.
That’s a load of crap.
The Kings weren’t on the brink of playoff contention. The Kings weren’t avoiding playing spoiler in order to get their rookie a little piece of history. This team was excited to see Tyreke Evans get this historic feat. When he first got the ball after he had scored 22 points in the game, the bench got up and was hoping to help will him to history. At the end of the first half, the Kings called a timeout just to design a play for Tyreke to get a final shot before the intermission. In the second half, they force-fed him the ball in order to get the bucket he needed.
Say what you want about this team, their success and where they stand but they had their priorities straight on Monday night. That was about getting Tyreke Evans into the history books first and foremost and it’s definitely what they wanted. The game was meaningless to them. It was meaningless to the Rockets. The two teams will join 12 other teams in a month and a half to see where the ping-pong balls drop. If anything, the Kings did two things correctly: they got Tyreke his 20-5-5 wrapped up during the last home game of the season and they improved their chances in the lottery with the loss.
To disparage this accomplishment for Tyreke and the organization is to not understand the state of the NBA’s lottery teams. The more losses at the end of the season is sadly a good thing. And to give the fans something to cheer for is a nice moment for the home team to have.
This isn’t some fairy tale land in which a victory here for the Kings would have meant more progress than if they had lost. This is ultimately going to be a 25 or 26-win team by the time their game in Los Angeles is over and either way, it won’t make much of a difference towards next season. But what does make a difference is the fact that Tyreke Evans got to have a celebratory moment in a season devoid of those types of things. Congratulations, rook. Can’t wait to see the next step of progression you take.
Final Game Notes
– Jason Thompson finished with a game-high 10 rebounds and had a pretty positive impact on the game overall. When he was in the game, he gave the Kings enough size to challenge shots and control the boards. This is where I see him being the most valuable next season. Most likely, he’ll be the starting center for this team. He has the size, length and athleticism to be successful at this position.
– Donté Greene once again brought incredible energy off the bench. 16 points on 6/11 shooting. He netted some threes. He threw down a dunk. Donté Greene is part of the bright future of this franchise. His versatility is hard to match when he’s on his game and he’s made a complete 180 from the end of last season to the end of this season. Coach Westphal had this to say about him after the game:
“First of all with Donté, when you look at his progress from last year to this year it’s striking how far he’s come. I think that his future depends on if he can do that again, if he can improve that much again. I think he can go from the level he’s at now to be a player who is somebody you never want to take out of the game because he’s such a versatile player at both ends of the floor. I think it’s unrealistic to expect that he could have improved any more than he did this year.”
– Here is Tyreke on the accomplishment after the game: