It all starts in the middle. When you dominate the interior, everything else opens up, and own the paint is exactly what the Sacramento Kings did against the Toronto Raptors on Friday. The Kings benefited from a poor offensive performance by Toronto, but for the most part, they imposed their will. The Kings got where they wanted on the court, kept the ball moving and got big time performances from a handful of players. The end result was a runaway 105-96 victory over the Raptors, the Kings second straight road win.
COUSINS RULES ALL – Just one week ago, I’ll admit…I was ready to explore trade options for DeMarcus Cousins. It all hinged on how he would return from suspension — would he start to realize the error of his ways or continue to act like an immature punk? Well, consider me pleasantly surprised because Cousins (33 MIN, 31 PTS, 11-18 FG, 9-12 FT, 20 REB, 4 AST, 4 TO, 2 STL) has shown so much growth over the past four games. Toronto is devoid of any interior threat, and Cousins recognized that from the jump. He embarrassed Aaron Gray with quickness, overpowered the smaller Ed Davis and completely took over the game. The Raptors had no answer. But despite his advantage, Cousins didn’t force the issue. He moved the ball when needed, setting up open teammates for clear opportunities. This DeMarcus Cousins again has me excited for the future. The attitude is great, and he’s playing the best team ball of his career. Kings fans can only hope this is a sign of things to come.
SALMONS CATCHES FIRE – Another player who has drawn the ire of Kings fans in the past is John Salmons. But for the most of the season, Salmons has been a productive member of the team, something you couldn’t say last year. Salmons (35 MIN, 20 PTS, 7-14 FG, 4 AST, 2 REB, 2 TO, 1 STL) found a groove in the third quarter, and the inside/outside threat he provided with Cousins was just what the Kings needed to runaway from Toronto. Third quarters have typically been times when the Kings fritter away leads or fall in deep holes. Salmons’ hot hand kept Sacramento in the driver’s seat, and his typical steady contributions on defense were there as well.
EXPLOITING MISMATCHES – The aforementioned advantage that the Kings held inside stretched beyond the center spot. Rather than throw their best big men out there, the Raptors chose to play small ball, running Ed Davis at center and the 6-foot-7 Landry Fields at power forward. In years past, Sacramento may have chosen to matchup with Toronto in an effort to keep pace. Forget that. Keith Smart rightly stuck with DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, and the twin towers took over the game. Thompson (30 MIN, 14 PTS, 7-11 FG, 6 REB) continued his breakout season, easily finishing over the shorter Fields and providing that steady sidekick next to Cousins. It’s been so rare to see Sacramento exploit mismatches — or even have positive mismatches, for that matter. It’s no surprise this new-found success is leading to victories.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Francisco Garcia (23 MIN, 3 PTS, 1-7 FG, 2 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL, 3 BLK) couldn’t find the shooting rhythm, but Cisco was big on defense. With the Kings other dominating offensive weapons, strong defense was all the team needed … The Kings second unit was a disaster in the first half, allowing the Raptors to sprint out to an eight-point lead. The reserves’ stint will have to be shortened unless they step their games up. Or Keith Smart should start staggering substitutions better — the complete line change isn’t having much success … Jimmer Fredette (15 MIN, 4 PTS, 1-3 FG, 1 AST, 3 TO) had a poor game. The Kings needed some offense from him early on, but he never got loose, and defensively, he couldn’t stay in front of Alan Anderson … James Johnson (27 MIN, 8 PTS, 3-8 FG, 3 REB, 3 TO, 1 STL, 2 BLK) made his return to Toronto and provided his usual mixed bag. Cool to see his former mates try the “hack-a-James” strategy late, and then watch him convert two free throws … The technical foul on DeMarcus Cousins should be rescinded. Poor officiating there, calling it based on reputation rather than what actually happened.