The Memphis Grizzlies defense has proven to be the Rubik’s Cube that the Sacramento Kings just cannot figure out. The Kings entered Sunday’s matinee having scored 69, 81 and 101 in three previous meetings with Memphis. And early on, it appeared Sacramento was headed for another small scoring output. But things changed for the better in this one. The Kings got strong bench production and played some defense of their own, limiting Zach Randolph to just nine points. In the end, it was a defensive play that won the game. Unfortunately, it was Marc Gasol swatting away Marcus Thornton’s last second three-point attempt and preserving an 89-87 victory for the Grizz.
DMC RETURNS – DeMarcus Cousins (30 MIN, 22 PTS, 9-15 FG, 9 REB, 1 TO, 1 STL) made his return to the starting lineup, a game after seeing just not nine minutes off the bench. As with his last team-imposed punishment, there seemed to be a mini reformation, a noticeable improvement in Cousins’ attitude. DeMarcus took a beating, suffering three different shots to the face from the Grizzlies bigs. Yet he didn’t pout, even after his face was called for a foul on Gasol’s elbow (see photo). He kept his head and just grinded, and he was a load for Memphis all night. Cousins made numerous plays, including a key jumper to put the Kings ahead with 44 seconds left. He almost lost composure after his layup attempt was blocked in the closing seconds — hard to say whether a foul occurred. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to predict that this positive attitude will continue to the next game. Cousins has teased us before with a stretch of focused play only to revert to immaturity. But against Memphis, he deserved much credit for a great game.
SMART’S MUSICAL CHAIRS – Keith Smart’s fourth quarter rotation reminded me of a cook who has 10 pots boiling at one time. The Kings head coach was moving pieces all around, trying to find playing time for about nine Kings who probably deserved it. At the end of the day, Smart did a pretty solid job, aside from a brief one-minute stretch where Tyreke Evans was manning the power forward spot against Zach Randolph (The move sparked a funny shot of Cousins, frantically looking around, saying, “What is he (Smart) doing, man?” after realizing he was the only big man against Gasol and Randolph). Evans (25 MIN, 5 PTS, 1-7 FG, 5 REB, 2 TO) ended up drawing the short straw, watching from the bench as a Cousins-Hayes-Thornton-Douglas-Thomas lineup finished the game. But Smart rightly left in Hayes, who played superior defense against Randolph.
BENCH FIREPOWER – A big-time Kings loss appeared to be in the cards until Sacramento went to the bench. Toney Douglas and Jimmer Fredette hit the floor together in the second quarter and immediately brought offensive production. Douglas (24 MIN, 14 PTS, 5-10 FG, 2-4 3FG, 4 REB, 2 AST, 4 STL) played an incredible game on both ends; his smothering defense is a given, but his offense was on point. When Jimmer (15 MIN, 13 PTS, 3-7 FG, 2-4 3FG, 4 TO) was aggressive with the shot, he thrived. He got into trouble when he passed on early looks and went to the dribble, but it’s always encouraging to see him fill it up — he scored 10 points in the second quarter alone. Take the +/- stat with a grain of salt, but Douglas’ +14 and Fredette’s +8 were telling of their positive contributions.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – I’m a firm Thornton supporter, especially in crunch time. But if he was going to go for it, he needed to work harder to create separation from Gasol. Otherwise, the more prudent play would have been to kick out of the double team and let someone else have a go … Starters Tyreke Evans, John Salmons and Jason Thompson combined for just nine points … James Johnson and Travis Outlaw went from crunch time performers against Dallas to DNP-CD victims against Memphis … Mike Conley was a huge difference maker. The Kings just could not keep the slippery guard out of the lane. And Conley is so much improved at the basket, strong finisher with either hand.