Man, that’s a tough one. You want to be happy with the amazing effort and grit shown by the young Sacramento Kings, but without the win it does feel a bit empty. Against a Los Angeles Clippers team that is quickly rising to the top of most hated opponents, the Kings scratched and clawed their way back from an early 20-point hole. In a game that went back and forth right down to the wire, the difference in the end was one Chris Paul free throw. The Kings couldn’t convert the final possession and took the gut-wrenching 103-102 loss in Los Angeles.
BAD BLOOD BREWING – Between Chris Paul’s flopping and Blake Griffin’s fake tough guy act, it’s becoming quite easy to dislike the Clippers. And that’s a sentiment that is no doubt shared by the Kings team, especially after Saturday’s physical affair. The bad blood has been brewing between these teams since last year, and this game featured a Travis Outlaw ejection for a flagrant-2 foul, Griffin nearly getting attacked for slamming a ball off of Luc Mbah a Moute and DeMarcus Cousins picking up a technical for (nothing?) stuffing a Griffin shot after the whistle. The only way to get the last laugh is to start winning these games, and that’s what makes the one-point loss so painful.
TERRIFIC TEAM EFFORT – Results aside, this was a fantastic team-wide performance by the Kings. Falling behind by 20 points and looking dead in the water due to awful shooting, it looked to be a long afternoon. But led by the constantly attacking Isaiah Thomas (33 MIN, 22 PTS, 5-12 FG, 11-13 FT, 5 AST, 2 TO, 1 STL), Sacramento banded together and mounted a great rally. Credit can be spread up and down the roster. Luc Mbah a Moute (28 MIN, 6 PTS, 2-4 FG, 4 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK) defended Chris Paul for nearly the entire second half, and his shadowing of the Clippers leader helped slow LA’s offense to a defendable pace. Patrick Patterson (32 MIN, 21 PTS, 8-16 FG, 5-7 FT, 7 REB, 2 STL) played his best game of the year on both ends — he battled Blake Griffin, moved well without the ball, did some dirty work on the glass and found his outside stroke toward the latter stages of the game. You could tell the Kings took this game seriously; they wanted to win. The ball moved, rotations on defense tightened up and the whole team upped their intensity level. Absolutely have to build on this Sunday night. Do not revert back.
THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE – A year ago, a physical battle with Griffin and DeAndre Jordan would have had DeMarcus Cousins (38 MIN, 23 PTS, 10-22 FG, 3-6 FT, 19 REB, 7 AST, 3 TO) teetering on the edge of self-destruction. On Saturday, it seemed as if Cousins relished the challenge, enjoying the chance to assert himself against the Clippers bigs. There were plenty of times when DMC could have lost his temper — he took a lot of contact down low with no whistles and received a weak technical only after Griffin practically begged the ref for it. But through it all, Cousins kept his cool and was the Kings rock down low. Sacramento ran plenty of offense through him, and DMC showed great decision making. He showed great patience in letting plays develop — nothing forced, looking for cutters, attacking when given space. Ultimately, games like this are great for the development of Cousins — facing adversity yet maintaining composure and serving as a steady force for the team. Kings fans have to be proud of what they’re seeing so far from DeMarcus.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – John Salmons (35 MIN, 5 PTS, 2-6 FG, 4 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK) played major minutes, due solely to his defensive abilities. Ben McLemore (16 MIN, 5 PTS, 2-7 FG, 4 fouls) lost track of his assignment multiple times in the first quarter and wasn’t highly effective on offense. You couldn’t really have Jimmer Fredette (5 MIN, 2 PTS, 0-1 FG) guarding Jamal Crawford, so the assignment went to Salmons. To his credit, he did his job pretty well … Greivis Vasquez (15 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-3 FG, 2 AST) was a complete non-factor. It’s becoming normal to wish for Isaiah when Vasquez is on the floor, just because Thomas brings such an energy to the Kings typically stagnant offense … Speaking the Kings bench star, you’d like to see that last play be run through Isaiah. Even with just 1.9 seconds, that’s enough time for Thomas to make something happen. Cousins at the top of the elbow probably wasn’t drawn up, but he made the flash for the ball. Wish that was Isaiah … The Clippers survived horrid, 57.8-percent free throw shooting (26-for-45) … A solid 26-to-10 assist-to-turnover ratio for the Kings, especially considering some of the tricky interior passing the team executed.