When you’re the Sacramento Kings and you’re playing the Miami Heat, the question is how long can you compete before the defending champs pull away. On Friday, the answer was about 30 minutes. After a terrific start on the offensive end, the Kings found themselves neck-and-neck with the mighty Heat. But as always, getting too giddy about one half is a mistake, and reality dropped like a hammer in the third quarter. The defensive breakdowns continued to multiply, and Miami turned up the heat defensively. The result was an easy 122-103 victory for the hometown squad.
FLYING OUT OF THE GATE – The first half was a fantastic offensive display for the Kings. Playing against a noted defensive team, Sacramento consistently made the extra pass — the ball moved from side to side with ease — and the Kings shooters were scorching. Underneath, midrange, perimeter…it was all working. Sacramento shot a blistering 77.6 percent in the first quarter and continued stroking it into the second frame. Sacramento finished the night at 58.1 percent, a number that nine times out of 10 results in a victory. But not when you fail in nearly every other aspect of the game.
DEFENSIVE COLLAPSE – Unfortunately, the Kings defense never gave them a shot in this one. You can take into account the great offensive talent that Miami possesses, but Sacramento did very little to help its cause. First, the Kings offensive screw-ups started mounting and the Heat punished them for it. Miami finished the night with 22 fast break points, 32 points off turnovers and 70 points in the paint, including 48 in the first half. The Kings simply made things too easy for Miami, as Sacramento often exhibited confusion on the defensive end that resulted in wide open looks for the Heat.
FILTHY FREE THROWS – The Kings entered the game as the fifth-best team in the NBA from the free throw line (79.4 percent). But for some reason, something about the Miami air affected the Kings at the charity stripe. Sacramento made just 10-of-24 (41.7 percent) from the line in the game, and it was a host of capable players doing this missing. Isaiah Thomas (36 MIN, 11 PTS, 4-11 FG, 1-6 3FG, 2-5 FT, 7 AST, 3 TO, 2 REB), Rudy Gay (35 MIN, 14 PTS, 7-13 FG, 0-2 FT, 6 REB, 6 AST, 3 STL, 7 TO) and Derrick Williams (27 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-5 FG, 1-5 FT, 2 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL) combined to make just 25 percent from the line. The idea of having to play a flawless game to beat Miami is usually true, and the Kings gave away more than handful of free points at the line.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – The Kings second unit, headed by Jimmer Fredette, had an absolutely brutal stint in the early second quarter. Fredette turned the ball over twice in four minutes, and Miami reeled off 12 straight points before Coach Michael Malone pulled the plug. In the second half, Fredette sat and Marcus Thornton (9 MIN, 2 PTS, 1-2 FG, 2 REB, 2 STL) played small guard. That’s a setup that should continue, at least until Ray McCallum is trusted enough to grab minutes. Jimmer can be static/neutral, but he can’t be a negative. Thornton, for all his struggles/faults, is a better ball-handler and defender … Ben McLemore (33 MIN, 20 PTS, 8-13 FG, 4-7 3FG, 4 REB, 2 TO) played a great game. Never looked overmatched as a defender, and offensively he had the touch. His outside shooting can give this team a huge boost … DeMarcus Cousins (32 MIN, 27 PTS, 11-15 FG, 5-8 FT, 8 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 3 TO) is largely responsible for Chris Bosh’s big night, but Boogie was a force offensively. Very efficient and made some great passes. Still dribbled the ball upcourt twice. Tsk, tsk … Gay had a great first half, where he showed great court vision and snuck backdoor for a few dunks. But as Miami turned up the pressure, Rudy’s night got tougher and he turned the ball over way too much.