No rational NBA fan, after glancing at the rosters or watching a few of their recent contests, would expect a memorable offensive display from the Kings and Rockets. And they’d be right, because while the teams blistered the nets for 123 combined points in the first half, only visiting Houston could maintain the torrid pace as the evening moved on.
The Kings lost sight of the game in a disastrous third quarter that saw the Rockets open up a 21-point lead. A chicken-egg debate is possible – did the Rockets catch fire, or were the Kings defending poorly? The evidence for both sides:
Rockets Catching Fire
- As a team, Houston sniffed at the hallowed 50-40-90 mark, making 53% of its field goals, 39.1% of its threes, and 96.3% (26-27) from the foul line.
- Chase Budinger sent ripples through the stat-geek community with his uber-efficient 10-shot, 20-point effort (including four of six threes and four of four free throws).
- Starting point guard Kyle Lowry continued his recent tear from outside, hitting 4-8 threes. He’s now 17-38 in his last five contests, four of which have been wins for the Rockets.
Kings Defending Poorly
- Starting point guard Beno Udrih was utterly overmatched trying to guard Lowry, who jetted his way to a near-triple-double with 19 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, while starting the offense no further than 25 feet out as Udrih backed off in a preventative ankle-preservation stance. Udrih’s lapses on defense and missed box-outs led to at least 19 Houston points through the first three quarters.
- Marcus Thornton was no slouch in the getting-beat department, several times fouling Lowry or Kevin Martin after letting them get past him on drives or cuts.
- Rookie DeMarcus Cousins competed hard, but still fell asleep in several instances, one of which led to Chuck Hayes’ first driving basket since his 7th grade phys-ed days.
- Former King Brad Miller looked spry and athletic on several nimble drives to the hoop, as the Kings’ big defenders seemed paralyzed by the sight of a presumed-washed-up center putting the ball on the floor.
- The Rockets attempted 27 free throws, 21 of which came without Sacramento in the penalty, which reflects how often the Kings were fouling to prevent easy baskets or to compensate for being out of defensive position.
- Houston’s side of the play-by-play from the apocalyptic third quarter reads like this from the 10:52 mark onward (Houston leading 67-60): Hayes 6-footer . . . Martin 2 FTs . . . Martin 2 FTs . . . Budinger driving layup . . . Lowry driving layup . . . Martin layup . . . Martin 2 FTs . . . Martin 7-footer . . . Lowry 3-pointer . .. Courtney Lee layup . . . Budinger 3-pointer . . . Lowry 3-pointer. Statistically-inclined Rockets GM Daryl Morey must have been weepy with ecstasy after that sequence, in which his team scored 27 points on the most efficient shots possible. Sacramento scored only 14 in that span, and when the period mercifully ended Houston led 95-74, leading to 12 minutes of garbage time in the fourth.
Pundits are free to discuss how much of the preceding evidence really indicates poor defense, but it’s clear that whatever the Kings’ defensive game plan was, it didn’t work.
For further evidence, check the respective defensive adjustments. Lowry had 11 points and five assists in the first two quarters, then added eight points and three assists in the last two. His numbers, in other words, were close to identical in each half. By contrast, Cousins exploded for 20 points in the first 24 minutes, destroying Hayes and anyone else who dared cover him one-on-one with a variety of drives, tip-ins, and post moves. In the second half, blitzed by a series of double-teams, he didn’t score a point. So it’s possible to make defensive adjustments to stop a player who’s doing well – the Kings just didn’t do it.
Sacramento fans should be worried about this week’s contests against Orlando and San Antonio, two teams whose offenses can be every bit as scary as what they saw tonight. If Jameer Nelson and Tony Parker can approximate what Lowry did, the frustration will only deepen.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.