With a tough home stretch of the Cavs, Lakers and Nuggets in a one-week span, the Kings and their fans should be hoping for one win and anything on top of that is just the proverbial icing on this holiday cake. When you have played the Cavs to a standstill and have possession with 13 seconds left, you have to like your chances – especially with Tyreke Evans holding the ball.
But let’s do a little rewind.
The Kings went up three on a Tyreke Evans layup with 2:08 left in the third quarter. At that point, Evans was 10/16 from the field for 24 points. He along with Omri Casspi, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson were matching Cleveland blow for blow with LeBron James having a huge night and Mo Williams heating up. But when LeBron checked into the game with 7:43 left in regulation, Tyreke was now going to be tested. Mike Brown gave LeBron James the assignment of finishing the game trying to stop Tyreke Evans on one end and leading his team to victory on the other. And that’s where the night started to break badly for the Kings.
Whether it was a conscious decision or happenchance, Tyreke Evans started becoming exclusively isolated with LeBron on one side of the court while his teammates waiting with open hands on the other end of the court. And Tyreke Evans was shut down. Cavs fans will try to convince you it was LeBron being a lockdown defender when he wants to be. I think that’s only half the story.
There were plenty of times LeBron smothered Evans and forced bad shots. Even when Evans shook LeBron James and took a step-back or fade-away jumper James was able to recover quickly and challenge the shot. But I think the main culprit for the Evans offensive debacle that was the final 14 minutes (he finished the game with four points on 1/9 shooting) was the Cleveland help defense that collapsed on Evans in the lane. He was able to blow by James in the isolation on a few plays but the Cavs help defenders shot down into the lane and bothered whatever forced shot Tyreke put up. And I think on the second most important play of the game, it was in his head.
Late in the fourth quarter, Evans once again drove past LeBron. In a veteran and Hakeem Olajuwon-esque moment of clarity and genius he did a nice upfake on LeBron to send the reigning MVP flying by him. He pivoted back to free himself up for the shot from about two-feet and completely choked on it. It was never even close to coming out of his hands properly. I think he was expecting a defender to be there.
Now with the regulation seconds ticking away and the Kings opting to move the ball up court without calling a timeout (it was the right move by Westphal; you don’t give Cleveland a chance to set their defense), Evans wanted to isolate one more time. There was confusion in the spacing with Spencer Hawes wavering on whether to set a pick or not. It brought the extra defender over and allowed LeBron to jump all over Evans. He swallowed him up defensively and never allowed a shot to get fired.
In the overtime, the Kings ran out of everything. They couldn’t get a shot to fall. They couldn’t get a single point on the scoreboard. They were shut out in the final five minutes of the game with some more solid Cleveland defense. To rub salt into the wounds, Zyndrunas Ilgauskas buried three three-pointers to turn a four-point game into a 13-point, overtime drubbing.
The biggest sequence of that overtime was definitely when Cleveland had the ball and a two-point lead. LeBron drove the lane, missed the layup and grabbed his own rebound. Then Spencer Hawes blocked James putback attempt from behind before LeBron grabbed it one more time and scored the two-point basket. Kings could have used that defensive stand for some much-needed momentum. Instead, it led to a forced Casspi drive that missed wildly and then the first of Ilgauskas’ threes.
This was a game you’d love for the Kings to have won. 1) Because if you’re reading this then you’re probably a diehard Kings fan. 2) With the Lakers coming to town the day after Christmas on the backend of a back-to-back (with Cleveland being the Christmas Day matchup), that could have easily turned the momentum towards taking advantage of a possible trap game for the Lakers. And 3) they played very well for most of this game. They went toe-to-toe against one of the best teams in the NBA and had a chance to win on the final possession of the fourth quarter. That’s a tough one to slip away.
- LeBron James is good.
- I mean… LeBron James is really good. He probably handled the ball for the majority of his time on the court and he only turned the ball over twice. He controlled the game with his rebounding and passing – and in the end with his defense. His 34 points were impressive but the majority of them were on possessions the Kings will absolutely live with. He made an amazing amount of his jumpers. He only shot seven free throws. With LeBron James as your opponent, that’s the defensive result you want – jumpers. He just flat out made them (made nine of his first 14 jumpers, finished 9/19 on jumpers).
- When Mo Williams gets hot, this team is tough to stop on offense. He helps LeBron spread the floor, which opens up shooters on the perimeter and offensive rebounding inside.
- The Cavs have HUGE issues inside defensively. JT and Hawes abused Shaq on offense early on and they flat out can’t defend the pick-and-roll with Z or Shaq on the court.
- Omri Casspi guarded LeBron for the majority of the crunch time minutes and did a very good job. He forced him into a lot of jumpers and passes. You can’t ask more than that from a rookie.
- 52 points in the paint by the Kings. Again, the Cavs have interior defensive issues.
- Cheer yourselves up, Kings fans. This was a fun play for Tyreke to make: