Well, what can you do?
Kings twice had 20-point leads.
Spencer Hawes had 30 points (career-high).
The Kings not only hung tough with the world champs but they did it without Tyreke Evans (who has been known to eat thunder, crap lightning, and father the future) and Kevin Martin. This team wouldn’t back down in the first half. Omri Casspi took it right at the Lakers. Beno Udrih took it right at the Lakers. Spencer Hawes of all people looked at the length and size of the Lakers and decided he was going to be the best big man on the floor.
Then the second half started and the champs kept chipping away. Kobe got hot. Kings got stagnant. Kobe got hotter. Kings got REALLY stagnant. Luckily, the Kings never gave up. They kept fighting (which is what you love to see from such a young team). It was the same type of fight we saw during the comeback in Chicago. But as it always does when the Kings are trying to upset the Lakers, it came down to execution in the final minutes.
Beno Udrih continued to expose the horrendous Lakers point guard defense by blowing past Farmar, putting a Tony Parker spin move on Pau Gasol and laying it up and in. Then, the Kings forced the Lakers into settling for a Shannon Brown three that predictably clanked off the iron. The Kings wrestled for the rebound, knocked it off Pau Gasol and eventually settled for two Ime Udoka free throw attempts with less than five seconds left in the game and the Kings up two.
And then it happens. Ime misses the first one so there’s no chance of this becoming a two-possession game. Whatever. Make the second and you’ll at worst head to overtime. But no. Udoka misses both of the free throws. We all knew what was coming next.
So I ask again – what can you do?
Here’s what you can do! Don’t choose to switch all screens with Kenny Thomas and Sergio Rodriguez being the guys most likely to guard Kobe on the final play! How was THAT the plan?
When Vujacic inbounded to Pau Gasol at the three-point line, here’s what you had:
- Beno guarding Lamar Odom at the three-point line on the weak side towards the top.
- Omri Casspi guarding Jordan Farmar on the weak side wing.
- Kenny Thomas guarding a cutting Sasha Vujacic after Kobe set a screen on Sergio Rodriguez.
- This left Udoka on Gasol and Sergio on Kobe both on the perimeter.
So here’s what I don’t understand:
1) Why is Sergio in the game? He’s probably the worst defender on the team that you could have out there. Every single Blazers fan watching this game was thinking, “Sergio is out on the floor…wait, what?”
2) Why don’t you have Udoka foul Pau Gasol when he has his back to the basket? It’s a late game defensive strategy that is rarely utilized but very widely accepted as what teams SHOULD do. Put the pressure on anyone but Kobe Bryant to extend or win this game. Pau Gasol is no slouch and he’s a pretty good free throw shooter (84% this year). But how many times in his career has he had to make game-tying free throws with a few ticks left on the clock? Put him on the line.
3) Why would Kenny Thomas not run at Kobe? I’m pretty sure at some point someone on the Kings coaching staff screamed over and over at the players, “whatever happens, no threes!” So wouldn’t it be a natural instinct to run at the guy who is about to get the ball and shove the dagger into your heart? Instead, you’re worrying about a two-bit role player who hasn’t been good ever and hasn’t been relevant in two years making a layup to tie the game? He’s more dangerous than Kobe Freaking Bryant wide-open with the ball at the three-point line?
4) Apparently, the Kings were in a zone defense on the final play. When your only chance of losing a game is a three-point shot, is a zone defense really the answer? What’s the best way to break a zone? Oh, that’s right; it’s outside shooting!
Now, Kings fans are going to be furious for a few reasons and all of them pertaining to the refs. The first reason might be the foul in which Jason Thompson fouled out on. It was complete and utter crap. Rodney Mott called a trip on Jason Thompson because he either wanted to steal the show, has a huge crush on Shannon Brown, or had a kink in his knee and was just trying to get it out – only he didn’t want to look stupid and decided to call a tripping foul to mask his odd leg movements. There was no trip. There was a case of Shannon Brown being Shannon Brown and tripping over his own two feet. That’s all. Apparently, somehow that was physically forced by JT.
Second, did Kobe push off of Sergio? Well, technically it looked like a moving screen. Fortunately for the Lakers, they were officially allowed in the middle of the last decade in an effort to jumpstart scoring and try to legitimize Amare Stoudemire as an NBA star (which he later proved to not even being close to one). Personally, I think Sergio started to sell the bump a little and then realized that it was Kobe and the end of the game so he better stop and try to recover and bother the shot. But he couldn’t.
Third, was Kobe on the sideline when he shot the ball? Grant and Jerry didn’t seem too outraged by the final decision that it was called legit and that he was called inbounds. Personally, I couldn’t tell. They claim that he was over the line with his heels high enough off the ground that he wasn’t on the out of bounds line. To me there wasn’t any conclusive evidence to the contrary. I’m fine with the call there.
What I’m not fine with is the Kings late-game execution over the past week. No imagination is there and no accountability either. Everyone wants to chalk it up to moral victories and losses because of team youth. At what do you start blaming the coaching and the execution because the players simply screwed up regardless of age, experience or whatever excuse you want to throw out there. And for the season, the end of quarter execution has been atrocious. In-game situations should be the focus of the next few practices.
Ime Udoka isn’t young. He missed two free throws. If he makes the free throws, the Kings win this game. I don’t care about the foul discrepancy, the JT foul out, the Donté Greene foul out or any violation people think Kobe committed in the final five seconds. Make your free throws and you escape with a victory. It doesn’t matter that Evans wasn’t there. It doesn’t matter that Martin has played five games this season. It doesn’t matter that the team is young. It doesn’t matter that JT was scoreless, Hawes was unstoppable, or Kobe was Kobe.
Swish, swish and we’re going to Sizzler.