After Friday’s frustrating night of basketball, the Kings really needed a confidence-building victory on their homecourt before the Lakers came to town. Enter the Minnesota Timberwolves and their saloon door style defense.
The Kings took a bad defensive team to task in their third quarter against Toronto last week by building the momentum from key moments in the first half and turning it into a strong third quarter that ultimately decided the outcome of the game. Two games later against the Minnesota Timberwolves, they were able to accomplish the same type of result. After putting up an efficient 64 points in the first half, the Kings came out of halftime with a big run on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. They opened the third quarter on a 15-2 run en route to a 30-12 third period.
During this decisive third quarter, the Kings held the Wolves scoreless for the first 5:08 of the period when Ryan Gomes hit a mid-range jumper to get the Wolves on the board. The Kings extended their lead to 30 points before this jumper by challenging shots, securing the boards and going the other way. Donté Greene and Spencer Hawes carried the scoring load of this run by way of Tyreke Evans’ passing discretion. He assisted on five of the Kings’ first six shots including an unselfish fastbreak alley-oop to Donté Greene when they were all alone.
The assist contributed to Tyreke’s night of 29 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. It was nearly his second triple double in a week after becoming the third rookie to have one this season. In the first half, he scored whenever he wanted to. He started out slowly with Jonny Flynn matching him in the first few minutes point-for-point before going on his own personal run at the end of the first quarter to finish with 12 points. He scored seven straight points to give the Kings a 29-25 lead before finding Andres Nocioni for a three that pushed the lead to seven. In the second quarter he scored from all over the floor with a couple of layups and three jumpers to finish with 24 points for the first half.
In the second half, he decided to be more giving. He started creating for his teammates. Something you notice with him as he tries to figure out the footwork on his drives is that when he gets into the lane and spins on his man, he’s creating a lot of open shots for his teammates. At the beginning of the year, he was forcing up shots in those situations or turning the ball over. Now, he’s kicking it to the corner or the wing where a wide-open shooter is setting himself to let it fly. Throughout the game, the Kings missed a lot of those opportunities. He could have easily finished with 16 or 17 assists if the Kings took advantage of the space he created for them.
The Kings scored 92 points in the first three quarters, after struggling to get 94 against the Blazers. In the fourth, they let off the pedal with a comfortable 33-point lead. They allowed Tyreke to play the first six minutes of the final period before taking him out with the lead comfortably tucked away. He finished one rebound shy of his second career triple-double thanks to Omri Casspi snatching what would have been his 10th rebound before Reke could secure it. Still, 29-11-9 is not a bad way to boost your Rookie of the Year campaign.
Overall, the Kings played extremely well. They weathered the initial scoring barrage that Al Jefferson and Jonny Flynn tried to put on the Kings early and took their opponents apart as a team. Aside from Francisco Garcia’s outside shooting (0/4 from threes) and Beno Udrih struggling all night (2 points, 1 assist, 1/8 shooting), the Kings didn’t have anybody who really played poorly at all.
Donté Greene was as much of a catalyst in the third quarter as Tyreke Evans was. Donté shot the ball extremely well to start the period and used his energy to spark the Kings. He was flying all over the court, making jumpers, and crashing the offensive boards. He scored 13 points on 6/8 shooting in the quarter but his activity helped dominate and suffocate the Wolves during that time. He finished with 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists and one block on what might have been his best game of the season.
Jason Thompson, Carl Landry and Spencer Hawes proved to be a nice three-headed hydra in the paint for the Kings. They struggled to contain Al Jefferson early on in this game. He scored 17 of his 22 points in the first 19 minutes of the game. But after being abused for a little more than a quarter and a half, they wised up with how to defend Minnesota’s best post player.
They stopped biting on pump fakes with him, which caused him to lose some offensive rhythm. When Jefferson faces up against a post defender, the majority of the time he gives the same awkward pump fake on his jumper. The Kings were falling for it early and getting out of position. When they stopped going for the fake, Jefferson was unable to gain the advantage in terms of positioning his body. When Jefferson tried to change his rhythm and shoot right away, he missed. And that was thanks to the smart adjustments that Hawes, Landry and JT made.
In terms of production, Spencer once again tallied eight rebounds and even had a couple of nice finishes inside. Landry struggled with his shot a little but scored effectively in the first quarter to match and neutralize what Jefferson gave the Wolves. And Jason came off the bench and showed no ill-affects of his injury. He was the most active I’ve seen him in nearly two months. He rebounded well. He actually boxed out, which is not a given with this team. And he scored as efficiently as he ever has.
Putting things in perspective, this Kings team is far better than this Wolves team. They have more talent, more weapons, better coaching and a lot more of a future than what the Wolves put out there. They also have a good system they run and are better athletes. But still, the Kings won 17 games last year and have given some of these games away this year. After the frustrating way they lost to Portland on Friday, it wasn’t a given they’d come out tonight and take care of business. Beating the teams you’re supposed to is a good sign for growth.
Final Game Notes
- Three times in the first two quarters of this game, Tyreke pushed the tempo, took the defense on and finished a three-point play. Each time, he showed the physical prowess that gets him compared to LeBron James on a relative scale. This play was the most impressive of the three. It probably meant more to see it in person – especially because he was coming right at me when he did it – but the speed he showed once he split the defenders and created the space between him and the Wolves was spectacular.
- In the video above, Tyreke references the alley-oop he threw to Donté Greene and how Donté always gives him a hard time about it. Here it is in all of its glory:
- The Kings did a great job of taking care of the ball when they were taking the game seriously. In the first 34 minutes of the game, they turned the ball over just four times. At the end of the third quarter, they got sloppy and turned it over three times. And then in garbage time during the fourth, they had five turnovers. But for the most part, the box score doesn’t just how well they took care of the ball.
- The Kings big men have been so much more aggressive since Carl Landry joined the team. You can see a certain confidence/understanding of what they need to do inside. He’s definitely had a positive influence both on and off the court with this team.
- According to the Reke-o-Meter on Sactown Royalty, Tyreke needs just 284 points, 69 rebounds and 38 assists in the final 15 games to complete his rare 20-5-5 rookie season. Comes out to an average of 18.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game the rest of the season. For someone flirting with triple-doubles the past couple of games, seems very doable.
- While Donté Greene said he had not filled out his bracket out yet, he already had Syracuse pegged as the eventual champs. He believes the conference tournament loss was good for them to make them “hungrier.” So if Cuse wins it all, don’t say Donté didn’t try to tell you.