In the only game on the NBA slate on Sunday night that did not involve at least one playoff squad, but the entertainment factor of the 106-103 Kings’ victory over the Wolves did not disappoint.
It was an up-and-down, back-and-forth affair, with a whole lot of Gorgui Dieng and Kevin Love for the Wolves and DeMarcus Cousins for the Sacramento Kings. Early in the first quarter, Dieng scored the Wolves’ first six points and was active on the glass, even while contending with Cousins. As the game moved along, however, Cousins asserted himself and scored nearly at will.
And for the most part, it was hard to blame Cousins’ success on Dieng’s one-on-one defense. It was solid, and most of Cousins’ points came as a result of the combination of great offensive play and the Wolves’ failure to effectively give Dieng help in the post. Cousins was able to take a couple of dribbles and get to the middle of the paint fairly easily for much of the evening.
The first quarter ended with a 30-28 lead, but the Wolves embarked on a big run that lasted for much of the second frame and gave the visitors a 52-47 advantage at the break. Kevin Love struggled from the floor early, but Dieng and the bench provided adequate scoring to atone for the lack of production from the starters. Ronny Turiaf re-injured his sore knee to some extent during the second quarter, so the bench + Dieng lineup caused most of the damage.
Love came alive in the second half, and the Wolves’ once comfortable lead was whittled away quickly during the short (and costly) two minute span from roughly the 8:00 to 6:00 marks in the fourth quarter that Rick Adelman gave Love his rest. When Love returned, the Wolves had relinquished their lead.
The Kings expanded their lead to as large as 96-86 with 4:39 left on the clock, but the Wolves took advantage of some sloppy play by Sacramento to climb all the way back to within 100-98 on a one-handed Love baseline shot with 41 seconds remaining.
Back on the other end, however Cousins isolated Dieng on the right baseline and was able to cross him over and get around to the baseline side for a dunk that he sneaked just past Dieng’s recovery attempt and the habitually late help defense that never really came. After a Wolves’ timeout with 24 seconds left, a mostly broken play led to a desperation J.J. Barea three-pointer that clanked off the rim.
Corey Brewer (who had a much Brew-ier game tonight, shooting 2 of 8 from the floor and getting caught out of position on defense far too often) was fouled on the rebound and knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 102-100, but Ben McLemore converted his attempts on the other end to stretch the lead back to four points. After another Wolves’ timeout, Love missed the same left box turn-around fadeaway that he drained over Chris Bosh in Miami, and the game was all but over.
Love was good, but settled for outside shots a bit too much when match-ups would have allowed him to have a shot at doing some damage down low. Dieng was fantastic offensively, from shooting and passing to rolling to the rim and corralling offensive rebounds, but left something to be desired defensively. As mentioned, the help defense was poor and Cousins is absolutely a load, but Dieng will simply need to get stronger in order to guard the premier centers of the league in the paint.
The Wolves’ back court was abysmal, and the primary reason for tonight’s loss. The return of Kevin Martin absolutely killed the team defense, and as it turned out, the offense as well. Martin shot 0 for 8 from the floor and scored just two points, and was mercifully placed on the bench in favor of a Rubio-Barea tandem during crunch time.
Of course, Rubio shot 0 for 4 himself and scored zero points, although he at least contributed 11 assists to the cause. But his defense on Isaiah Thomas was not to the standards that we’ve come to expect out of Rubio, and Martin and Brewer’s help defense was simply terrible. The decline in minutes for defensive stalwart Luc Richard Mbah a Moute played a large part in allowing the Kings to run amok, and the Kings miniature back court tandem of Thomas and Ray McCallum forced Adelman to play Barea alongside Rubio late in the game.
Of note: Dieng finished with 21 points on 9 of 15 shooting (he splashed a three-pointer as time expired) to go along with 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, and 3 turnovers in 35 minutes. His offensive game is a sight to behold right now, and he pretty much did what he wanted in the high post, especially from a passing standpoint.
It was a frustrating finish to a game that should have been won. Now, the Wolves sit back at 40-40, and have a near-impossible task tomorrow in the Bay Area. The second night of a back-to-back, in Oracle Arena….it’ll be tough. The game tips at 9:30 CT tomorrow evening, and the Wolves will finish the season back at home on Wednesday against the Utah Jazz.
31-2 Kings backcourt