At some point, the Sacramento Kings are going to have to figure out their issues on the defensive end. If not, they will continue to wallow at or near the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
“Our energy was never at their level,” coach George Karl told reporters following the game. “I still think we have to be more to be more serious about the starts of our games. Whatever -- altitude, tempo, Boston playing great -- they punched us pretty hard and we never recovered.”
With a 114-97 loss to the Boston Celtics Thursday night in Mexico City, the Kings proved once again that they can’t guard anyone. The Celtics came into the contest with just two players averaging more than 12 points per game.
It shouldn’t be a difficult task. Slow down former King Isaiah Thomas and his backcourt mate Avery Bradley and you have a good chance of taking down the Celtics.
But nothing is easy for the Kings on the defensive end.
Thomas lit the Kings up for 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting and chipped in nine assists, six rebounds and four steals. The 26-year-old guard came in shooting just 32 percent from behind the arc, but dropped in 3-of-6 from deep as the Celtics assaulted the Kings from the perimeter.
Bradley fared just as well, finishing the night with 20 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point land. As a team, Boston knocked down 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) from long range and 47.6 percent from the field overall as the Kings struggled to stick with their defensive assignments.
“I thought the 3-ball got wild and crazy in transition today more than the pick-and-rolls” Karl said. “Isaiah, I think got a lot of his points off offensive rebounds, which are the two strengths of Boston.”
If the combo of Thomas and Bradley weren’t good enough, Jae Crowder chipped in 20 points on 4-of-9 shooting from three and Kelly Olynyk, who came into the game averaging just 6.8 points per game, dropped in 21.
“Olynyk came off the bench and had an All-Star type of game,” Karl said. “I’m not going to point fingers on players or concepts or what’s happening. I think we all know our perimeter defense is being attacked at high level.”
The flat-footed Olynyk took open jumpers from all over the court. The one time that Willie Cauley-Stein showed on a jumper, the 7-footer sidestepped the rookie and threw down a two-handed dunk.
The Kings continue to spin their tires on the defensive end. Be it scheme or individual effort, it’s time to make adjustments if they have any chance of turning this season around.
At the 6:30 mark of the third quarter with the Kings trailing 70-49, Rajon Rondo picked up a quick tech from official Bill Kennedy. Before the Celtics could even step to the line for the freebie, Rondo walked towards Kennedy and stared him down. Darren Collison tried to pull him away, but it was too late, Kennedy hit Rondo with a second tech and sent him packing.
“I don’t think it was a key to the game, I think it put a punch on our ability to have a comeback,” Karl said. “Rajon’s been our motor, he’s been our engine.”
The ejection likely meant very little to the outcome of the game. The Kings were already getting hammered by the Celtics with a minimal chance to getting back into the game. But Rondo is a leader on this team and he probably should have stuck around and endured the punishment with his teammates.
THE VERY BAD
With 48.2 seconds remaining in the game, rookie Willie Cauley-Stein mangled his right index finger when he swatted an attempted Celtics ally-oop pass out of bounds. The game was stopped and Cauley-Stein was immediately ushered to the locker room where he was diagnosed with an open dislocation of the right index finger.
The injury is not for the faint of heart, so avoid an internet search at all cost. What it means for Sacramento is their main defensive addition from the offseason is out of action for 4-6 weeks. There is no word yet on where the injury will require surgery, but it’s the last thing the defensively challenged Kings needed.
Cauley-Stein has started 14 of the Kings 20 games this season, averaging 4.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 18.9 minutes per game. Sacramento will miss the energy the 22-year-old big man brings on a nightly basis. In the wake of the injury, another rotational shake up is likely in order.
Sacramento looked worn out and tired in Mexico City. Maybe it was the elevation, maybe it was the myriad of NBA commitments or maybe they just had an off night. Whatever the reason, the Kings can’t afford to let the loss bleed into Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets. At 7-13 and a tough back-to-back on the road ahead, the Kings are finding themselves in must win situations way too early in the season.