I can’t count how many times I’ve said, “the Kings just didn’t get a total team effort tonight,” while describing a close win or any of the Kings losses this year. There has often been something missing with this team on any given night.
I’ve been waiting for this machine to start clicking on all cylinders in order to see a glimpse into the future of this franchise. And in a roundabout way at Madison Square Garden, we got exactly that from this Kings team. Most impressively, we got it from them when they were on the road. Omri Casspi got everything started by getting the Kings going early. Then Omri, Donté Greene and Tyreke Evans carried the Kings through a balanced second quarter with help from four offensive rebounds by Jon Brockman. Jason Thompson, Donté and ‘Reke carried the load in the third quarter.
And then Tyreke and Donté decided in the fourth quarter this team wasn’t going to lose the game.
Before we discuss the fourth quarter and overtime periods, let’s talk about Omri Casspi. I don’t think we realize the kind of crazy pressure this guy is under at all times. Imagine hailing from a prideful, history-enriched country from halfway around the world and in that prideful country is a rabid following of its country’s sports. Now think about being the first person in this country’s history to go from this homeland to the NBA, which happens to be the second most popular sport in the world and arguably the most well known professional sports league in the world. Not only do you have to light the torch for your country and begin the journey with it but also you really need to be successful to legitimize the dozens and dozens of players that will follow in your footsteps someday.
Throw in the fact that you’re playing your first game in the most incredible city in the world on Jewish Heritage Night. How would you respond with all of the weight of those everyday facts of your life? If you’re Omri Casspi, you respond by absolutely working over the New York Knicks early in the game to keep your team in it and stop them from running away with their hectic style of play. Omri showed the entire package in this game and scored 16 points in the first half as a way to keep things close and honest.
It’s hard for any player in this league outside of the elite guys to perform like that on a huge stage when you’re a rookie – let alone an international rookie that is the first of your kind. Yet, I’m not surprised someone like Omri was able to do this. He isn’t like other rookies. He’s confident in a genuine way in which he expects to be successful. That’s rare. So when you’ve got your own personal heritage night in the most storied NBA arena left standing, stepping up and having a game like this means something.
Onto the comeback in the fourth quarter, the Kings found themselves down 98-83 on the road with about seven and a half minutes to play. It’s not exactly an impossible scenario to come back from but when you haven’t won a road game in 49 days, it’s a tall task to complete. Donté Greene made a three-pointer from a Kevin Martin pass. Then Tyreke Evans took the ball 94-feet and was met with very little resistance at the basket as he laid in an easy two points. On the next possession after an Al Harrington miss, Tyreke Evans set up Donté Greene for a wide-open three-pointer that he easily ripped through the hoop.
Now the game is down to a seven-point deficit with three quick, scoring possession and a couple of defensive stops. At this point, you can tell the rest of the team is getting that Chicago feeling again. There are times with this team that Tyreke Evans starts orchestrating where he wants the pieces to go and finds a way to make things happen with his penetration and pressure. This was one of those times.
Over the next four minutes, the Kings were getting defensive stops except for one Wilson Chandler lay-up and an Al Harrington bucket. That’s right. The Kings were getting defensive stops. They were getting them by running various zone looks and some directed man-to-man defense.
In the meantime, Tyreke Evans was doing his Superman thing. I don’t mean that in the sense of imitating Dwight Howard because he certainly can’t do that. But he was flying around the court, saving everybody from natural disasters and diabolical fiends and saving the day. He scored 10 straight points for the Kings by – what else – attacking the basket. Four lay-ups and two free throws. That’s what he gave the Kings.
He took away the discussion of “is he a point guard” and “is he a shooting guard” and just turned it into a celebration of “holy crap, this guys is a leader as a 20-year old rookie.” Against the superior teams like the Lakers and Cavaliers, we saw this strategy be detrimental. But there were two differences between this hero mode and those hero modes. 1) He was going against the Knicks whose defense doesn’t exactly scream, “cream of the crop.” 2) He was penetrating down the middle of the floor giving him more space to work than just isolating one half of the halfcourt and getting bogged down by help defense.
On the final scoring play of regulation, Tyreke drove down the lane, sucked in the helped defender and dropped it off to a cutting Jason Thompson who flushed the ball into the hoop in exultation. For those of you who aren’t sure if Tyreke is a point guard or not, let me tell you that I have watched an unhealthy amount of basketball in my life and shooting guards don’t really make those types of plays.
But this isn’t even the most important part of this game. The Kings and Knicks went to overtime and a certain player for the purple and black was suffering through an eight-point, 4/8 shooting performance. Most games since his return, Kevin Martin would probably relegate himself to being a non-factor. His confidence looks shot since he’s returned and he’s passing up some very Kevin Martin-like scoring opportunities. Yet, in the fourth quarter he broke away from funk and came up with nine big points and one big offensive rebound. He took full advantage of the Knicks thinking Nate Robinson would be a respectable way to defend someone. For the clinching possession of the game, Mini-Mart shot a jumper, grabbed the rebound on his own miss and wisely pulled it back out to preserve the win instead of going with the instinctual quick shot. The ball found it’s way to Tyreke Evans and he iced the game with two free throws.
The last time the Kings won on the road was in Chicago with a historic 35-point comeback. That was 49 days ago. Against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, this TEAM was able to secure their 17th win of the season (matching last year’s total) before the All-Star break.
That was a team win and you can see how important it was by the relief and joy shown between these two standout rookies.