When it comes to the notion of the Sacramento Kings’ defense, Michael Malone no longer wants to be, in his words, a “hypocrite”. The Kings allowed the Memphis Grizzlies, playing their second game in as many nights, to shoot better than 50 percent from the field en route to a 99-89 victory at Sleep Train Arena.
“It’s a broken record,” Malone said of his team’s defensive play in Wednesday evening’s loss. “I say the same thing after every game and I need to do a better job of rewarding guys that are willing to defend.”
The Kings had no answer for Mike Conley Jr., who looked every bit the part of a potential NBA All-Star. Conley chipped in game-highs in points (27) and assists (10) in the Grizzlies’ victory.
“I told our team that I’m going to start playing guys that are willing to defend,” Malone said after the game. “I can no longer be a hypocrite. I’ve been a hypocrite all year. I got the job in June and I preached defense – that what I believe in. We’re one of the worst defensive teams in the league. For me, if you don’t play defense, and it’s not just Marcus Thornton, then I can’t play you.”
Malone tried to combat the lack of defense by turning to his reserves. Kings rookie guard Ben McLemore came off the bench to eat up most of the playing time at shooting guard and played 26 minutes. McLemore’s playing time came at the expense of the Kings’ starting two guard. Thornton had trouble adapting to his decreased role with Rudy Gay back in the lineup. After averaging 24 points per game on 18 shots the last three outings, Thornton played a forgettable 17 minutes, took only two shots and scored just two points.
“Marcus didn’t play many minutes and I put Ben in there,” Malone added. “He has to be able to adapt to the situation. With Rudy Gay being out, he is given more touches, but he didn’t get those. Every player can impact the game in some way, shape or form – even if you don’t get touches.”
In addition to their defense, turnovers cost the Kings a chance at victory over the Grizzlies. The Kings turned the ball over 17 times, including six times in the fourth quarter. Their near-20 turnovers led to 18 points off turnovers for Memphis.
The Kings’ lackluster performance put a damper on Gay’s return to the court. The 27-year-old forward had missed the last three games due to a left Achilles strain and put together a solid effort in his comeback. He scored 23 points on an efficient 10-of-16 shooting from the field, crossing the 10,000-point threshold for his career in the process.
“Honestly, I was a little rusty,” Gay said critically of his play after the game. “I’m not used to being out. I’ve only been hurt one time in my career that actually made me miss more than one game. It was a little tough for me, but it’s gonna happen. I’m gonna adjust and I tried to. Kinda tweaked my foot a little bit more, but doesn’t matter. I still feel as though we could’ve won this game.”
Following the loss, the Kings fall to 15-30 overall, 9-16 at home, and have lost five-straight games. They return to the court on Friday when they visit the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.
Notes and Analysis
- Rudy Gay returned after missing the previous three games with a strained left Achilles. The veteran wing looked like he hadn’t missed a beat, scoring 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He added five assists, but also turned the ball over five times, including three huge miscues in the fourth quarter.
- Isaiah Thomas started the game hot, scoring eight points on 3-of-3 shooting in the game’s first five minutes. Then he went cold for a stretch, hitting three of his next 14 shots leading into the fourth quarter. Thomas finished the way he started, knocking down all four shots he took in the fourth quarter and finishing with 24 points and five assists. When the shot isn’t falling, Thomas needs to find his teammates.
- Carl Landry had his best game of the season, finishing with eight points on 4-for-5 shooting and nine rebounds in 23 minutes. Malone turned to the veteran forward in crunch time, something we will probably see a lot more of as the season wears down. Jason Thompson will likely remain the starter, but Landry will finish plenty of games for Sacramento.
- Thompson scored six points on 3-of-8 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in 31 minutes. With Cousins missing, the Kings needed more. Thompson played solid defense on Zach Randolph for most of the night and is starting to give the consistent play that Kings fans have become accustomed to. But some nights Malone needs Thompson to step up further.
- Jimmer did a very nice job of running the second unit tonight. He finished with four points and four assists in nine minutes and probably should have played more, especially in the fourth quarter. With Marcus Thornton and Ben McLemore combining to score eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, the Kings need more out of the shooting guard position. Consider the dead horse beat.
- Aaron Gray has filled in admirably for DeMarcus Cousins. No, he can’t score like the Kings star center, but he does all of the dirty work and then some. Tonight he played 23 minutes, finishing with four points, six rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. More importantly, he limited Marc Gasol and set incredible screens.
- Derrick Williams needs to figure out a way to get his game going when Gay is healthy. It’s not going to be easy, because a major minutes crunch is right around the corner with Landry getting healthy and Cousins almost back from injury.
- Stat of the Night: Memphis has now won four straight and 9-of-10 overall. They are a good team and the Kings made way too many mistakes down the stretch to keep pace.
Quote of the Night
Isaiah Thomas on how much accountability he puts on himself for the Kings’ struggles on defense:
A lot of it’s on the point guard. A lot of it’s on myself. There are great point guards in this league that have the ball a lot of time of the game and I’ve got to do my job of trying to slow them down. But like I said, it’s not individual guys, it’s a team game and it’s team defense. It’s like once we stop one guy, it’s another guy that’s going off. We’ve got to collectively get better as a group.
Video shot and edited by Tobin Halsey.