Boogie Cousins, arguably the NBA’s finest center, was absent from tonight’s Celtics matchup against his Sacramento Kings–serving a one-game suspension after amassing 16 technicals this season. Without Cousins, Sactown’s only option was to shoot like hell and hope that Boston underestimate them. Which Boston did. This ended up being an embarrassing rout (108 – 92) for the East’s ostensible runner-up team.
THE GAME FLOW
The Kings smallball lineup–Collison, Lawson, Aron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, Kosta Koufos–had speed and ffensive punch, but the Cs locked down on defense with blocks and vigilant glasswork. Sactown couldn’t keep Isaiah Thomas off the line–he had 10 before Q1 ended–while Al Horford exploited the opposition’s in the post. Boston had enough of a lead that Brad Stevens gave Jaylen Brown freer rein than usual. (While Jaylen got two offensive fouls on basket-bound drives, I agree with Celtics Twitter’s contention that he had the right idea, just improper execution.)
This all went fine until midway through the second quarter, at which point the Kings bench went on a largely bench-fueled run. (Much like the Spanish fucking Inquisition, no one expects a Ben McLemore resurgence.) Boston lost its defensive focus from earlier, allowing Sacramento a brief lead. It was tied 49-all by the half…but, um, like, the 2-seed in the East should not be tied with a Boogie-less Kings. EVER.
Things didn’t improve in the second half. Despite a surprising strong effort by Amir Johnson that started in Q2 and continued with a rattling dunk and smooth 3, the Cs looked tired, didn’t protect the ball well and lost the rebounding mojo they had. McLemore continued shooting well, as did Collison, and the NBA’s sentient brass knuckle known as Matt Barnes knocked down 3s and patrolled the backboard. Boston needed a 10-4 run to get back within an acceptable margin, and that didn’t last long: Cs were down 77-71 after three frames.
If there was a chance to regain control of this one, it’d come due to the Kings’ bench’s inability to sustain itself–Collison being the starting lineup’s only real threat. It sustained itself, thanks to Barnes and 2nd-year man Willie Cauley-Stein commandeering a massive run. The Cs got over the foul limit, down by 17 with 4 to go, and couldn’t even get an unprovoked off-ball shove of Marcus Smart by Barnes called as anything but a common foul.
I.T. on the bench in the 4th is an uncommon sight, and a clear indication that Stevens was letting this game go. As much crap as I gave the Kings above, they didn’t just capitalize on the Cs’ errors. They took full control of the proceedings in the second half, particularly on the defensive end, and never let up. Maybe Sactown coach Dave Joerger may be able to make lemonade of his franchise’s front office’s lemons in time.
The best way to explain all this, I guess, is to surmise that Boston confused the Kings for a D-League-level team and gave a correlative effort. A long plane ride and late-night arrival on the West coast is suboptimal, but no excuse for the squad’s inability to keep up with a shorthanded and oft-problematic Kings team.
Fat lot of good it did, but daaaaaaaaaamn that was a slick pass by Marcus to Kelly Olynyk.
OK, so, it’s late, and videos are in short supply. Despite Isaiah’s good scoring line (26-4-7), he didn’t have any particularly eye-popping moments. Jaylen, however, did. Observe:
Amir Johnson: Poor Amir has been named in virtually every mock Boston trade. But tonight he did quite well rim-running, shooting and rebounding, racking up 14-5-1 with 3 steals and the only Celtic with a positive plus/minus (2).
Isaiah Thomas: Despite a 26-4-7 line, he uncharacteristically lost his chutzpah down the stretch, with only one FG in the 4th.
Matt Barnes and Ben McLemore: Many people are saying that Barnes has in fact held communion with Satan–a lot of people, believe me (sorry, sorry trying to remove it), but 14-11-4 off the bench plus his usual dogged defense is nothing to write off. That, plus McLemore–already regarded by some as a draft bust–with 17 points on 58 percent shooting–arguably swung the game for the Kings.