Kings' Hot Streak Cooled at the Fieldhouse

by Manny Randhawa | @MannyRsports

January 14, 2014

It’s just different in this building.

The Sacramento Kings had been winners of three consecutive games, averaging 117 points in those contests as they traveled to Indiana to take on the Pacers Tuesday night. One of those victories was a 123-119 win over none other than the Portland Trail Blazers, who boast the third-best record in the NBA (28-9). Going back a little further, the Kings defeated the Houston Rockets on Dec. 31, 110-106. Four days earlier, they beat the Miami Heat, 108-103, in overtime.

So when Sacramento took the floor against Indiana, it seemed that the Pacers had their hands full. Or so we thought.

After he scored 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting – including 4-of-7 from 3-point range – in Indiana’s 116-92 rout of Sacramento, Paul George put the result in very simple terms.

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“It’s a different story when you come to play here,” George said of opponents who have the misfortune of having to play at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Whatever you’ve done previously, we know how well we play at home, and we take pride in being number one defensively.”

What Sacramento had done previously was beat three of the top eight teams in the NBA over the last three weeks, posting gaudy offensive stats in the process. During their three-game win streak, the Kings shot 50 percent from the field and 42 percent from beyond the arc. In the two games leading up to Tuesday’s meeting with the Pacers, Sacramento outscored the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers by a combined 64 points.

But then they were confronted by the team with the league’s top-ranked defense and best home record. And suddenly, the mighty Kings had been toppled from their thrones.

Sacramento shot 42 percent Tuesday and outside of DeMarcus Cousins – who had 31 points and 13 rebounds – the only Kings player to score in double-figures was Rudy Gay, who had 12 points.

“We just couldn’t match their physicality,” Cousins said. “I would say they manhandled us tonight, and it showed.”

“I give a lot of credit to them,” said Kings coach Mike Malone of the Pacers. “I’d be doing [Pacers coach] Frank Vogel and his staff and his team a disservice if I didn’t. They’re the number one defensive team in the NBA for a reason. They protect the paint. Cousins really had to work to get his points tonight. We’ve had three guys scoring at a high level for us. Tonight Rudy didn’t get off, Isaiah [Thomas] didn’t get off, and that makes it very hard for us.”

Gay came into the game averaging 19.9 points before his 12-point performance Tuesday on 6-of-14 shooting. Thomas entered the contest averaging 19.3 but had just seven points on 3-of-9 from the field. Thomas said the Pacers foreclosed the avenue by which he and Gay like to score a big chunk of their points: the transition game.

“With me and Rudy, we want to get out in transition and get in the open court, and we didn’t get that,” Thomas said after the Kings were only able to manage 13 fast break points. “They’re a great defensive team in the half-court, and they’re big, they’re long, and they make things tough on you.”

The Kings aren’t the only team that has had their hot streak cooled by a trip to Indianapolis recently. The Toronto Raptors had much the same problem when they came to the Fieldhouse on Jan. 7 having won 10 of 14 – including victories over the Mavericks, Thunder, and Pacers six days earlier. Over that 14-game span, Toronto had been averaging 101 points per contest. The Pacers then held the Raptors to a season-low point total in an 85-79 victory.

For their part, the Pacers just do what they do when it comes to defending: aggressive defense on the perimeter and the overwhelming deterrent in the paint in the form of Roy Hibbert. For Indiana, it doesn’t matter who is coming into their house; they play the same game and it gets results.

“I don’t think we take special pride in our defense just because it’s a great team coming in,” George Hill said. “We respect all the teams in the league, and any time they come into this building, we want to protect our home court and we try to get up for the challenge each game no matter if we’re on the road or we’re at home. So we just try to be the best defensive team we can possibly be, night-in and night-out.”

“Every team is a different challenge,” said David West. “And we treat that game like it’s the only game we have on the schedule. And that shows in terms of how well we come out and execute … Regardless of what a team has done, when we play that team that’s the most important game of the year for us because that’s the game that’s on the schedule for tonight and we treat it as such.”

It’s almost like clockwork, this Indiana Pacers defense, particularly inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It’s where opponents’ winning streaks have come to die as of late. And West can tell you why.

“We rely on our defense and we want to make you work hard for every single basket you score,” he said. “Because that’s what we do.”

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