It’s just one game, but an outline is taking shape. The Sacramento Kings might be a newly assembled group with plenty of room to improve, but their 113-94 win over the Phoenix Suns in Wednesday night’s opener showed a quality lacking from previous seasons. This team is deep with NBA level talent and whether they win or lose, they look like a team that will give a fight night in and night out.
The Suns won just 23 games last season and they boast a roster with four teenagers and five total players under the legal drinking age. This isn’t a 67 win Spurs team like the Kings will face Thursday night at the Golden 1 Center, but they are still an NBA squad.
For most of the night, the Kings completely overmatched their young opponents on both ends of the floor. Sacramento took a 57-38 lead into the third quarter and looked like they might walk away with a huge blowout win to start the season. They pushed to lead to 26 multiple times, but then let off the gas.
“We didn’t stay consistent with what we’re doing to have the lead that we had, we broke down,” DeMarcus Cousins said following the game.
Phoenix made a run in the late third quarter and early fourth, cutting the Kings’ lead to 10 before Sacramento responded with a 12-1 run to put the game away.
“The funny thing about tonight, we had a spot that was kind of familiar from the past years, where we were up, but we let another team back in and gave them some energy and gave them some momentum going forward,” Cousins told CSN’s Kayte Christensen. “Usually it will turn into a game. But the difference this year is we poised ourself, shut the water off and got some stops”
The Kings didn’t play 48 minutes of quality basketball. They might not have even made it to the 36 minute plateau, but when they needed a big shot to break the Suns momentum someone stepped up. And when they needed a defensive stop, they had the ability to make one.
“We’re helping each other,” Rudy Gay said following the game. “That’s one of the things in camp that we wanted to make known - that we have to help each other, we have to be a team and play team defense and we did that today.”
It’s a mindset that head coach Dave Joerger has brought with him from his time in Memphis. It’s a grit and grind system that has proven to be very effective for the Kings’ new head coach.
“Defensively, when you get after people, 48 minutes is a long game to be locked and have that focus,” Joerger said. “When you just keep banging away at it and banging away at it, it becomes who you are.”
The Kings are working on the defensive identity that Joerger is preaching. It’s a work in progress, but one that has been missing from Sacramento for quite some time. While the starting unit looked a bit lost on the defensive end to start the game, they made adjustments to stop the Suns interior attack. They also held a quality perimeter shooting Phoenix team to just 4-of-16 from long range.
On the offensive end, Sacramento shared the ball as 11 of the 12 players that took the floor scored a basket and nine players scored six or more points.
“I think the biggest difference is everybody is part of the offense,” Gay said. “Obviously we have our guys who can go get buckets, but when everybody has the freedom to attack and be aggressive and know that there’s time when we get ours, but for the most part, they need to be aggressive too.”
Cousins led the way with 24 points on just 6-of-10 shooting from the floor and Gay added 22. Veterans Matt Barnes (14 points) and Garrett Temple (12 points) helped lead a bench unit that outscored the Suns second team 48-34.
The Kings will face a different beast Thursday night in their home opener. San Antonio is fresh off a drubbing of the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday and have been in Sacramento awaiting the return of the home team. Back-to-backs are never easy, but this one feels especially cruel by the NBA schedule makers.