SACRAMENTO -- Basketball was supposed to take a back seat Thursday night at the Golden 1 Center. After countless failed attempts to build a new arena in Sacramento, the Kings were almost allowed to leave twice. But a new building comes another 30-plus year lease, cementing NBA hoops in the capital of California until at least the midway point of the century.
The evening was supposed to be a celebration of an accomplishment that many believed would never happen. And then a basketball game broke out.
No one expected the Kings to compete with the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich’s club won 67 games last season and were fresh off a smackdown of the Golden State Warriors in the season opener on Tuesday.
But this isn’t the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings that would routinely yield 110 points to their opponents. This is Dave Joerger’s club and they are grinders.
The end result was a loss, but one that you can live with. 102-94 doesn’t tell the whole story. For much of the night, the Kings were the best team on the floor.
“I consider this a good loss,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “I’m ready for the next one.”
There are moral victories when you are two games into an 82 game schedule and you go toe-to-toe with one of the best in the league. The mood in past seasons would have been somber in the Kings locker room, but that is not what it felt like on Thursday evening.
“The scary apart about it is we’ve still got so much more room to improve,” Cousins said. “In the past, you usually walk in here and guys are sulking and pissed off. (Tonight) it’s like okay, let’s get onto the next one. We know we made some mistakes. We know we broke down, but we’re on the right path right now.”
That path is built on a defensive identity and the Kings are building chemistry at a shocking rate. With five new rotational players and three new starters, Sacramento’s roster is still learning how to play together.
“As a group, we were pretty good defensively, we communicate with each other, so we’re always going to have a chance every night,” veteran shooting guard Arron Afflalo said.
When you play the Spurs, your margin for error is almost nill. The game turned on a turnover here and a mistake there and that’s something you can’t have when you’re playing a group that has been together for years in the same system.
“Defensively, I think we took a step in the right direction,” Rudy Gay said. “They’re a great team, I think we played great defense. Had a couple of letdowns, but it’s a basketball game. They’re a veteran team playing together. They have a system and they stuck to their system.”
It will go down as the first loss in the history of the Golden 1 Center, but the Kings are showing signs that they might be better than expected.
As for the opening of the building, it went off without a hitch. Both David Stern and Adam Silver were in attendance to see the event. As was Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, former Sacramento Kings All-Star Chris Webber, mayor Kevin Johnson and a bevy of local celebrities.
It was an emotional night all around, even for Cousins who has spent the first six-plus seasons of his career in a Kings uniform.
“It was beautiful, man,” the Kings’ big man said from his locker stall. “As much as this city has been through, as much as they fought, they were more than deserving of this night. I wish we could have sealed the deal with a win, but we got 80 more so we can make it up later.”
The Kings face a young and athletic Minnesota Timberwolves team on Saturday that has given them fits in the past. It’s a new challenge that this team looks better prepared to face this season.
SACRAMENTO -- Close, but no cigar. After pummeling the Phoenix Suns in the season opener on Wednesday night, the Kings gave the San Antonio Spurs everything they could handle on Thursday night, before eventually falling by a final of 102-94.
DeMarcus Cousins starred on the offensive end, but his defensive effort against LaMarcus Aldridge was a game-changer. Aldridge finished the night with 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting, while Cousins dropped in a game-high 37 points 16 rebounds.
Despite the noise surrounding his tenure with the Kings, Rudy Gay continued his strong early season play. The veteran forward scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 32 minutes of action. He did his best to limit Kawhi Leonard, but the Spurs star wing is playing at an elite level to begin the year.
Ty Lawson picked up his second straight start and came away with a defensive gem. The veteran point guard shut down Tony Parker, holding him four points on 0-for-6 shooting. Lawson managed to score seven points and hand out nine assists in 36 minute sof action.
Ben McLemore came out firing for the second straight game, scoring 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting in 11 minutes of action. But his short stint in the third quarter was cut short when Leonard stole the ball from him on consecutive possessions for breakaway opportunities.
Leonard led the way for San Antonio with 30 points, five assists and five steals. Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee did serious damage off Gregg Popovich’s bench. Dedmon went for 12 points, seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Lee filled in for Aldridge and came away with 12 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes.
STANDOUT PERFORMER -- Leonard was a beast. He’s the best two-way player in the game and he showed it Thursday night in Sacramento. Cousins was every bit Leonard’s equal, but the Spurs walked away with the win.
TURNING POINT -- San Antonio turned up the heat in the third quarter, holding Sacramento to just 3-of-17 shooting in the frame while outscoring them 23-14. The Kings found a way to tie the game up in the fourth, but the damage was done.
INJURY UPDATE -- Cousins took a beating in the third quarter. The All-Star big rolled his left ankle and was forced to leave the game for a short stint. Later in the quarter, Cousins caught an elbow to the face form Leonard, forcing the Kings to take a timeout. He remained in the game and finished strong for Sacramento.
WHAT'S NEXT -- The Kings return to their home court on Saturday evening to face a young, but extremely talented Minnesota Timberwolves squad. Following the T-Wolves game, the Kings embark on a five game road trip.