PHOENIX, AZ -- Improbable, far-fetched, surprising, unlikely ... all apply to the Kings' 5-1 start and to Sacramento’s fifth straight victory, a 114-112 double OT thriller on the road versus the Suns.
The Kings looked dead and buried in the desert twice and in between survived a scare:
· The Kings trailed 91-83 at the 9:58 mark of the fourth quarter.
· On the final possession of regulation, former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas’s 3-point attempt barely caught iron and Marcus Morris’ jumper after securing the offensive rebound off the Thomas miss didn’t go down as the regulation buzzer sounded.
· Sacramento was down by seven points with 3:34 to go in the first overtime.
However, Sacramento rallied to force a tie at the end of regulation, including the critical stop of Thomas and Morris plus orchestrated another critical run to force a tie at the end of first OT before ultimately winning in double OT.
For Thomas, who told Sactown Royalty in August that he “loved Sacramento” but wanted to “kill” them on the floor and mentioned to the Phoenix media on Wednesday that he wanted to “prove the Kings made a mistake” by not retaining him, it was a golden opportunity lost to burn his former team.
Kings coach Michael Malone, who has mentioned his squad’s “competitive spirit” since early in training camp, discussed the team’s strong start.
“We’re not satisfied… there’s a lot of room for improvement. We have three games left on this business trip...we have to find a way to improve, get better while also winning games.”
DeMarcus Cousins scored 25 points and secured 18 rebounds but missed both OT sessions after fouling out with 34.7 seconds left in regulation.
Cousins talked about the Kings' grit post game.
“It just shows you how our team is coming together," Cousins said. "Even through the tough times and adversity, even when things aren’t going our way, we found a way.”
Second-year guard Ben McLemore echoed Cousins’ sentiment on the team’s gritty nature.
“We just kept fighting as a team and we came together and hey, we’re going to win this game and keep competing and fight for one another and that’s what we did. We got the win. It was two crazy overtimes, but we got the win. We ended up pushing through it and fighting together and got the win.”
Perhaps the most tangible example of Sacramento’s plucky nature: Rudy Gay was a warrior logging just under 48 minutes while under the weather.
Gay was visibly fighting through flu like symptoms -coughing through the post game media session after delivering the coup de grace –the game-winning jumper with 1:07 to go to in the second overtime to give the Kings the lead at 113-112 before a Darren Collison added a free throw to end the scoring at 114-112.
Malone liked another quality the Kings displayed -- poise.
“There was no, ‘what are we going to do now?’ We held our composure, we were poised and guys kept on battling. Everybody made big plays. We got key stops down the stretch that we needed.”
Despite the early success in the season and it is still very early, Cousins thinks Sacramento can improve.
“Tonight, I feel like we showed a will to win and our team is continuing to grow every day, we get better every day," Cousins noted. "At the end of the night, as a team we still aren’t satisfied. We know we still have another level to go to and still have lots of improvement.”
In a Kings locker room post game that was buzzing with positive energy and an understandably good vibe, there wasn’t over-the-top jubilation.
After all, Cousins, the team’s best player, is calling for “another level” of play and Malone calls road trips, “business trips.” With Oklahoma City on Sunday, Dallas on Tuesday and Memphis on Thursday beckoning, Sacramento has work to do.
Defending and rebounding will keep Sacramento in a lot of games.
The Kings were a whopping +18 in rebound margin Friday night and lead the NBA in defensive rebounds and are second in the league in overall rebounding.
After a rough start, during which time Phoenix shot 68 percent from the floor, putting up 36 first quarter points, the Kings defense settled in.
Malone recognized his team’s ability to employ lock-down defense.
“The amazing stat was by the end of the game we got it (Field goal percentage defense) down to 42% but in the fourth quarter and both overtimes, we held that team to 26%. That’s 22 minutes of basketball and we held them to 26% so we have to realize that we have to defend for as close to 48 minutes as possible.”
The Kings are fifth in the NBA in field goal percentage against and 3-point field goal percentage against after ranking 20th and 29th respectively last season.
Cousins was huge again contributing 25 points and 18 rebounds. But as a sign of his maturity and role reversal, the big man restrained an irate Malone after he fouled out on an illegal screen call with under a minute left in the fourth quarter.
Carl Landry continues to give Sacramento a boost off the bench scoring 12 points on six-for-eight shooting from the floor along with eight rebounds.
Collison provided sound leadership scoring 16 points, four of which came in the critical 11-3 run to tie the game at the end of regulation plus five points in the first OT.
McLemore delivered 15 points, his best offensive outing yet. And Nik Stauskas chipped in with nine points, giving the Kings production from the two guard spot that they desperately need.
Underscoring the team effort, it should be reiterated that the Kings got it done without Cousins on the floor during both OT sessions after fouling out with 34.7 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Allowing opponents to shoot 68 percent from the floor and score 36 first quarter points is something Sacramento needs to avoid.
Are the Kings for real? Are they this season’s version of the Suns (+23 in the win column last year) who they dispatched Friday after an additional 10 minutes of play?
As important as the numbers are, the biggest take away for the Kings from Friday night’s win in Phoenix are the intangibles: heart, fight, determination, resilience and cohesion.
Sacramento has demonstrated the aforementioned qualities early this season and if they can maintain it -– who knows?
Perhaps the Kings are legit for the long term.