SACRAMENTO -- While the Kings aren’t in playoff contention, it felt like they were in Sacramento’s gutty 102-90 win over the Grizzlies in front of a near sellout of 16,794 amped-up fans at Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday.
“It felt like we had the physicality of a playoff game, bodies hitting each other,” Kings coach George Karl said. “Our guys stood their ground and played at an extremely high level.”
Rudy Gay was simply the best player on the floor, going for 28 points.
“Rudy Gay was sensational,” Karl said. “They didn’t have an answer for him. We had enough offense and enough structure to get him the ball.”
While Gay thrived, DeMarcus Cousins and Zach Randolph battled with postseason intensity that included the expected physicality and repartee -- or in today’s vernacular, trash talk.
Cousins drew an offensive foul on Randolph that included a double elbow to the face and while Randolph and both head coaches picked up technical fouls, Cousins only took out his frustration on a chair at the Kings bench.
“DeMarcus has emotions and he’s one of those guys that wears them on his sleeve,” Karl added. “My preference would be that he would learn to control them, but I’ve also had guys where it takes them one or two years to learn how to control it.
“I’ve seen Sam Cassell have emotional breakdowns throughout his career, but now he’s out there coaching (as an assistant with the Clippers). DeMarcus just has to continue to understand that we’re going to get better at making him better. He’s got to make us better, too.”
Despite foul trouble the entire night, the All-Star still made an impact.
“I told him, you’re 16-9-6 (points, rebounds, assists) and you’ve had a bad game,” Karl said. “To me, that’s an awfully good game. There are not many guys who can put those numbers up in 24 minutes.”
Memphis came into Wednesday leading the NBA in points allowed and in points in the paint, so the intensity of the game was anticipated.
“Coming in against Memphis, you know it’s going to be a physical game,” said Cousins, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Gay, who spent most of his first seven NBA seasons with the Grizzlies, echoed the theme of the night.
“They’re a physical team. They’re battle tested. They’re a playoff team. They have great players -- proven players,” Gay said. “So we knew it was going to be tough, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we just had to keep fighting.”
The Kings were without starting point guard Darren Collison for the seventh consecutive game due to a hip flexor strain yet Ray McCallum and Andre Miller shared the floor general responsibilities combining for 14 points and 10 assists in the win.
The pair split the fourth quarter minutes, with Miller on the floor at crunch time as Sacramento sealed the deal outscoring the Grizzlies 26-13 in the final stanza.
“You can talk about offense all you want, but we played a great game defensively in that fourth quarter,” Karl said.
“I feel really good. It was a good win.”
The Good: Rudy Gay’s 28-point performance was the difference maker.
Cousins put up solid numbers in just under 25 minutes due to foul trouble that mere mortals would envy -- 16 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
All five starters were in double figures and Jason Thompson contributed a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The bench production was solid from Miller (four points and seven assists), Derrick Williams (eight points in fifteen minutes), Omri Casspi (six points and three rebounds) and Reggie Evans (11 rebounds).
The Bad: Sacramento’s lackluster third quarter in which the Kings were outscored 25-14, squandered a 10-point halftime lead and entered the fourth quarter trailing 77-76.
The Take: The win echoed Karl’s sentiment of Sacramento having “enough talent to win games.”
If the Kings continue with this effort on a consistent basis and Karl continues to tinker, the rest of the season will be interesting in Sacramento.