SACRAMENTO -- Despite their early season struggles, there was always a glimmer of hope that a giant light bulb would go off over the head of this Sacramento Kings team. Slowly, we are seeing a club transform from a collection of individuals to a cohesive unit, although they still battle with wild bouts of inconsistency.
With their 91-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night, the Kings have now won four straight and you can feel the team surging forward.
That doesn’t mean that Sacramento won’t blow a 17-point third quarter lead on their home floor. They aren’t above that just yet. It means that might have the intestinal fortitude to fight through adversity and still beat a very good Eastern Conference opponent.
With both teams playing the night before, it appeared that fatigue played a role in the flow of the game. Sacramento led by as many as 10 in the first half, but took just a 47-44 lead into the intermission.
Atlanta erased Sacramento's meager three-point lead early in the third quarter, but then the Kings punched the Hawks in the mouth with an 18-0 run. For a few minutes, it looked like the game was well within the Kings' control.
“One of the tug of wars, I thought won the game was energy,” coach George Karl said. “At the beginning of the 3rd quarter they’re meter went up and our meter didn’t go up. And then our meter went above their meter. And then I thought in the 4th quarter, basically both teams were kind of hanging on a little bit.”
Hanging on is a good way to describe it. The Kings took a nine point lead into the fourth quarter, down from their game high 17-point lead just minutes before. The Hawks continued to push as the Kings’ field goal percentage fell steadily. Sacramento shot just 35.9 percent for the game and just 25 percent in the final quarter.
While the Kings were clinging to the lead, Atlanta kept finding open shooters. With 28.5 seconds remaining, Hawks guard Dennis Schroder dropped in a 26-footer to tie the game at 88-88, setting up another tight finish.
Coming out of a timeout, Karl called for his team to feed Cousins in the post. Rajon Rondo ran the baseline and the Kings’ All-Star center dropped off his fifth assist to the slashing guard who laid it in, giving the Kings a 90-88 lead with just 12.9 remaining on the clock.
Atlanta tried to go for the win, running a play to free up sharpshooter Kyle Korver, but forward Omri Casspi picked up his fifth steal of the game with just 3.3 ticks remaining and the Kings held on for the 91-88 victory.
“I think it’s just that we’re starting to figure it out, starting to figure out each other, starting to figure out how everybody plays, the groups that play well together, the groups that defend really well together, the groups that our offense runs really well together,” Willie Cauley-Stein said.
The recent play of Cauley-Stein has had a tremendous effect on the Kings. The rookie brings an energy to the court that is contagious and he’s only getting better.
“He has a gift on the defensive end of the ball,” Cousins said of his rookie big. “I think his offense is slowly coming along. But he has an impact on the game that doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet.”
The rookie struggled early in the season, but a month away while healing up from a finger injury appears to have given him some much needed perspective. He notched his second straight double-double, finishing the night with 12 points, 11 rebounds and a pair of steals.
“I’m just playing hard, and I think everything takes care of itself as long as you’re doing the right things and playing with the right attitude and your playing for somebody else and not yourself, good things are going to happen to you” Cauley-Stein said.
With the win, the Kings moved to 19-23 on the season and pulled a full game ahead of the Jazz in the race for the eight spot in the West. It’s not always pretty, but Sacramento is finding a way to grind out victories and the momentum is building.
“It’s clicking, but I’m not getting too high or too low about anything,” Cousins said. “Just taking it day-by-day. Trying to get better each game, each practice and just keep moving forward. I feel like we’ve still got a lot of improving to do so I’m not satisfied. We’ve got a long way to go.”
“It feels like we’re headed in the right direction, but based on our season, we can’t have our guard down,” Darren Collison added. “We’re playing really well, we’ve got a good winning streak, we’ve got to just keep going.”
The Kings came into Thursday night with a losing record at home despite huge crowds showing up almost every night. With the win, the team moved to 11-11 at Sleep Train Arena, but that record will need to improve if the team hopes to continue their push for the playoffs.
“I think we’ve learned, we understand that we can’t lose the games we should be winning on our home court - not at home,” Collison said. “These fans have been amazing to us and we’ve kind of been feeding off of them when we’re here.”
The Kings will put their win streak on the line Saturday night when the Indiana Pacers travel to Sleep Train Arena. With so many teams hot on their trail, the Kings can’t let up. Expect another ruckus crowd as the excitement builds in Sacramento.