If you're looking for a reason to get incredibly excited about what the Sacramento Kings can be -- not this season, but with this core at any point in the future -- then Monday's opening night 100-91 win over the L.A. Lakers was a hell of an offering. In the finite sense, it was a good win over a broken team. The Kings took the lead for good in the middle of the second quarter; it grew as large as 15 in the early fourth as the team's offense clicked and the defense held tough. There were dry spells -- a couple of long dry spells -- and there's always that pit in your stomach when those guys visit Sacramento. But it was a solid, solid win.
That's the game in a finite sense. If you're looking at it on the long view, it was a whole lot more.
Marcus Thornton was a complete ballbuster. He scored a team-high 27 points, 12 of those in the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant edged Thornton by two points, but the Laker star shot 10-24 from the field. Thornton shot 9-13. Including free throws, Kobe needed 29 shooting possessions to get 29 points, Thornton needed 15 shooting possessions to get 27 points. Thornton was that much better than the former MVP.
Just about everyone got a turn on Kobe, but John Salmons handled the second half load and did a fine job. That's really what Salmons offered the team in his re-introduction: he provided defense and spot-up shooting. He did make forays into ball-handling, but that was quite limited as the team let Thornton, Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas run the offense.
Evans was brilliant. He had a few offensive moves that were vintage Tyreke -- one second half drive and glide around Pau Gasol dropped my jaw. He was also strong on defense, helping well and staying all over his own man. He also shared the ball quite well, despite a low assist total (three) and perhaps most importantly didn't turn over the ball. His shooting stroke looked particularly clean, too ... and this is where you get extremely excited. If he can legitimately add an accurate jumper to his game, the Heavens can be reached by this backcourt.
DeMarcus Cousins had a rough first half marred by foul trouble, but he simply owned the third quarter. In the third, DMC had 10 points on 4-5 shooting with four rebounds and no turnovers; he showed a little of everything in the second half, from a baseline spin to a setback jumper to a vicious one-handed putback. Best of all, despite some aggravating foul calls, Cousins didn't seem to get aggravated. He got annoying, hustling after nominally loose balls and making life difficult for Pau Gasol. The box score isn't screamingly spectacular -- 12 points on 4-9 and 11 rebounds -- but he got the job done despite a bad start and foul trouble. That's blue chip stuff that this team needs from the big center, and the sort of effort that, if it comes consistently with some bigger nights mixed in, can get Cousins the right kind of notoriety.
Jimmer Fredette looked shaky at times in his debut, but made some lovely passes and jumpers. Stunningly, not one of his eight attempts came from behind the arc. He always went off the dribble to get into the lane and ended up shooting 3-8. He got caught a few times and had three turnovers. His defense didn't stand out in either direction, though Paul Westphal elected to have Jimmer guard Steve Blake and Isaiah Thomas guard Kobe Bryant when the Kings had a miniature lineup on the court (Thornton at small forward with Travis Outlaw and Chuck Hayes up front, seriously).
About Chuck: there's no question that this dude has made a wonderful impression on the other dudes in that locker room. We're getting a glimpse as to why. If you saw the game on TV, you'll have noticed that every single time Chuck was on the court and the camera closed in on a King during a dead ball, Hayes would invariably come into the picture to spread the good word. After Hayes himself drew a charge in the second quarter, he called over Jimmer, who had funneled the Laker into Chuck. Hayes congratulated Fredette with some colorful words. When Cousins drew a fourth quarter charge and celebrated, Chuck was right there, patting his ass. When Thornton hit an icy shot, Chuck was right there. I'm starting to think that the reason Chuck is so great is that there are three Chucks, and the three Chucks' greatest trick was making us believe that just one Chuck could do it all.
Bless these Kings. Bless them straight up to the skies.