What a way to kick off a new era of Kings basketball.
I've been to a lot of games over the past few years, from home openers to Here We Stay nights, and yesterday's game is among my favorites. I have teared up twice ever during Kings games. The first was in 2011 during our final game during Grant and Jerry's tearful final sendoff, where a lot of us really felt that it was the last game in Sacramento. The second was last night, when Vivek came out to the glow of 17,317 purple thundersticks and said "This is your team... and it's here to stay!". It was a great moment, and one I'll never forget.
Section214 will have more of a recap on the atmosphere of the game later, but I'm here to talk about the game itself. Sacramento got its season off to a good start with a win against a solid opponent, and despite it not being the prettiest win, there were a few standout performances, primarily from DeMarcus Cousins.
For those who hadn't been able to watch Cousins during preseason, this game provided a great glimpse as to why there is so much optimism surrounding Cousins now. There were still some glimpses of the old Cousins last night, a few poorly selected jumpers, not running back fast enough on a couple possession, but the good overwhelmed the bad. Coach Michael Malone is much more inclined to use Cousins in the post, and Cousins, for his part, is showing a lot more patience when he's down there. He showed off a dizzying array of post moves tonight, from spins to half hooks. Most of the team struggled with their shots tonight, so Cousins had to carry the team on his back, a prospect he lived up to. He took 26 shots to score his 30 points, but he hit half of them. He also led the game in rebounding with 14 and came up with some crucial defensive stops in the 4th quarter. Perhaps most important of all, Cousins was able to play 39 minutes, in which he only accrued 4 fouls and was never really in any foul trouble. In comparison Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson played 44 combined minutes and had 10 fouls. This game might have been a disaster if Cousins hadn't been able to keep his focus and stay in the game like he did.
Cousins did get scoring help from Sacramento's new Point Guard tandem, Greivis Vasquez and Isaiah Thomas. Vasquez set the tone really early, attacking the basket and hitting his jumpers. He had 17 points on 6-9 shooting with 4 assists. He looked a lot more comfortable tonight than he did during any game of the preseason. He was finding open players all over the place, but nobody was really hitting their shots, except for Cousins and Thomas. Thomas provided a big lift in the second half when it seemed that Denver was going to be able to create some separation from the Kings. Yesterday's game saw a return to form for efficient Isaiah, scoring 16 points on 5-9 shooting, including 3-4 from three, the only King to hit multiple three pointers. Thomas also had 5 assists and 4 rebounds.
We also saw Malone use a lineup down the stretch of the game that featured both Vasquez and Thomas, something that didn't really happen in the preseason. I have a feeling this lineup was played in part due to the fact that nobody else could hit a shot to save their lives (outside of Cousins, Vasquez and Thomas, the Kings shot a combined 9-37 or 24.3%) as well as Denver playing two point guard lineups themselves. However, I liked the duo and think we'll be seeing more of it in the future.
The Nuggets for their part were able to withstand an early Kings assault by sticking to the game plan and taking advantage of some bad transition defense by Sacramento. Denver's guards in particular really punished the Kings in transition, getting easy shots at the rim or open threes. Ty Lawson led the way for Denver with 20 points and 8 assists, but he did shoot just 5-15 from the floor. Most of his damage came at the line, where he shot 8-8. Andre Miller on the other hand, scored 12 points on 9 shots and Sacramento didn't really have an answer for him, I'm surprised Brian Shaw didn't play him more down the stretch. Randy Foye did most of his damage early on transition threes, and missed the attempted game winner badly. Nate Robinson didn't score a point on 5 attempts, but did have 4 assists.
The Kings defense helped to win the game, even though it definitely wasn't as consistent as it could have been. There were some timely blocks and charges in the final quarter that prevented the Nuggets from tying or going ahead, and for most of the game, the Kings held a significant rebounding advantage, though both teams ended at 41 apiece. It was more the offense that was an issue for Sacramento. As I wrote earlier, nobody outside of Vasquez, Thomas and Cousins could hit a shot. It wasn't that they were taking bad shots either, they just were missing open shots. Ben McLemore was just 1-7 in his debut and 1-5 from three. There was probably one three out of the five he shot that was a bad attempt, but the others were all wide open. Marcus Thornton and Patrick Patterson were both just 1-6. Jason Thompson's only points were the eventual game winner, when he stuck back DeMarcus Cousins' missed shot with a two hand slam after his man left him to help.
The only other Kings with more than one made field goal were John Salmons (3-9) and Travis Outlaw (2-4). If Sacramento had simply had a normal shooting night, this game would not have been as close as it was. I still liked the activity from all the Kings.
The Kings have a long road yet to get back to respectability. Tonight was a good start but there were still some things left to learn. Michael Malone seems to be doing a good job so far, we'll see how the Kings hold up over the next week as they continue to play tough opponents, with the Los Angeles Clippers coming in next on Friday with a trip to the bay to face the Warriors the very next night.
- Ben McLemore came into the game and almost immediately threw down a ridiculous slam dunk that bounced off the back of the rim. This kid is just fun to watch, even when things aren't going right.
- Marcus Thornton had probably the worst shot selection/body language of any Kings player. However, his alley-oop pass to Cousins on that early breakaway was great.
- The refs were blowing their whistles a lot, on both sides, although I think there were quite a few non-calls with Cousins getting hacked.
- I don't think Denver played a true Small Forward the entire night. Without Gallinari and Chandler, they were forced to use Anthony Randolph at SF, which killed their spacing on offense.
- Timofey Mozgov was much more effective than Javale McGee.
- Greivis Vasquez loves to use the floater, and better, he's good at it.
- The pre-game scene at the arena was literally a carnival. There were bounce houses, pop-a-shots, cricket exhibitions. I have never been to a playoff game or an All-Star game, but that's what this felt like. The parking lot was filling up by 5:30. The new ownership group put out all the stops for tonight, and I can't imagine there was anyone who attended the game that wasn't satisfied, aside from the Denver Nuggets.