Its not easy playing the second end of a back-to-back in the Mile High City. The altitude is thin and the Nuggets like to play fast. But for the second year in a row, the Kings walk into Denver having played the night before and leave with a well-earned W by a score of 110 to 105. As a cherry on top, the Kings are now 3-1 to start the season, a mark they haven't hit since 2010-11.
The problem playing in Denver is always fatigue. In a game that was tightly contested throughout, the Kings needed the bench to come alive in the worst way to give the starters a long enough breather to stay fresh for the stretch run. And that's exactly what they got. Carl Landry (14 points), Omri Casspi (9 points) , Ramon Sessions (13 points) and a surprise late-game insertion of Ray McCallum all contributed at timely spots throughout the third and fourth quarter.
Michael Malone coached a masterful game with his substitution pattern. Knowing the team was fatigued from their long battle in Los Angeles the day prior, he stuck with the reserves much longer than he usually would. The starters were subbed back into the game around the 5:30 mark of the fourth quarter, and the extra rest paid huge dividends. Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins didn't have the most efficient nights of their careers, but they attacked aggressively through the whole game and came up huge in the clutch. Gay finished with only 14 points on 4/13 shooting, but 12 of those points came in the second half, and 9 came down the stretch on a variety of post moves and free throws. Cousins ended the game with 19 points and 5 rebounds on 6/13 shooting, but had a huge fadeaway jumper and two clutch free throws down the stretch. Darren Collison provided a big punch in the third quarter, asserting himself offensively right as the team needed it to the tune of 21 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds on 5/9 from the floor. Collison's elbow jumper feels automatic at this point. Collison also did a great job defending Ty Lawson, holding the Nuggets guard to just 9 points on 1 of 8 from the field.
Perhaps Malone's gutsiest move on the night was sticking with seldom-used McCallum down the stretch instead of returning to Ben McLemore or Nik Stauskas. McLemore and Stauskas both struggled on the night, especially defensively on the post-up threat of Arron Afflalo, ending with 4 and 3 fouls respectively. But McCallum timed his contributions admirably, scoring a layup off a set play and then getting a fast-break bucket when the Nuggets fell asleep defensively. McCallum ended the game with 4 points on 2/5 shooting in 14 minutes.
Ultimately, the Kings are coming home off an outstanding road trip. You can't argue with the best start the team has had in years against a brutal schedule to start. Next up on the Kings' slate is a rematch with these very same Nuggets, this time at Sleep Train Arena. By now, the hype around this team should be starting to brew, so expect to see a raucous crowd greeting the team that has put the city on its back.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Denver Stiffs.
- The Kings are 3-1. Two wins against Western Conference second round teams. The Kings are 3-1. Two straight wins on the road. The Kings are 3-1. Best start the team has had in probably a decade if you factor in strength of schedule. The Kings are 3-1.
- I can't give Malone enough credit in this game. He pressed all the right buttons, the substitution chess game between him and Shaw ended in a decisive checkmate by Malone, and he has the team flying all over the court on defense and moving the ball on offense. Easily best coach the team has had since Adelman, not that its saying much.
- Sessions finally had a bounceback game, but it wasn't perfect. There were several ballhandling adventures and he was highly inefficient from the field, but he got to the free throw line to make up for the deficiencies elsewhere. Hopefully this will get Sessions going a bit.
- Stauskas was allowed to play for about 2 minutes before he was called for three fouls guarding Afflalo in the post, most of the ticky-tack variety. Rookie treatment in full effect.
- Wins tends to bring out great chemistry. There were so many smiles at the end of the game, especially when Collison pulled down the game-clinching rebound and got knocked down. My ice-cold Kings fan heart could possibly be thawing. I hope Sacramento is ready to fall in love with a team again, because this team is much closer to being good than anyone could have imagined.