Now that I've gotten that off my chest, WOOOW. The Kings and Suns fought tooth and nail for 58 grueling minutes, but at the end, the Kings did just enough to come out on top 114-112 in a heart-stopping affair. The Kings improve their record to 5 wins, 1 loss, their best start since the 1999-2000 season.
The game did not start as drawn up by Michael Malone. The Suns exploded to an 11 point lead in the first quarter as the Kings' improved defense seemingly evaporated. Darren Collison got into foul trouble two minutes into the game, so the rest of the quarter featured much of the rocky Ramon Sessions. Goran Dragic got to wherever he wanted to, scoring in the paint and finding shooters who nearly ran the Kings off the floor early. DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay were silent in the first quarter, shut out by Phoenix's fronting schemes.
But the Kings would hang around the entire game. The Suns' lead stayed between 4 and 11 for the majority of the game, but they never could really find that knockout punch to put away the pesky Kings. Ultimately, the Kings found themselves down 12 in the fourth quarter when the starters came back in for the bench. Riding Cousins and a suddenly alive Collison, the Kings managed to tie the game down the stretch. Unfortunately, Cousins fouled out in the final minute on a questionable illegal screen call, setting up a chance for the Suns to win it. Cousins finished the night with 25 points and 18 rebounds on 6/14 shooting. Old friend Isaiah Thomas then missed a three point attempt at the buzzer on excellent defense from former protege Ray McCallum.
The Suns would burst out of the gates in overtime to a seven point lead, and without Cousins it looked like the end of the line for the Kings. But again, the Kings would grind their way back into a tie, riding the hot hand of Collison. The Kings would have a chance to win it at the end of OT, but a broken play resulted in Gay losing the ball and hoisting a desperation half-court attempt.
In the second OT, the Kings defense again came up huge. And on offense, Ben McLemore came alive, scoring five points in the quarter, including a beautiful running bank shot in the lane and a clutch corner three that Gay set up. Down by one, the Kings finally were able to find Gay in the low post, who hit a short turnaround two pointer to give the Kings the lead for good. Gay finished the night with 11 points on 5/22 shooting, but that was the biggest shot of the game. Afterwards, the defense remained stout, Collison hits one of two from the FT line, and the rest is history.
This was the gutsiest win I've seen from the Kings in some time. To be frank, the Kings had no business being in this game. The defense was porous for so long, Gay and Cousins (despite his massive numbers) were struggling, and there were massive difficulties containing the stellar Dragic/Bledsoe combination. But they never hung their heads. They stuck around for as long as possible, putting the in a position to steal the game in the end. And thats exactly what they did. This team has heart, and have an entire city believing them once again.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun
- Ben McLemore just keeps getting stronger as the season comes along. He topped his season-best effort last game with an even better one tonight, scoring 15 points on 5/9 shooting to go along with stiff defense on Eric Bledsoe down the stretch. It wasn't a perfect outing, as he let Bledsoe get loose for a tough And-1 finish late, but he came right back down and nailed a clutch corner three to cut the Phoenix lead to one, setting up Gay's go-ahead bucket.
- The bench once again stepped up. Carl Landry is emerging as the leader off the bench; Pete D'Alessandro's big free agent haul last summer brings a stabilizing presence in the post. Nik Stauskas had his finest game as a pro as well, scoring 9 points on 4/7 shooting from all over the court. Omri Casspi didn't have gaudy numbers, but his hustle showed up on the glass.
- Phoenix's coaching staff is no joke. They completely had the Kings stymied early with an aggressive fronting scheme that prevented Cousins and Gay from getting the ball in good post position. Cousins would eventually get going by carving out space through sheer muscle and superstar talent, but Gay was forced out on the perimeter and had to create on his own with his notoriously shaky dribble. Props to Hornacek and Co. for being able to limit Rudy's effectiveness.
- Isaiah Thomas was extremely quiet in this game. Everyone expected a revenge thrashing; many Kings fans were nervous to have Isaiah line up across Sessions, who has been about as stable this season as Lindsey Lohan. But Isaiah just didn't have any fire tonight. One possible reason is the recent death of a family member; Isaiah attended a funeral last night. Best wishes and condolences go out to the Thomas family, regardless of what we think of Isaiah on the court.
- So, uhh, five wins? And one loss? Three straight on the road? In the Western Conference? This fanbase has been waiting eight years for this. Enjoy it. The rise is always the most fun part.