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Kings 113, Suns 94: Kings stifle Suns in Season Opener

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Kings win the game on the back of, um, defense

Welcome to the NBA!

The Sacramento Kings are 1-0, eclipsing .500 for the first time since December of 2014. In Dave Joerger’s debut, the Kings cruised to a 113-94 drubbing of the Phoenix Suns. It was a nice, feel-good win the team really need to kick off the season, especially since the difficulty of the schedule ramps up considerably and the Kings are still seven games away from seeing Darren Collison back.

The Kings maintained their defensive integrity for most of the night, keeping the Suns at bay by limiting any run the Suns could muster. The Kings held the Suns to 46.8% shooting from the field (25% from three) and forced 18 turnovers. The advanced stats looked solid too; the Suns were held to a 97.0 offensive rating, on a teamwide 52.9 TS%. The rotations were crisp, the team was focused, and the gameplan was sound. The Kings contained the Suns’ explosive backcourt intelligently, daring Eric Bledsoe to shoot and playing Devin Booker physically to the point where he nearly lost his cool. They were able to force eight turnovers from the pair and choke off the Suns’ roleplayers down the rotation.

The game started off as a seesaw affair, with the teams nearly deadlocked at 15-14 with three minutes to go in the first quarter. Ben McLemore came in and pretty much changed the game himself. The Suns forgot to cover him even in the midrange, which Ben has always excelled at. Plus, he made a couple plays off the dribble, showing off the same improved passing ability he showed off in the preseason. The Kings went up 30-19 at the end of the first quarter and never looked look back.

Physically, the Suns just struggled to match up with Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. Gay got off to a slow start due to some nice defense by T.J. Warren, who forced Rudy to take tough contested shots early on. But Gay started imposing his will once he aggressively made up his mind to use his strength inside, finishing with 22 points on 15 shots. It also helped that he saw time at power forward to match the Suns’ small lineup. Cousins spent much of the first half on the bench due to foul trouble, but imposed his will in a dominant 16 point third quarter. Cousins finished with 24 points on only 10 shots.

That’s not to say it was a perfect game. The Kings offense definitely sputtered at times, especially when the Suns went to a full-court press to force the Kings to operate on a short shot clock. The Suns’ young core featuring Dragan Bender, Tyler Ulis, and Marquese Chriss forced the Kings to put their starting unit back in because of their hustle and athleticism. The Kings should have wrapped this up early in the fourth quarter, but the bench couldn’t keep the Suns at bay. The Kings also didn’t shoot well at all from three point range, going 6/21 and again causing spacing issues at times. The Suns are still a very raw team that won’t win much this year, so its hard to make too many sweeping conclusions from this game. Onto some observations:

  • Sorry to keep beating this drum, but Kosta Koufos and Cousins just are going to keep struggling as a duo as long as Joerger insists on starting them together. Cousins’ early foul trouble was partly because he picked up a foul trying to guard the much more mobile Jared Dudley out on the perimeter. Koufos struggled finishing everything in the paint, and the team’s spacing suffered greatly. On the other hand, when they were separated, both played well in their own ways.
  • Ty Lawson had a really nice debut for the Kings. His shot wasn’t falling, but he sets the table so well for his teammates, and the Kings really need his pure creativity if they want to generate good shots. He led the team with 35 minutes, so lets hope that he still has enough in the tank for tomorrow.
  • The Kings’ other new additions made solid contributions across the board, which is what you expect out of battle-tested vets. Arron Afflalo was quiet, but hit his threes and played some good defense. Matt Barnes did some Barnesy things out there, leaking out in transition, hit some threes, and even picked up a BS flagrant. Garrett Temple was solid as a backup point guard, hitting some timely jumpers coming off of screens
  • Willie Cauley-Stein welcomed Chriss into the NBA with a baptism for the ages. But his focus wavers so much over the course of the game, he just feels unreliable right now. One possession he is playing sublime defense with his athleticism and mobility, and the next his motor fails him and he just doesn’t make a play with the kind of intensity you want, whether its rebounding (he grabbed all of two rebounds in 20 minutes) or protecting the rim. Coming off the bench and bringing him along slower might be the best course of action for him.
  • Joerger went deeeep into his bench, playing 11 guys when the game was in question even with Collison unavailable. Omri Casspi got the short end of the stick tonight with only eight minutes. It’ll be very interesting to see how Joerger manages minutes because that could become a sore point eventually.

For the opponent’s perspective, visit Bright Side of the Sun