The Sacramento Kings faced a wounded animal in the New Orleans Pelicans tonight. This is a team that has still yet to notch a win this season, with half of their guard line unavailable to play, and a superstar playing out of his mind. This is a dangerous team, one that has been competitive in so many games. And yet, the Kings delivered a performance that was simply good enough, nothing more and nothing less. They kept the Pelicans at arm’s length for most of the game, and survived a late surge thanks to some timely three point shooting.
The Kings were led by DeMarcus Cousins, who scored 28 points on 20 shots. Cousins’ production helped offset Anthony Davis’ 34 points. Rudy Gay also chipped in with 21 points of his own, continuing his season-long strong play, and Arron Afflalo did his job with 15 points. Darren Collison returned from his suspension to add 9 points off the bench. For the Pelicans, E’Twaun Moore provided some much-needed scoring with 13 points, and rookie Buddy Hield added 14 points off the bench.
In the decisive fourth quarter, the Kings basically matched the Pelicans blow-for-blow, starting with a seven point lead and finishing the game with a lead of eight. A fadeaway by Gay over the outstretched arms of Davis put the Kings up by 11 with 2 minutes to go. The Pelicans cut the lead down to five after a three pointer from Hield, but a four point play from Afflalo put the Kings back up by nine with just under a minute to go, and that was enough to finish the Pelicans off.
The Kings now stand at 4-5 on the season, having weathered some early season blues, with a shot to get back at .500 against the Lakers on Thursday. Here’s some observations:
- Despite Collison’s return, Ty Lawson continued to start. Unfortunately for him, he gave the Kings almost nothing out there. The Kings need him to be a reliable outlet scorer when their main guns get double-teamed, and so far Lawson has not been up to the task. 0 points, 0/5 from the field, and only 2 assists.
- Willie Cauley-Stein responded today with his best game of the season. Even going beyond the aggressive scoring moves he pulled off for his 9 points was his energy; he finally looked like he wasn’t floating around the court. He also grabbed 3 rebounds in 12 minutes, which is an acceptable rate, and blocked three shots. One memorable play at the end of the third quarter was when Willie stymied Langston Galloway on a switch.
- The shortening of the rotation continues, but this time it was Omri Casspi getting the short end of the stick. Matt Barnes, Ben McLemore, and Garrett Temple all found their way into the 10 man rotation. I thought Joerger worked some fantastic lineup management in the third and fourth quarter by staggering Gay and Cousins’ minutes. Cousins came back into the game right as Davis was about to sit down for some rest, and it helped the Kings expand the cushion.
- In a truly bizarre moment, the Kings and Pelicans were forced to replay the last 18 seconds of the first half because the refs messed up how many team fouls the Pelicans had when Cousins was fouled. Apparently the rule is that those kinds of mistakes can be replayed if they happen within 24 seconds of the buzzer. It turned out really good for the Kings because it erased a Pelicans basket and gave Cousins two free throws to extend the lead.
- Chin up, America. The sun will rise tomorrow like it always has.