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Kings 116, Suns 94: Freed Willie

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings cruised to an easy, meaningless 116-94 win over the severely undermanned Phoenix Suns tonight. In an effort to make this sound slightly less depressing than the overall vibe surrounding the Kings at the moment, I’ll do my best to highlight some of the fun we saw at Sleep Train Arena this evening.

First and foremost, we saw George Karl make a few rotation changes (by necessity, circumstance, or free will, I don’t know) and that made the game slightly more enjoyable. Seth Curry started in place of James Anderson. Of course, Ben McLemore is still out, and Marco Belinelli left the game early with a sore right foot, so, again, I’m sure all of that was a factor in Karl’s decision to give Seth Curry big minutes. If nothing else, it’s a different look, and something new and interesting to observe as these games get increasingly difficult to watch.

Of most excitement, Willie Cauley-Stein was freed, and it was awesome. I wish I counted how many lobs he finished in his extended minutes, but it was at least 4, and probably closer to 6. He was all over the court, and that doesn’t mean it was a perfect performance, but it was all interesting, and valuable, and exciting, and something to watch.

If I can criticize Willie’s game before I gush, he made some very questionable decisions with the ball. A Rajon Rondo oop attempt in transition immediately comes to mind, but he had a few bail out moments where he left his feet without a plan, and that got him in little bit of trouble.

Outside of those instances of indecision, Willie was cutting, running, jumping, and flying all over the court. He’s really deceptive with his quickness, and his strides are so long that he often lulls his defender into thinking he can catch up with Willie because isn’t moving fast, but he’s covering a ton of ground, and then when he does put on the jets, forget about it, you’re not catching him.

He never looked tired. He never looked overwhelmed, and he never looked like he didn’t belong. He had a couple of nice blocks as well, but he’s been doing that all season. This game was more about his offensive explosion, and most important, Karl finally giving him an extended opportunity. I hope this trend continues through the rest of the season.

He finished the game with 26 points on 19 shots in 29 minutes. He tossed up a few heat checks late for good measure that tanked his field goal percentage, but beyond how impressive he was tonight, I really enjoyed how into his every move the Kings’ bench was. He had Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins, and the rest of the crew cheering for him on every oop, on every possession. Cauley-Stein talked about what it meant to have those guys show the confidence in him that they have all season in his postgame interview, and the weirdest thing about this team continues to be how good the chemistry seems to be between the players, despite how often the product on the court has been so bad. Good chemistry, horrible team, is an odd combination.

It was actually kind of awkward how happy the Kings looked tonight. They blew out a bad team at home, but considering how messy everything is over there, I came away from tonight really happy for everyone. You got the sense that they needed this kind of performance, and while it certainly doesn’t erase the errors of this season, and the valid criticisms we’ve directed at every section of the organization all year, I can lay off it tonight. They played well, they played hard, they won big, and I enjoyed it.

Rajon Rondo really carved up the Suns all night. He had 3 or 4 passes that would have been some players’ best assists of the season, and he completed them with ease. High assist, low turnover Rondo usually equals some amount of success for the Kings, and he was that guy tonight. 12 assists, 1 turnover.

I briefly mentioned Seth Curry earlier, and he logged 26 minutes to go with his start at shooting guard. He wasn’t nearly as good as Cauley-Stein, but he competed, which is my nice way of saying he played hard without having a tangible impact on this game while it was still close. In the second half when the Kings started pulling away, Curry found his rhythm and made a few confident buckets and some good decisions with the ball. It wasn’t spectacular, but no worse than Ben McLemore or Marco Belinelli have been all season

DeMarcus Cousins cruised to 29 points and 11 rebounds on 9-18 shooting. Cruised. He did most of his damage in the first half since most of the second half was glorified garbage time, and Karl (smartly) elected to ride Willie and the bench unit once the Kings pulled away. He was really good, though. A lot of banging inside, a lot of free throws, and I really thought his attitude and demeanor was good all night. He was joking with Devin Booker, playfully jawing with PJ Tucker, but he seemed in control, in check, and like he was having a good time.

I’ve got to admit, I didn’t think the Kings had a ‘good mood’ in them based on the lifelessness the team has showed over the last several weeks, but tonight, something clicked. For 48 minutes, basketball was fun again.