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Kings 116 - Nuggets 100: It’s Willie Cauley-Time

The young guns come up big for Sacramento.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Sacramento Kings Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Kings fans, we deserved this win. After several days of miserable, chaotic decisions by our front office, Sacramento got its most rewarding victory of the year.

The Game

The post-Cousins era started off rather inauspiciously as Dave Joerger went with an understandably sensible, but rather unexciting starting lineup of Darren Collison, Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, Anthony Tolliver, and Kosta Koufos. As usual, Sacramento’s initial squad started slowly and found themselves down 15-9 with a little over six minutes remaining in the first quarter. The era of losing seemed to be starting quickly until something happened, the young fellas took over. Willie Cauley-Stein, our sophomore stud, made an immediate impact on the contest, scoring 8 points on 4/4 shooting while grabbing 2 rebounds and Skal Labissiere chipped in 8 points on 3/3 from the field. The Kings newest addition, Buddy Hield, made his debut with 4:13 left in the quarter and knocked down a technical free throw as well as a layup. Ben McLemore was torched early by Danilo Gallinari as he scored nine points on four shots, but Sacramento held Denver’s star to just six additional points for the rest of the game.

The second quarter started with the same frenetic energy as the Kings went on a 7-2 run behind an exSkalibur steal and pass to Hield for a layup, a Tyreke Evans driving score, and a Buddy Hield three pointer. The benchateers continued their dominant play throughout the first half and used a 9-0 run to build a 57-37 lead with two minutes remaining. Once again, the charge was led by the second year player and rookies as Steamboat Willie scored 11 points in the quarter, Buddy Love put in 7 of his own, and Labissiere added 2 more. At the half, Cauley-Stein had outscored the entire starting lineup 19-17 and the Kings walked into the locker room with a 61-44 lead.

As expected, the Nuggets came out of the tunnel determined to make a run. Wilson Chandler and Jameer Nelson led the attempted comeback in the third quarter with 8 and 13 points respectively and Denver pulled to within 8 points midway through the period, but a 7-0 Kings run quickly built the lead right back up. This time, it was the Kings guards leading the way with Ben McLemore scoring 8 in the quarter and Darren Collison recording 5 points.

The fourth quarter was very much the same story as the bench players outplayed the starters and Willie continued his absolute ownership of Nikola Jokic and whatever big man the Nuggets threw at him. 8 points and 4 rebounds in the quarter helped Cauley-Stein reach his career high in points with 29 and an impressive 10 rebounds. In a shockingly abrupt about-face from earlier this season, not only did the seven footer lead Sacramento in scoring, but he also led the team in rebounds, minutes played, field goals attempted, and field goals made. Kings fans certainly shouldn’t expect this type of performance every night, but Willie may not have been exaggerating when he talked about having a whole other level of game waiting to be released. Darren Collison also had a stellar game with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The Rookies

Buddy Hield reminded pretty much every Kings fan as to why most of us were salivating over him just a few short months ago. Steph Curry Buddy seemed absolutely comfortable on an NBA floor and scored an efficient 16 points on 6/10 shooting, 3/3 FT, and hitting 1 of 3 shots from beyond the arc. The Bahamian Baller also grabbed 6 rebounds and would have had more than one assist tonight if players had hit more open shots. Hield looks very comfortable handling the ball and attacking the rim, but he’s clearly not adjusted to the size and athleticism of NBA defenders. Speaking of defense, he frequently gets lost watching the ball or over-helping, which causes his man to be left open, but that’s a very rookie-esque trait which should be fairly easy to resolve.

Prior to tonight’s game, Skal Labissiere had played a total of 52 minutes on the season and scored a whopping 20 points, while recording 1 assist and 12 rebounds. A whole new rookie was on the floor against Denver as the Haitian Sensation scored 12 points (5/7 FG) and grabbed 3 boards while dishing out 2 assists. He’s shown a lot in the D-League, but tonight was the first time Skal has looked like an NBA player for an entire NBA game.

Player of the Game

Willie Cauley-Stein

Career-high 29 points (14/22 FG), 10 rebounds, and 1 blocked shot

Highlight of the Game

Game Notes:

  • Nikola Jokic was invisible throughout the night. He scored 4 points on 2/7 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.
  • Prior to the game, Mike Malone named Jameer Nelson the starting point guard for the remainder of the year, but Emmanuel Mudiay was a healthy DNP-CD for the Nuggets.
  • Even with guard-heavy lineups on the floor, Sacramento won the game down low, outrebounding the Nuggets 47-42 and scoring 52 points in the paint while only taking 14 3s and hitting 7 of them.
  • Tyreke Evans entered the game to a huge standing ovation from the arena and responded with 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, although he turned the ball over four times. Kings fans can feel free to watch any Evans game from his previous stint in a Sacramento jersey as a review as he’s exactly the same player he was three years ago.
  • +/- is often a misused stat, but as a lineup evaluation technique, it can be very effective. Tonight, the Kings’ bench was a +54 and scored 72 of Sacramento’s 116 points.
  • Ben McLemore continued his solid play as he scored 10 points on 3/6 shooting, but the broadcast had even more exciting news to share that he’s going to be a father in a month! As a fairly new parent myself, I can say that I’m glad the Kings passed on any potential trades for Ben for the stability for his family and him.

As always, check out our opponent’s perspective at the Denver Stiffs.

*shot charts courtesy of ESPN