Memories of the last time Sacramento hosted the Los Angeles Lakers were lurking in the minds of Kings players Wednesday night.
In that Nov. 30 matchup, the Kings held a 14-point lead before the all-too-common third-quarter collapse settled in. Los Angeles exited with a blowout win, and the Lakers’ colors of purple and gold proudly invaded the Golden 1 Center seats.
The Kings made sure history didn’t repeat itself.
Behind 29 points from De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton’s 11th double-double of the season, Sacramento defeated LeBron James and the Lakers 125-116 to protect its home court and, more importantly, get back in the win column after suffering five consecutive losses.
It wasn’t easy, though. With just under two minutes to play, LeBron James grabbed a rebound after a Harrison Barnes miss and drove it coast-to-coast for a layup. It trimmed the Kings lead, which once stood at 13 points early in the fourth quarter, to 118-116.
Unlike the previous meeting at home, Sacramento didn’t implode.
Fox responded by nailing a 12-foot jumper. On the next possession, Chimezie Metu put the game on ice with a stone-cold 3-pointer.
But really, it was the Kings’ defense that stepped up late. After James’ layup, the Lakers missed their final three attempts from the floor, all launched from beyond the arc.
“Defensively, us stringing together consecutive stops -- especially to finish out the game, too -- that’s what we’ve been missing,” Barnes told reporters after the game. “It was nice to finally have that come together.”
“Whenever [the Lakers] come here – whenever they go anywhere -- there’s a lot of purple and gold in the stands,” Haliburton said. “They just feed off that. Us getting stops allows our crowd to get involved and shuts their crowd up a little bit. It allows us to feed off that ourselves.”
The third quarter, which has been a thorn for much of Sacramento’s season, was a strength Wednesday night with the Kings outscoring Los Angeles 40-23.
“That’s been our Achilles heel,” Barnes said. “We knew if we didn’t put up a stand, put up a fight in that third, we’d let this game slip away like the five previous. So, for us, it was really big defensively for us to get stops. Tonight, we did.”
All five of the Lakers’ starters posted a negative plus/minus rating. Russell Westbrook’s substandard debut season in Los Angeles continued with just eight points on 2-of-14 shooting.
Meanwhile, every member of the Kings' starting five finished with a plus-8 rating or better. Sacramento outscored the Lakers 70-42 in the paint, a category piloted by Fox consistently attacking the basket.
“If we want to take those gold jerseys out of the stands, we have to continue to play at a level like this,” interim head coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Kings will hope to take this newfound momentum with them for back-to-back home games against the Houston Rockets on Friday and Sunday.