SACRAMENTO -- The loss was already penciled in. Maybe even scribed with pen. No DeMarcus Cousins. No Rudy Gay, Garrett Temple or even Omri Casspi. And when Ty Lawson went down in the second quarter, some folks probably thought about heading home early from the Kings matchup with the Boston Celtics Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
But this is the 2016-17 Sacramento Kings. They have the ability to beat any team in the league on one night and then lose a day later to someone they should handle with ease.
“I think that’s just the high-point of us,” Willie Cauley-Stein said following the Kings 108-92 win. “When we’re all locked in and we’re all playing for each other and playing at the best of everybody’s ability, it’s proven we can run with anybody and lose to anybody.”
The Boston Celtics were the Kings’ latest victims. Winners of seven straight and trailing the Cleveland Cavaliers by just 2.5 games for the best record in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics looked stunned as the Kings stayed close for most of the night.
When Sacramento dropped a 12-0 run on Boston in the mid-fourth quarter to push their lead to 17 points, the game was over.
The star of the game was not former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas, who came into the night second in the NBA in scoring at 29.9 points per game. It was Sacramento’s Darren Collison who outdueled the All-Star Thomas and helped his team come away with the win.
Collison matched Thomas’ 26 point performance, but did so on 12-of-21 shooting. He started the game at the shooting guard spot, when Lawson went to the locker room, Collison did a nice job of keeping the shifty Thomas in front of him. He ran the offense, set up his teammates and when the game tightened up, Collison hit big shots when the Kings needed it most.
“We know Isaiah is the head of the snake, he’s an All-Star player, he’s been playing a very very high level,” Collison said. “I thought we did a good job defensively of trying to contain him the best way we can.”
With Collison matching Thomas’ output, the rest of the squad found ways to contribute. Ben McLemore continued his strong play of late, scoring 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting. His 10 point outburst in the second quarter helped Sacramento erase an early 10-point lead by the Celtics.
Matt Barnes did the dirty work for Sacramento. The veteran forward scored 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and handed out four assists in 31 minutes of action.
Willie Cauley-Stein scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half. Anthony Tolliver chipped in 11 points and grabbed three steals, while big man Kosta Koufos added six points and 11 rebounds while playing with a mangled ring finger on his right hand.
“It’s a good win,” Dave Joerger said. “I think we need to look at (how) every guy contributed something and the energy – everybody gave 100 percent, which we expect, but it’s almost like you’ve got to give a little extra more to try to compensate for the hole that we had with DeMarcus being out.”
With the victory, the Kings have now beat the top three teams in the Eastern Conference at least once. They improved to 21-32 on the season and moved back to within 2.5 games of the Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase. They head into Friday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks with Cousins back in action and a bit of momentum.
Cauley-Stein had a moment. With 5:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, the second-year big caught a pass from Collison for a huge one-handed alley-oop dunk in traffic to give the Kings a 96-79 lead. The Kings’ bench exploded along with the sellout crowd of 17,608.
“I was just trying to go get it, I didn’t want to get a turnover,” Cauley-Stein said.
Cauley-Stein rated the dunk as his best ever after watching it from multiple angles from his locker stall. He was grinning from ear to ear as he explained the reaction from his bench.
“It’s cool, it’s fun, it’s an energy boost,” Cauley-Stein said. “And then seeing all of your teammates celebrate you, that’s what it’s all about.”
The 7-footer has found his niche with the Kings over the last few weeks as an energy guy off the bench and disruptive force on the defensive end.