SACRAMENTO -- If you are looking for perfectly executed offensive sets and lights out shooting, you’ve come to the wrong place.
With 40 percent of their starting lineup still on the shelf, the Sacramento Kings are more bare-knuckle brawler than the well-oiled machine at this point. But they seem to be in almost every game and after Saturday’s shocking overtime win over the Denver Nuggets, the Kings are 8-10 and currently tied for the eighth-best record in the Western Conference.
The 100-97 win over the Nuggets was a prime example of who the Kings are, or at least who they are right now. Denver had posted six straight wins and had won 10 of their last 11. After posting 54 wins a season ago and finishing as the number two seed in the Western Conference, the Nuggets are one of the better teams in the league.
Through the first 24 minutes, it appeared the Kings were on their way to a third straight loss. They trailed the Nuggets 57-40 and they were just 2-for-13 from behind the arc.
Whatever the discussion was at the half, the Kings looked like a different team after the break. Sacramento held the Nuggets to a combined 40 points on 32.6 percent shooting in the second half and overtime session.
“We showed ourselves that we can do that and we can play that type of defense, we’ve just got to put a full 48 minutes together,” point guard Cory Joseph said. “It was good enough to get the win today, but next time we’re going to have to bring for the whole game.”
After trailing for 47 minutes, the Kings tied the game on a Buddy Hield lay-up with 22.9 seconds remaining. It took an incredible defensive stop by Joseph and Richaun Holmes to preserve the tie and force the extra five minutes.
Sacramento didn’t take their first lead of the game until the 4:37 mark of the overtime session on an 8-foot pull-up by Harrison Barnes.
It was a big night for the Kings’ starting small forward. He scored a season-high 30 points on 10-for-19 shooting and 9-of-10 from the line. He also came up big on the defensive end in his 45 minutes of play.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive, this is one of the better defensive teams in the league, so I’m just trying to maximize the opportunities when I see a gap when I see an angle,” Barnes said. “I try to just go and make something happen.”
Barnes kept the Kings float throughout the evening. He’s become a stabilizing force for the Kings as they try to survive early in the season through the barrage of injuries.
“Harrison, we talked about him being that calming force for our group,” coach Luke Walton said. “Tonight he showed us again why he’s important to us on both ends of the court.”
With most of the Kings coming up empty with their shots, Barnes kept the Kings going until late. In the final two minutes of regulation, Hield finally caught fire, scoring eight points down the stretch as Sacramento clawed back into the game. Hield dropped in another four points in the overtime session to finish with 21 on 7-of-20 shooting and 3-of-13 from long range.
“All glory to God, man,” Hield said of his late-game heroics. “He knows what he was doing for me. He knows [it’s] coming at the perfect time, just got to wait and be patient.”
While Barnes and Hield were the offensive standouts, the game was truly won by Sacramento on the defensive end. They’ve shown grit and toughness and if not for a few bad bounces and some admitted missed calls, they could easily be over .500 on the season.
“You have to find ways to win the games even when you play badly,” Bogdan Bogdanovic said. “We had a bad night obviously, but in the end, we won the game. They are a top contender in the west. And for sure, this game means a lot to us.”
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This marketed the sixth time in the first 18 games the Kings have held an opponent under 100 points. They accomplished that feat only 10 total over an 82 game schedule last season. They are playing at a slower pace than last season, but they are developing the ability to get stops when they need them.
Sacramento has a chance to climb within a game of .500 on Monday evening when they host the Chicago Bulls. It has been an up and down year through 18 games, but a defensive identity is starting to form with this team, which could pay huge dividends down the road.