Chaos, unpredictable, dangerous. The Sacramento Kings walked into someone else's mess Monday night in Phoenix. A Suns team on the rocks and in complete disarray after firing their head coach three games into the season. They were also a team without their best player in Eric Bledsoe, who either wanted to get out of a hair salon or publicly threw the franchise under the bus Sunday afternoon on social media.
It looked like the easiest W in the history of the league, but no game was ever won or lost on paper.
Phoenix came out like a team possessed. Whatever ailed the struggling franchise behind the scenes vanished once the ball was in the air. The Suns shot a blistering 70 percent in the first quarter as the Kings looked stunned and slow to react.
Matchups were part of the problem. Marquese Chriss has young legs and he ran circles around veteran Zach Randolph as the Suns pushed their lead to 22 points in the first quarter.
Sacramento responded in the second, riding the reserves to cut into Phoenix’s lead. Driven by a pair of rookie guards in De'Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings matched the Suns’ intensity, cutting the lead to 59-51 going to the intermission.
Dave Joerger turned to the same group of starters to open the second half and found identical results. Chriss continued his strong play against Randolph and George Hill couldn’t find a rhythm.
Looking at plus/minus is usually reserved for a much larger sample size, but the Kings’ starters were each in the negative. Rookie Justin Jackson posted a -20 for the game to lead the way and Randolph finished with a -19. Buddy Hield got things going in the third quarter, allowing his defense to lead to offense, but he still finished the night with a -18. Hill (-16) and Willie Cauley-Stein (-8) also finished on the wrong side of the ledger.
Small sample size or not, the numbers show one thing - the Sacramento Kings were a better team on Monday with Fox, Bogdanovic, Garrett Temple, Skal Labissiere and Kosta Koufos on the floor.
Making his NBA debut, Bogdanovic came out on fire, scoring all 12 of his points in the first half. The Serbian wing was drafted by the Suns in 2014, but stayed in Europe until this summer.
Bogdanovic and Fox paired up nicely, giving Kings fans a glimpse into what the future might hold. They battled to keep the team from getting blown out and down the stretch, they, along with bursts from Labissiere and the hot shooting of Temple, almost had enough to complete the comeback.
Despite trailing by nine going into the fourth, Sacramento kept attacking the shaky Suns. Temple hit 5-of-7 from long range in the fourth quarter alone, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 in the final 12 minutes.
The veteran wing missed a free throw and a chance to tie the game with 10.1 seconds remaining on the clock and his 26-foot buzzer beater was just off the mark.
Night in and night out, Joerger is going to have to make difficult decisions. Some nights Randolph and Hill will lead the team and be relied on to finish close games. Other nights it will be some amalgamation of veterans and youth that find synergy on the court.
For one evening, the Kings are the team that lost to an embattled Suns team on the ropes. The final score won’t matter. The fact that Sacramento is running out their own experimental roster won’t matter. A loss is a loss.