SACRAMENTO – There was a time when the Warriors were routinely dismissive of the Kings, strolling into the state capital and treating them like annoying peasants before riding back to the Bay with the fully expected victory.
Those days are over. The Kings impolitely informed the reigning champions of that Friday night at Golden 1 Center.
The Warriors got the 130-125 victory, but they went through some serious trials to earn it.
“They’re good,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Sacramento. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, and they’re playing fast. They have a lot of shooters and they can put pressure on you and they don’t quit either.
“We were in control of that game most of the way and then it just completely collapsed on us. But it had to do with their pressure and their execution.”
After the Warriors went up 100-87 with 2:21 left in the third quarter, the Kings needed less than six minutes to chew through that lead and then some, taking a 112-105 lead with 8:45 remaining.
Kevin Durant entered the game with 8:03 remaining, and basically hijacked the Warriors back into proficiency. He drained a 3-pointer to pull the Warriors within two and dropped in a midrange jumper to tie it at 113-113 with 6:05 remaining.
But the Kings were too stubborn to go away. They responded with a 10-0 run and take a 123-113 lead with 4:23 left.
Did they not know whom they were playing? The Warriors have four All-Stars and have been to the NBA Finals in each of the last four seasons, winning three times. The Kings, by contrast, were 121-207 over the last four seasons, with three different coaches plus one interim coach.
They entered the game with a 15-12 record, but this winning thing is new to them.
So the Warriors had to show them how it’s really done. They hit the defensive switch and held the Kings to two points the rest of the way on 1-of-7 shooting while forcing two Sacramento turnovers.
“We made some mistakes that young teams make and we just learn from that,” Kings guard De’Aaron Fox said.
The Warriors have this reservoir of experience that they can lean on in close games. They’ve been there, in bigger games, with higher stakes.
“We’ve been to four straight Finals together, so we know how to make plays on the high stage,” Klay Thompson said. “A game in December I don’t think is going to faze us. So just play under control and that’s what we did the last three minutes.”
Durant described what the Warriors did late on offense. He used the word “simplify.” That, evidently, is code for turning to him.
Durant scored 13 points in eight minutes. He was 4-of-8 from the field, his teammates 4-of-15. He carried the offense, while Draymond Green -- as usual -- cranked up the defense.
Which left the Kings with little to do but learn from the masters.
“We played the game at our pace the entire game, but that’s a great team,” Fox said of the Warriors. “They’re going to make shots. We went on a run in the fourth quarter and we got stops when we needed to. Like I said, we had those breakdowns at the end of the game that cost us the game.”
Warriors-Kings present was on glorious display Friday night. The future of Warriors-Kings has tremendous potential, for three specific reasons.
One: Sacramento, which lost to the Warriors 13 consecutive times after Kerr took over as coach in 2014, narrowed the gap last season by hanging two losses on the Warriors -- both in Oakland.
Two: The Kings are vastly improved over last season. They’re young, talented, athletic and energetic. Through 28 games, they’re 15-13. They were 9-19 at the same point last season.
Three: The Warriors are more vulnerable now than they were during that three-year span when they swept the Kings and “broke” the NBA while averaging 69 wins per season.
The Warriors can’t do much about the first two, but No. 3 is entirely up to them. And their defense.