The Kings had plenty of opportunities to revert to their old ways in the fourth quarter Monday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers were charging back from a 15-point deficit. The Kings were being outrebounded, and the game was becoming very physical.
But the Kings didn't wilt. They fought back and won their season opener 100-91 in front of an announced sellout crowd of 17,317 at Power Balance Pavilion.
The Kings have vowed to be tougher on defense and to avoid backing down from challenges. The Lakers challenged them in the fourth quarter with a 17-4 run that cut their deficit to 89-87 with 4:24 to play.
But the Kings responded by pushing their lead back to 11 before a layup in the closing seconds brought the Lakers within single digits at the buzzer.
"We played like men out there," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "And the Lakers did, too. They're not going to give anything easy. They were banging, we were banging, and it was good NBA basketball as far as I could see."
Chuck Hayes and DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings' physical style. Westphal called Hayes "the glue of this team" and added, "We knew he would be the glue when we signed him."
Hayes' career appeared in jeopardy when a heart abnormality was discovered during his physical. That led to the Kings voiding Hayes' contract Dec. 19.
But he was cleared to play Thursday after an examination at the Cleveland Clinic, the Kings re-signed Hayes on Friday, and he grabbed nine rebounds, tied a career high with three blocks and chipped in seven points.
The Kings had hoped Hayes' defensive intensity would rub off on his teammates, and it did in the season opener.
"If (the Kings) weren't known to be a physical team, we're going to try our best to change that," Hayes said. "In this game, nobody's going to give you anything. You might have to go out there and somewhat be a bully to send a message, and the other team throws their best punch back. That's when it becomes a chess match."
Cousins played through foul trouble to score 12 points and grab 11 rebounds. Entering his second season, he has vowed to be a different player and not let fouls take him out of his game.
Cousins scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the second half even though he played most of it with four fouls. He welcomed the rough play down the stretch and had words with Lakers forward Pau Gasol over a late elbow.
Cousins said he didn't take anything personally, though.
"They let us play down the stretch," Cousins said. "Only the strong survive in this game."
Cousins hopes he can continue to play in a similar manner.
"When the game gets physical, that's more to my advantage," Cousins said. "Getting tangled up and all that, that's going to my advantage. The soft play is what gets me."
Marcus Thornton led the Kings with 27 points, and Tyreke Evans finished with 20 points.
The Lakers' Kobe Bryant scored 29 points, Metta World Peace had 19 points off the bench, and Gasol had 15 points and nine rebounds.
"We are young, and to come back and combat that comeback was great for our team," Thornton said. "But that game's over with. We just have to come back and play Portland (tonight)."