The transformation of the Kings into a defensive-minded unit will be a season-long process. One that will see them go stretches where they don’t look like much of a defensive bunch.
The Kings found their defensive swagger for the final 3:34 of Tuesday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns, and it was just enough to escape with a win.
The Kings held the Suns scoreless over that span and closed the game on a 10-0 run to pull out a 107-104 victory at Sleep Train Arena.
“We didn’t defend most of the night,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “But one of our goals is to hold our opponent to 20 points or less in the fourth quarter. And to to hold them to 16 points and (31.8) percent from the field when we needed to, I give all the credit to our guys that were out there.”
The Kings managed to end their two-game losing streak in spite of committing 20 turnovers, seven coming in the fourth quarter.
But after falling behind 104-97 with 3:34 to play, the Kings buckled down and shut out the Suns.
Travis Outlaw tied the score at 104 on a 15-foot turnaround jumper with 39.9 seconds to play. Isaiah Thomas gave the Kings a 106-104 lead on two free throws with 30.4 seconds left.
Center DeMarcus Cousins was in on much of the action with two blocked shots and two of his steals in the final quarter.
Cousins injured his left shoulder in the second quarter. He said it “slipped” out of the socket and went back in place, something that’s happened in the past. He came back in the second half with a brace on, left the court to take it off and finished the game.
“After I took a few pain pills and my adrenaline got going, (the pain) kind of went away, but it will really be hurting (Wednesday),” Cousins said.
Cousins finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, four steals and two blocks.
“Forget the numbers,” Malone said. “What I saw from him tonight was a determination, a will. He’s one of the guys that willed us to this win.”
The Kings jumped out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter that they quickly surrendered in the second period, falling behind by as many as 14 points in the third quarter.
The Kings (3-7) took pride knowing they had to defend well to win.
“It gives us confidence knowing that we can be a good defensive team if we just dial in,” Thomas said. “We dialed in in that fourth quarter. We didn’t worry about offense. We just got stops and executed on the offensive end.”
Rookie guard Ben McLemore had his best scoring game in his fourth start, scoring a season-high 19 points.
Thomas added 19 off the bench. He’s scored in double figures in all 10 games to start the season, the best streak to start a season for a Kings reserve in Sacramento history.
Marcus Thornton didn’t play Tuesday. Malone said he wanted to give Jimmer Fredette a chance to play. Fredette had three points. Thornton entered Tuesday as the Kings’ third-leading scorer at 10.3 points per game.
The Suns (5-5) were without leading scorer Eric Bledsoe, who sat out with a bruised shin.
Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said before the game that if Bledsoe sat out Tuesday, he was hoping to have him available for tonight’s game in Phoenix against the Kings.
Gerald Green started in place of Bledsoe and had 23 points.
The Suns also got Marcus Morris (19 points) and rookie Archie Goodwin (16 points) to provide a lift off the bench.