A week ago, Darren Collison wondered where the joy was.
The NBA is big business, of course, but it’s still a game, and the Kings point guard theorized the team was running up and down the court without much fun.
On Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center, Collison ensured some delight. He played perhaps his best game of the season, scoring 26 points and delivering the assist of the season in an inspired 108-92 triumph over the Boston Celtics in a glimpse of how good this bunch can be.
After a sluggish start, a theme far too common this season, the Kings found a new gear, outscoring Boston 89-64 in the final three quarters to end the Celtics’ seven-game winning streak. Five players scored in double figures, while leading scorer and All-Star DeMarcus Cousins served a one-game suspension levied by the league after receiving his 16th technical foul earlier in the week.
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“We played with a purpose,” said Collison, who also had five assists, four steals and two turnovers as he outplayed the player he replaced in Sacramento – Isaiah Thomas.
Collison’s high-lob assist to Willie Cauley-Stein with 5:01 left in the fourth quarter resulted in an emphatic one-handed dunk that made the social media and highlight circuit. Players buzzed about it in the locker room afterward, peering at it on cellphones and on ESPN highlights. Cauley-Stein called it the greatest dunk of his career.
Fun all around, in other words.
“It’s cool, it’s fun, an energy boost, and then seeing all of your teammates celebrate, that’s what it’s all about,” said Cauley-Stein, who had 14 points.
Added Collison, who played the role of facilitator and shooting guard: “The ball was moving. We played with so much pace, getting up and down the floor. It was good to see the bench react to Willie’s dunk. Guys were having fun. If we keep playing like that, we’ll be all right.”
But there’s this element called consistency. The Kings are consistent in that they’re wildly erratic. In recent weeks, Sacramento has won in Cleveland, suffered a home loss to West bottom-dweller Phoenix, surprised Golden State, lost to short-handed Chicago and then stepped up to beat the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics. Sacramento has eight wins over teams that boast winning percentages of better than .500: Boston, Cleveland, Golden State, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto twice and Utah.
Atlanta and New Orleans come to Golden 1 Center on Friday and Sunday, respectively, to cap a six-game homestand. The Hawks are one of the top teams in the East and the Pelicans are struggling near the bottom of the West.
“I think that’s the high point of us,” Cauley-Stein said. “When we’re all locked in and we’re playing for each other and playing at the best of everybody’s ability, it’s proven we can run with anybody – and lose to anybody. We can win games and be something special.
“Then we’ve got the other side of us. Some days, we don’t show up. We got a team full of guys who can hoop.”
Matt Barnes, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds Wednesday, said there is plenty to play for this season. The Kings are still within striking distance of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“We have the talent, what it takes,” Barnes said. “If we’re on the same page, play with energy and share the ball, we’re a playoff-caliber team. We’ll see the next game. We had a great game against the Warriors then came out flat against the Bulls. We’re too far into the season to be taking steps back.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger said the effort continues to impress him considering injuries to Omri Casspi, Ty Lawson, Rudy Gay and Garrett Temple, and the Cousins suspension.
“They’re playing their tails off and that’s all I can ask,” he said. “They care to compete, care about winning. We want them to care. I appreciate that. It’s not about eighth place (in the West). It’s not about 12th place. Let’s go out and compete. That’s a refreshing group to be around.”