There were multiple moments where the Kings could have crumbled and last season likely would have.
They faced an 11-point first-quarter deficit and were down 11 to start the fourth quarter on a night when the offense was disjointed too often.
DeMarcus Cousins, in the midst of another dominating performance, fouled out on an illegal screen call that had coach Michael Malone incensed with the score tied 99-99 with 34.7 seconds to play in regulation.
Malone was irate and ready to approach the official only to be restrained by Cousins, the King with the history of failing to control his emotions.
“I said, ‘Coach, don’t worry about it,’” Cousins said. “‘We can still win the game.’”
The Kings did just that, using suffocating defense in the fourth quarter and relying on guile and resilience in two overtimes to outlast the Phoenix Suns 114-112 Friday night at US Airways Center.
The Kings are 5-1, their best start since the 1999-2000 campaign. They’ve won five in a row, their longest winning streak since the 2006-07 season.
Sacramento also has won its opening three road games for the first time since the 1995-96 season.
“As a team, we’re still not satisfied,” Cousins said. “We’ve still got another level we can go to, and we have a lot to improve on.”
Cousins had 25 points, 18 rebounds and two blocked shots when he picked up his sixth foul. If he hadn’t restrained his coach, the Kings would have been in danger of having a technical foul called on Malone to give the Suns the lead. Cousins stepped in and played the role of leader he’s embraced more than ever this season.
“He was just saying, ‘Coach we need you to finish this game, coach us, tell us what we need to do,’” Malone said. “‘Don’t worry about the referees.’ I appreciate DeMarcus, and I love that kid.”
After holding the Suns (3-3) to 11 points in the fourth quarter, the Kings allowed a 7-0 run by Phoenix to start the first overtime before answering with a 7-0 run in which the Kings missed chances to take the lead when Darren Collison missed a layup and free throw.
The first overtime ended when Rudy Gay, who was playing through illness, lost control of the ball and ended up heaving it at the rim from 35 feet out.
Gay redeemed himself in the second overtime. He found Ben McLemore for a three-pointer that cut the Suns’ lead to 112-111 with 1:49 to play.
Gay then grabbed a rebound on the Suns’ next possession and gave the Kings the lead, 113-112, with a turnaround jumper on the baseline with 1:07 to play.
“If you want to be a good team, you have to keep fighting, even through adversity,” Gay said. “They made runs, we made runs, but we had to finish it out, and we’re starting to get that kind of mentality.”
Much of the talk before the game was how ex-Kings guard Isaiah Thomas would play in his first game against Sacramento.
Thomas entered the game leading Phoenix in scoring (18.6 points per game) and shooting percentage (52.3 percent), all as a reserve. But he had only three points, missing three of his four shots, including a potential game winner at the end of regulation.
Collison, Thomas’ replacement, finished with 16 points and three assists. Gay shot just 5 for 22 for 11 points. McLemore had 15 points.
Eric Bledsoe led Phoenix with 23 points and eight assists.