No one said playing Dave Joerger’s way would be easy. But it’s easier to deal with when the result is a win.
The Kings overcame a lackluster start on offense by relying on defense to open the season in what became a rout of the Phoenix Suns, 113-94, Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
It was the first time since 2013 the Kings had won their season opener.
And the Kings won with defense that was active, aggressive and forced 18 turnovers, which the Kings converted into 22 points.
The Kings managed to corral a team with guards capable of big scoring nights with a group defensive effort. There weren’t gaping holes for Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker or Brandon Knight to exploit most of the night.
And the Kings received a boost from the bench, thanks to a 16-1 run in the first quarter in which the team took control of the game.
The bench made sure that losing Cousins to two fouls after five minutes would not be a problem.
“I think we came out a little rusty,” Cousins said. “The second group came in and played with energy, really opened the game up and there was no looking back from there.”
When the Suns cut the lead to 10 in the fourth, Cousins (24 points) and Rudy Gay (22 points) helped stop the threat of a comeback.
But for Joerger, this season will be about establishing a defensive identity and one game in, he liked what he saw. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s a start for a group trying to find it’s way.
“Forty-eight minutes is a long game to be locked in and have that focus (on defense),” Joerger said. “So when you just keep banging away at it and banging away at it, it becomes who you are. Right now, they’re exhausted mentally, physically exhausted and we play again (Thursday against San Antonio). But you get to that level of night in, night out, that’s how we play every single night.”
Joerger credited Ty Lawson with helping keep Bledsoe (16 points, five assists) in check while also praising the big men who helped protect the paint.
Cousins said the objective was to make sure the Phoenix guards were closely guarded when they tried to attack the lane. Gay said Joerger has harped on team defense.
“We’re helping each other,” Gay said. “That was one of the things at camp we worked on. We have to help each other and play as a team.”
The Kings (1-0) also helped each other on offense. Eight players had multiple assists, led by Lawson’s seven.
Cousins said the team is benefiting from Joerger’s offensive philosophy.
“Better shots for the team, not as many long rebounds, rebounds that help the opposite team get out and run,” he said. “I think it’s just smarter shots, smarter basketball.”
Matt Barnes had 14 points off the bench for the Kings. Garrett Temple added 12 off the bench for Sacramento.
Booker led Phoenix (0-1) with 18 points.