Many times this season, the Kings have done just enough in the fourth quarter to lose.
Sacramento has figured out how to buckle down defensively, make the smart play and walk off with a victory.
The Kings outscored their opponent by at least 11 points in the final period for third consecutive game Friday night, helping Sacramento pull out a 109-105 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center.
The Kings (13-17) have won three in a row and four of their last five. In the last three games, the Kings haven’t given up more than 22 points in the fourth. They outscored Minnesota 31-20 in the final 12 minutes Friday.
“We just didn’t have a lot of pop and came out in the fourth quarter and made a run right away, and it picked up our level of intensity,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “And we made some great plays at the end.”
Once again, it was DeMarcus Cousins playing with reserves most of the fourth quarter that made the difference.
Overall, Cousins was brilliant again with 32 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and four steals. Cousins was unhappy about his five turnovers, but he was more than pleased with how the group that included Ty Lawson, Anthony Tolliver and Garrett Temple off the bench closed the game.
Minnesota shot just 6 of 21 in the fourth.
“I just think the team is playing the right way,” Cousins said. “We’re all buying in. I think we’re starting to realize what it takes to win games. I think we’re doing a great job of playing together, moving the ball, getting everybody involved. Guys are having fun right now.”
The impact of the Kings’ bench during the winning streak cannot be overestimated.
Tolliver had a season-high 17 points. Lawson had 15 points. Temple did a little bit of everything with nine points, six rebounds and four assists.
He also defended Zach LaVine, who got hot in the first half and finished with a career-high 40 points.
Joerger also praised Arron Afflalo, who came off the bench and played through an elbow injury.
“It’s a team game,” Tolliver said. “Obviously we have guys like big fella (Cousins) who are special. ... The rest of us, we’re going to have those nights we’re going to have big nights hopefully and are looked upon to hit some shots. Tonight was a night where I hit a few and helped us win.”
The execution down the stretch has been a constant. Luck doesn’t hurt, either.
Karl-Anthony Towns had two open 3-point attempts in the final 22.5 seconds to tie the score 108-108 and missed both.
But there was also good Kings defense late, such as Cousins’ steal with 36.5 seconds to play when the Timberwolves (9-20) had a chance to take the lead. Joerger said the Kings are simply progressing in his system and improving.
“The time spent together and how we want to do it,” Joerger said. “End-of-game situations we’re defending pretty well. I think we’re executing pretty well offensively. We had two turnovers that were uncharacteristic, but maybe that’s the karma of the game because Karl-Anthony had two wide-open looks and didn’t get them to go down.”
The Kings are now talking like a team that expects to make the right play late. Or at least know what play to make late. Cousins said that’s a credit to the coaching staff.
“Nothing’s missed,” Cousins said. “If you’re messing up an assignment, it’s because you’re not listening or you don’t care. We’re well prepared for every game, so go out there and just do it.”