All right, it was only a preseason game, but the Kings delivered something of a message Thursday night against the best team in the NBA that didn’t win a championship last season.
The courier was Matt Barnes, and JaVale McGee accepted delivery, on behalf of himself, the Golden State Warriors, and the rest of the league.
About three minutes remained in the third quarter in an entertaining exhibition at the SAP Center when McGee got the ball under the basket. That’s when Barnes arrived to whack the ball, and McGee. The meaningful contact prompted a conversation in front of the Kings’ bench.
Kings coach Dave Joerger witnessed the exchange that appeared heated between DeMarcus Cousins and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, their new guy of some note.
“Well, they were discussing whether DeMarcus likes pizza, and Steph likes Italian food, and Draymond said, ‘Heck no, I like Mexican food,’ ” Joerger said.
What they felt was an intensity level that appeared uncommon for the preseason. Most of it came from the Kings. They looked very much like a different club from the last time we saw them. You’ll recall that they rested their best players in the final regular-season games of 2015-16, as the Dodgers did last Sunday against the Giants when the game was still a game. The difference was that the Dodgers were going to the playoffs and last year’s Kings, again, were not.
This year, the Kings have a few new players and a new coach in Joerger, and don’t seem to need as much rest as last year’s bunch. Joerger spent more time on his feet in the first quarter of the 105-96 loss to the Warriors than his predecessor, George Karl, did all season. Karl, of course, had a bad knee that needed to be replaced. Karl also had 23 more years of wear and tear on his bones and mind than Joerger. Karl likely will wind up in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but the young people who play the games these days demand a higher energy level from the people who command them. Joerger looks like a fellow who will give it to them.
Barnes, on the other hand, is 36 years old, and he looks like a guy who doesn’t need anybody to light his fire. He is a burning man, even in the preseason, and when he lit up McGee, it stoked his coach and teammates and sent smoke signals to the rest of the league that there’s something different this year in River City, and it’s not just the new arena that Paul McCartney opened last week with a bang heard from here to back in the U.S.S.R.
Joerger knows how lucky he is, boy, to have Barnes back with him from their past association in Memphis.
“It’s about how we want to play and how we want to be, and that’s together, tough and playing hard,” Joerger said about Barnes’ block-and-foul on McGee. “Nobody’s trying to do anything dirty. But you have to let it be known, ‘I’m going to stand up for my teammate,’ and we’re going to be active and physical.”
The general manager appreciated the sense of competition he observed among the crew he has assembled.
“I saw it in training camp, the way they worked, they way they approached it,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said. “We have a good group of guys, a good coaching staff. I’m excited. I think it’s going to be an exciting year.”
For three quarters Thursday night, the Kings ran and shot and bullied inside and knocked balls away and hung tough with the team that won a record 73 regular-season games before it obtained Durant in the offseason. Cousins toyed with the Warriors’ new big man, Zaza Pachulia, who outpolled him in last year’s All-Star vote. Strength in numbers? It was the Kings’ bench that got the better of it Thursday when the game mattered, to the extent any preseason game does, with Barnes, Ben McLemore, Anthony Tolliver and Garrett Temple outplaying Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, David West, Ian Clark and McGee.
“We have a lot of depth, at a lot of different positions,” said Temple, a recent Divac acquisition from the Washington Wizards. “We can go one, two, even three deep at positions. That’s a credit to Vlade and Ken (Catanella, the assistant general manager) putting together the team that they put together this summer. If we stay healthy, come out and play with the type of energy we did in the first 40 minutes of the game, we’ll be pretty tough to beat.”
It wasn’t until the final three minutes when the Warriors’ more-experienced way-down-the-bench reserves went on a 14-0 run against a Kings lineup that had four rookies and a second-year man on the floor at the end.
A hundred years from now, or maybe only in 15 seconds, nobody will remember the Warriors’ closing kick at the SAP.
But they might remember Barnes’ block on McGee and the ruckus it caused among the trash-talking stars.
“I’ve always been aggressive, and I’ll continue to do that,” Barnes said afterward. “I don’t know how to play any other way. I like to lead by example. I’m hard-nosed on both ends, and I think the team will take to that well.”