The Kings didn’t get off to a good start in their second game of a back-to-back. By the end, they hadn’t even reached 100 points. But they did leave the court with their first home win of the season.
Sacramento scored a season-low 19 points in the opening quarter and shot just 36.8 percent – far below the team’s league-leading 52.7 percent entering the game, but they managed a strong second half on both sides of the ball to overcome that rough opening to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 97-92 on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
Point guard De’Aaron Fox, who scored 21 points, rebounded from his off night in Denver, and backcourt mate Buddy Hield led the way with 23 points, helping the Kings improve to 2-3.
Hield’s game left an impression on his former teammate.
“He was always a great outside shooter, has always been his entire career,” said Grizzlies guard Garrett Temple, who was traded from Sacramento to Memphis during the offseason. “On the offensive end, you can’t give him any space. That’s when he’s going to be able to knock down shots.”
Hield was also complimentary of Temple and how the veteran helped him while they were Kings. He said his former teammate was like a big brother.
“I shot him a text in the offseason when he got traded and I said, ‘I appreciate everything you’ve done for me,’” Hield said. “Although he was hard on me as a rookie ... he was one of the guys that would stick onto me” and give advice about playing in the NBA.
Hield scored seven in the final period in helping the Kings pull away, but he wasn’t the only guard to provide a spark in the fourth.
The highlight play came from Fox.
Nemanja Bjelica (11 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks) stole a pass and found Fox running down the sideline. The second-year guard drove to the rim and threw down a one-handed dunk that energized the crowd.
“That was my first dunk of the year,” said Fox, who said he wasn’t worried about Marc Gasol’s presence near the basket. “I missed a few layups (Tuesday) and today, so go do something that’s a sure bucket.”
Fox finished with eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal.
“I was thinking of it as a make-up game for yesterday,” said Fox, who scored just six points in Tuesday’s loss in Denver. “I was bad, the team was bad, so today was something we really had to make up.”
The whole team looked like it wanted to make things up in the second half. The Kings outscored the Grizzlies 53-40 after the break with improved defense and some timely baskets down the stretch.
Kings coach Dave Joerger called the win “tremendous” and praised his team’s effort.
“We talked about the difference between being 1-4 and 2-3 – mentally, when they realize they’re not in a long season, it’s interesting to start off that way, so it’s kind of almost a must win against a good team who was sitting here rested,” he said. “So I was really impressed with our effort.”
Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff also seemed impressed with how the Kings responded, but also alluded that his team could have contributed to the loss.
“I give them a ton of credit with the way they competed and the way they got after it,” he said. “We didn’t come out with the same level of grit in the second half that we did to start the game. They’re young, hungry, tough, and athletic and they used that to their advantage.”
The Kings had five players in double figures, including rookie Marvin Bagley III. He had 13 points and six rebounds off the bench, but said that it wasn’t offense that helped the team win this one.
“We played great defense tonight,” Bagley said. “We got a lot of stops and that’s what led us to get easy transition points when we started pushing the ball while they weren’t ready yet because their recovering from their turnover.”
Memphis’ 15 turnovers led to 18 Sacramento points.
After playing their first of 14 back-to-backs this season, the Kings will get a day off before hosting the Washington Wizards and their All-Star backcourt of Bradley Beal or John Wall on Friday night.
“We are on the second night of a back-to-back, we made a lot, a lot of mistakes against a veteran team, but we just kept coming and coming and coming, and we overcame those mistakes with our effort,” Joerger said. “Just a fantastic win.”