Dave Joerger hugged J.B. Bickerstaff. Marvin Bagley III hugged Jaren Jackson Jr. Zach Randolph hugged everybody.
The Memphis roots run deep for several members of the Kings’ organization, so the love and mutual respect the two sides share were clearly apparent after Sacramento suffered a 112-104 loss to the Grizzlies on Friday night at FedExForum.
“I think that’s the fun stuff about sports,” said Joerger, who coached the Grizzlies for several seasons before coming to Sacramento. “(For) 2 1/2 hours, we go out there and compete as athletes, and then afterwards you hug on each other and you love each other and you wish each other’s families the best.”
First, though, there was a game to play.
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The Kings (8-7) had won seven of their last 10 games dating to a 97-92 victory over Memphis on Oct. 24 at Golden 1 Center. The Grizzlies (9-5) had won six of nine since then to move into first place in the Southwest Division, including victories over Utah, Denver, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
There was no mystery regarding either team’s game plan going into the contest. The Kings, who ranked second in the NBA in pace and ninth in scoring, wanted to speed up the tempo. The Grizzlies, who were 29th in scoring and last in pace — but first in scoring defense — wanted to slow the game down.
The Kings came in rested after enjoying three days off following a rigorous first month in which they played seven of their first 10 games on the road and then four home games in six nights. They succeeded in pushing the pace at times, but they spent much of the evening battling back from double-digit deficits after falling behind by 13 in the opening minutes.
The Grizzlies went up by 14 early in the fourth quarter before the Kings mounted one last charge. They got within three on a pull-up jumper by De’Aaron Fox with 1:55 remaining, but a three-point play by Marc Gasol helped Memphis hold on for the win.
Fox had 23 points and 10 assists, but he committed six of the Kings’ season-high 21 turnovers. Buddy Hield scored 16 points. Iman Shumpert and Bogdan Bogdanovic had 12 points apiece.
Jackson scored a career-high 27 points for the Grizzlies. Gasol had 19 points and 15 rebounds. Mike Conley also scored 19 points.
Randolph and Gasol embraced each other after the game, sharing a nice moment as the arena’s public address announcer proclaimed that Gasol had surpassed Randolph as the franchise’s all-time leader in rebounding.
“I’m happy for him, man,” Randolph said. “That’s my little brother. All love, man, for sure.”
Randolph spent eight seasons in Memphis, making two All-Star teams while averaging 16.8 points and 10.2 rebounds in 551 regular-season games. Joerger spent nine seasons with the Grizzlies, six as an assistant and three as their head coach. Together, they led the Grizzlies to seven consecutive playoff appearances and helped them reach the 2013 Western Conference finals.
Randolph, who has fallen out of the Kings’ rotation this season as the team moves forward with a youth movement, watched the game from the bench in a suit. Throughout the night, he was seen greeting Memphis players, arena workers and fans who shouted, “Z-Bo!”
“It’s great,” Randolph said. “When I come back here, man, the love, the fans, the workers, people working concession stands — everybody — it’s just all love. It’s always great to come back.”
The connections between these two teams don’t end with Joerger and Randolph. Kings assistant coaches Elston Turner, Bob Thornton, Jason March and Duane Ticknor were all part of Joerger’s staff in Memphis. Center Kosta Koufos, guard Ben McLemore, small forward Troy Williams and assistant coach Bobby Jackson all played for the Grizzlies.
Grizzlies guard Garrett Temple, forward Omri Casspi and assistant coach Vitaly Potapenko played for the Kings, and Eric Hasseltine, the Grizzlies’ radio play-by-play announcer, previously worked for KHTK, the Kings’ flagship radio station.
They all enjoyed catching up with old friends.
“I love coming back here. I do,” Joerger said. “Every time, it’s special to see people and (revisit) relationships from nine years together. My family grew up here. I grew up here — career wise, professionally, and what a blessing that was for me — so, yeah, it’s always special for me to come back.”