Teams that win consistently in the NBA trust each other, play unselfishly and do the little things that lead to victories.
The Kings figured out how to concoct that formula Sunday afternoon and put away the Los Angeles Clippers late, 98-92, at Staples Center.
The game showcased the dominance of DeMarcus Cousins and the all-around skills of Rudy Gay. Darren Collison came through with timely shots. Jason Thompson spent much of the game doing all he could defensively to frustrate All-Star Blake Griffin.
Off the bench, Omri Casspi contributed defense and energy. And another reserve, Carl Landry, gave the Kings their first lead of the fourth quarter on a three-point play with 7:26 left.
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“That’s the only way you’re going to win,” Gay said. “You’ve got to trust each other. You’ve got to trust each other to make plays. You’ve got to trust each other on defense and have each other’s back. I don’t know any team that wins without having that on both ends. We practice that every day, and we’re building trust, we’re going hard at each other, and that’s the only way it’s going to happen.”
Cousins set the tone early by scoring from the perimeter and later dominated in the paint. He finished with game highs of 34 points on 15-of-23 shooting and 17 rebounds. Cousins also had five assists and three blocks.
Cousins was in the middle of the action on both ends. He also was his team’s top peacemaker whenever the Clippers began getting talkative with the Kings as the game wore on.
“I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect,” Cousins said. “I’ll probably never be perfect, but I’m trying, and we’re trying to get success down here. We don’t want to remain the same team that everybody thinks of us always.”
The Kings have been mired in losing because they’ve played poorly on defense and selfishly and inefficiently on offense.
Coach Michael Malone has tried to chip away at that mentality. So far, the Kings (2-1) have held all three of their opponents to fewer than 100 points. The Kings’ last 2-1 start was in the 2010-11 season.
Sacramento outscored Los Angeles 28-18 in the fourth quarter to end a five-game losing streak to the Clippers (2-1). The Kings also had lost their seven previous games against the Clippers at Staples Center.
“We were never able to get over the hump against this team last year,” Malone said. “We had three tough losses. But to come in here and get a road win against a very good team, and we did it shooting 50 percent from the field, over 20 assists (21), so the ball was moving. And the defense was unbelievable, especially in the fourth quarter. You hold them to 18 points in the quarter and 38 percent from the field – that’s inspiring.”
The defense and shooting helped the Kings overcome 20 turnovers, the second time in three games they have had 20 or more.
But it helps when the opponent shoots 37.5 percent, including misses on some open looks late. The Kings also blocked 11 shots, their most since they swatted 13 on Nov. 3, 2012, against Indiana.
Gay had 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Thompson helped hold Griffin to 17 points on 6-for-20 shooting.
Chris Paul had 16 points and 11 assists for Los Angeles, and former King Spencer Hawes scored 17 points off the bench.
The Kings believe they are learning how to become a good team.
“It’s just showing the trust we have in one another,” Gay said. “And it’s the respect and hard work. It’s not easy winning games, especially the ones we’ve won.”