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Kings overcome awful start in George Karl’s first game as coach

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) scores a uncontested dunk in the third quarter.
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) scores a uncontested dunk in the third quarter. jvillegas@sacbee.com

George Karl said repeatedly he’d be nervous for his Kings debut.

He hadn’t coached since the 2013 NBA playoffs, and after two months of subpar basketball, Karl was hailed as a basketball savior to fans who’d grown dissatisfied with the team since Michael Malone was fired Dec.14.

An ovation from the announced sellout crowd of 17,317 at Sleep Train Arena welcomed Karl back to the sidelines Friday night against the Boston Celtics.

The way the Kings began the game squelched any warm and fuzzy feeling for Karl. Something about falling behind 16 points in the first quarter will do that.

“That moment was knocked out of me real quick with the way we started,” Karl said. “I don’t know what the score was, but I didn’t feel very good. I actually thought the game plan was a mistake on my part.”

Karl blamed his defensive strategy for allowing the Celtics to open a 27-11 lead. But the Kings mustered enough effort for their new coach to overcome themselves and the Celtics for a 109-101 victory.

Karl began a 30-game journey to end the season and build toward the 2015-16 season.

He got a first-hand look at one of the biggest problems the Kings have had all season, turnovers.

The Kings allowed a season-high 38 points off 24 turnovers. Eight came in the first quarter when the giddiness of Karl’s debut was quickly erased by the Celtics.

Karl also saw some things the Kings haven’t shown in a long time, such as consistent ball movement, player movement and energy.

Karl said he wanted to give his best players better scoring chances, and he did. DeMarcus Cousins had struggled with his field-goal percentage lately, but made 12 of 18 shots for 31 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.

Rudy Gay made 9 of 18 for 28 points.

“Running, sharing the ball. I think we’re a more free team,” Cousins said. “It’s not really putting any player in a box. He wants everybody on the team working on threes; he’s a coach that believes in every player on the team. So I think that’s fun for a lot of players. I think that turned over to the game and resulted in a win.”

The Kings had 26 assists, their highest total since a season-high 31 on Dec. 22.

Karl also saw major contributions from the bench, which hasn’t been the norm.

“Obviously we passed the ball, we moved the ball, everybody was playing with energy, and we played hard,” Gay said. “That’s something I couldn’t say we’ve done all season.”

Karl changed the starting lineup by starting Carl Landry in place of Jason Thompson. Landry played only the first five minutes of the game.

Thompson played 24 minutes and grabbed nine rebounds.

“It has nothing to do with demotion; I’m just trying to strengthen the bench, get a rhythm for the bench,” Karl said. “And hopefully I make the right decision.”

Then there was the decision to have Andre Miller, who arrived in Sacramento on Friday after being acquired from Washington, to close the game.

“Andre gave us kind of an assistant coach on the court because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time,” Karl said.

Cousins had a team-high nine turnovers, while the Celtics had 11.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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