The last week hadn’t gone well for the Kings. They were 0-4 on their five-game trip. The defense they talked about playing since Dave Joerger was hired in May had little bite.
And they were finishing the trip against one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors.
So naturally, the Kings slowed down the league’s leading scorer and ended the trip with a 96-91 victory at Air Canada Centre.
“I think we showed what we’re capable of,” said forward Matt Barnes. “Out of all the teams (on the trip), we beat the best team after a back-to-back. We’ve just got to stick together. We’re going to start jelling, and we’re going to be a problem.”
The Kings held Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan, who leads the NBA with 35.8 points per game, to 23 points.
Sacramento held Toronto to season-low 35.7 percent shooting from the field, also the low for a Kings opponent this season.
“We did what we’re hoping to make our identity throughout the course of the year, and that is getting after people defensively,” Joerger said.
The Kings had searched for that identity in the first four games of the trip to no avail. Joerger was concerned about “slippage” on defense and compounding mistakes instead of playing through them.
The Kings showed more of the mindset Joerger wants by allowing their fewest points of the season a night after giving up a season-high 117 in a blowout loss at Milwaukee.
“Our mindset is to keep coming after them,” Joerger said. “It’s been a tough road trip, and it was good to finish with a win.”
It helped to have Rudy Gay back in the starting lineup after he missed the Milwaukee loss because of a rib cartilage strain. Joerger also shortened his rotation, relying on his veterans to pull out the win.
Seven players played at least 20 minutes, whereas Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore did not play.
Joerger said he was not trying to be sly when he said before the game he did not expect Gay to play. All Gay did was score a team-high 23 points.
“When you have injuries like that, you have to get the first bump out of the way,” Gay said. “After that, you know what to expect. It’s one of those things where there’s nothing you can do to it, so you might as well play through it.”
DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal as the Raptors primarily defended him with rookies Jakob Poeltl and Pascal Siakam after center Jonas Valanciunas (left knee contusion) was a late scratch.
Barnes had 10 rebounds to go with eight points, and Ty Lawson had a season-high 11 assists for the Kings (3-5).
Kyle, Lowry had 15 points and 10 assists for the Raptors (4-2), but he and DeRozan shot 12 of 36 combined.
“We were out of it the entire night offensively,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “We were off rhythm. They did a good job of sending bodies off of our young guys and onto DeMar, Kyle and our shooters.”
Cousins said it’s important for the Kings to remain resilient through a tough stretch.
“We’re still finding ourselves – we can admit that,” Cousins said. “We’ve got a lot of growing to do, a lot of learning. This is just a step forward. We have to continue to grow.”
Barnes said that starts with the identity the Kings want to have.
“Defense is the key,” Barnes said. “We were able to switch some things, slow down DeMar, slow down Kyle, and we were able to get a win.”