DeMarcus Cousins made the go-ahead basket with 14.3 seconds to play, but that’s not what his teammates talked about Saturday night.
Cousins’ leadership and poise helped the Kings stave off the Charlotte Hornets for a 109-106 win at Spectrum Center.
It moved the Kings to 3-3 on their eight-game trip, with three wins in the last four games.
Cousins had a monster game with 35 points, 18 rebounds and four assists. But Cousins’ role in facilitating the offense seemed to impress his teammates more.
“This is the best I’ve seen him pass the ball,” said guard Darren Collison. “He’s normally a good passer, but he’s making more of a conscious effort to get guys involved and get it where they need it, too. Not a lot of bigs can do what he can; not a lot of bigs get double-teamed like that. DeMarcus is doing exceptionally well at getting us involved, and it’s our job to knock down the shots.”
Four other Kings scored in double figures. Collison had 17 points. Anthony Tolliver added 14, and Arron Afflalo and Willie Cauley-Stein each chipped in 13 points. It was a season high for Cauley-Stein.
And, as has become customary with this team, having a big game earns playful barbs, and Cousins is no exception.
“Cuz made some big plays, keeping the ball alive,” said guard Garrett Temple. “I still don’t know if he can jump over a piece of paper, but he gets all those offensive rebounds (seven). It’s big.”
A night after the Kings hurt themselves with turnovers late in an overtime loss at Indiana, Sacramento executed better, took care of the ball and avoided relying on Cousins to save them while four other players watched.
Everyone was involved, making the fourth quarter easier to navigate.
“DeMarcus is leading us,” Tolliver said. “Obviously he’s always been a beast, but I think he’s taken multiple steps in the right direction as far as maturity down the stretch in games. He’s making better decisions, relying on his teammates to help him out. He’s an amazing player, and obviously we’re just trying to help him out as much as we can.”
The help is just fine with Cousins.
“It makes my job a whole lot easier,” Cousins said. “Guys have been great lately. They’re believing, and confidence is high, which we need. I just think we’re on the right path.”
Early in the season, the offense focused on Cousins and Rudy Gay.
Gay is out for the season after rupturing his left Achilles’ tendon, adding to Cousins’ burden. He said the team is a lot more comfortable at this stage of the season.
“I think guys are starting to understand a lot better that when the ball is in my hands, I’m attracting two or three people at a time,” Cousins said. “I think my teammates trust and know that I’m going to make the right play or find the open man. It’s just us learning each other better, and I think our chemistry is starting to click.”
The Kings (19-28) needed it in a back-and-forth fourth quarter that saw Charlotte (23-25) overcome a 15-point deficit in the second half to take a 104-103 lead with 2:19 to play.
The teams traded the lead twice before Cousins broke a 106-106 tie with the go-ahead layup.
Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky airballed a 3-point try with 0.9 seconds to play after Kemba Walker found him open after driving to the basket.
“We executed a little better, we attacked a little better, we executed out of timeouts well, both offensively and defensively,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “And DeMarcus got it right there where we wanted to get it to him, and he went and made a great play.”
Walker led Charlotte with 26 points, 20 in the third quarter, but was scoreless in the fourth. Walker also had seven assists. Nicolas Batum had 19 points and seven assists. The Hornets have lost four in a row.