So much for coming out swinging.
Once again, the Kings absorbed the NBA version of a standing eight count, coming out slow and needing time to regain their footing against an offensive barrage, this time from the Phoenix Suns.
Seemingly before fans in Talking Stick Resort Arena could finish their snacks in the first quarter, the Kings were down 22 points in what would end up being a 117-115 loss Monday.
The Kings have little margin for error most nights, even against a team in turmoil like the Suns. That was proven true again after a slow start for the second consecutive game left the Kings in chase mode all game.
Sacramento tied it up at 112-112 with 58 seconds to play but never overtook the Suns in the fourth quarter.
“We knew they were going to play with an edge when their coach got fired and all the stuff going on there,” Kings guard Garrett Temple said. “That’s when teams come together and play well, at least right after. We knew that, coach told us that, we just didn’t heed it.”
The Suns spent much of the previous 24 hours leading up to tipoff of Monday’s game making headlines for the wrong reasons.
Head coach Earl Watson was fired after three games, all losses. Starting guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted “Don’t wanna be here” Sunday and on Monday he was sent home by the team, which apparently no longer wants him there, either.
That, of course, meant the Suns would probably come out with some fire. Most teams in this situation do. The Kings, however, looked as if they didn’t get the memo.
The only thing that allowed the game to be competitive was the bench, which injected life into the Kings. Temple matched his career high with 23 points, 16 in the fourth quarter, and made a career-high six 3-pointers.
“The second group really played well tonight, had a lot of energy,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said.
De’Aaron Fox had 19 points and four assists. Skal Labissiere scored 17 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic went for 12 points in his NBA regular-season debut. Kosta Koufos had seven points and nine rebounds. All came off the bench.
Devin Booker led the Suns with 22 points. Tyson Chandler had a game-high 14 rebounds.
The plus/minus statistic does not tell the entire story of a game, but it’s worth noting every Kings reserve was a plus for the game and each starter was a minus.
How to get that energy to start games is the Kings’ challenge. The team is not equipped to win shootouts like Monday’s game and trying to recover from large deficits has proved futile in the last two games, both losses.
The second unit was unable to spark the Kings (1-3) at Denver on Saturday, but managed to rally the team at Phoenix (1-3) and were a Temple 3-pointer at the buzzer (it was short) from winning the game.
“Wanted to make sure we brought it to them,” Temple said said of the second unit. “Hit them first so we could get back into the game and we got back into the game.”
Hitting first from the start might help keep the Kings in the game.