This wasn’t pretty. It was gritty – the style of play opponents have used to stymie the Kings more than once this season.
But the Kings showed the resolve and fortitude needed on a night their offense was out of sync to will their way to a 91-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings are on a four-game winning streak, their longest of the season and best stretch since winning four in a row March 20-25 in 2015. The Kings also snapped a 15-game losing streak to Atlanta. The Kings last win over the Hawks was Feb. 28, 2008.
We can’t always rely on offense. Tonight I don’t think we flowed like we usually do. It just shows the potential defensively is there.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings forward
The Kings played without second-leading scorer Rudy Gay (left heel contusion), shot a season-worst 35.9 percent from the field, and committed 19 turnovers. They overcame those issues with defensive stops late and a go-ahead layup by Rajon Rondo off an assist from DeMarcus Cousins with 12.9 seconds to play.
“I like this win,” said Kings coach George Karl. “Right now I’m probably as happy with it as I’ve been with it in a while – even OKC and some of the big wins against good teams.”
For much of the season, the Kings have won games when they shot well, but had not found the mix of tenacity and timely execution to persevere in a game like Thursday’s.
The Kings made stops on Atlanta’s final two possessions.
“That’s where it comes down to, how many consecutive stops can you get,” said center Willie Cauley-Stein. “In the back of my head, I’m counting. ... I end up forgetting it, but that’s what I’m trying to tell myself.”
Karl had been disappointed in some of the Kings’ home efforts where they lacked the qualities they showed against the Hawks.
“We’re growing,” said guard Rajon Rondo. “Taking it step-by-step, game-by-game, getting stops when needed.”
5 Triple doubles this season for Rajon Rondo, trying Chris Webber for most in a season in Sacramento era.
The need for improved defense has been evident all season. With Cauley-Stein and forward Quincy Acy off the bench fueling the Kings (19-23) with energy and effort, Sacramento showed it can succeed when its high-scoring offense falters.
“I think there were stretches where they just had more energy than us,” said Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer. “They beat us to some of the 50-50 balls. They beat us on the boards. Just kind of outworked us at different points in the game.”
The Kings built a 17-point lead in the third quarter. Atlanta’s rally forced the Kings to buckle down defensively.
“The only way we’re going to win in the playoffs or make any strides to get into the playoffs is to make defensive stops,” Rondo said. “Tonight we were able to do that. We (allowed) some uncontested threes at the end, but for the most part we hung our hats on defense and got the job done.”
Cousins had game highs of 24 points and 15 rebounds, but missed 15 of his 25 shots. Rondo had 11 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, but shot just 5 for 16.
2 Double doubles this season for Kings rookie Willie Cauley-Stein, both coming in the last two games. He finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“We can’t always rely on offense,” Cousins said. “Tonight I don’t think we flowed like we usually do. It just shows the potential defensively is there.”
Rondo’s triple double was his fifth this season, tying Chris Webber for most in a season in the Sacramento era.
It was also Rondo’s 10th consecutive game with double-digit assists, the second-longest streak in franchise history. Nate Archibald holds the record with 14.
Cauley-Stein had 12 points and 11 rebounds, the second consecutive double double of his rookie season after none prior to Wednesday’s win at the Los Angeles Lakers.
Paul Millsap led Atlanta (26-18) with 14 points and 14 rebounds.