Dave Joerger had to have a smile on his face Friday night when he boarded a plane for Dallas. No, it wasn’t because his team stuck it to his former employer that let him go over the summer after nine-years of service, although that likely felt good.
Joerger is likely beaming because his shorthanded Kings played 48 minutes of basketball against a very good opponent and came away with their 10th victory of the season by the final of 96-92.
“From a personal standpoint, very difficult day for me,” Joerger told reporters during postgame. “To come in here having spent as much of my love and time and family in this community and we love it.”
After six years as an assistant in Memphis and the last three seasons leading the Grizzlies to a 147-99 record as the head coach, the Grizzlies went a different direction in May. Sacramento quickly seized the opportunity, signing Joerger to a long-term deal just days later.
“I love all those guys and I wish them all the best, and we kind of caught them on a tough night for them, but our guys deserve some credit too,” Joerger said.
They don’t call it the grind house for nothing. Memphis’ FedEx Forum is one of the tougher spots to play. The Grizzlies came into the night with a six-game home win streak and winners of seven of their last eight games overall.
At 18-10, Memphis currently holds the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff race and before tip off, they learned that starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. would return after missing the previous nine games with a back injury. The Grizzlies appeared poised to come away with another win.
Sacramento on the other hand was coming off an embarrassing loss Wednesday in Houston and they were without the services of both Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi. When DeMarcus Cousins got off to a rough start, Joerger’s role players stepped forward to carry the load.
“This is definitely a team effort, it might have been our best team game all year,” veteran Anthony Tolliver told media members following the win. “We didn’t shoot it great, but we kept fighting, kept figuring it, kept making plays when we needed to.”
Joerger turned to a tight eight-man rotation for most of the game and everyone he put on the floor contributed in some way. Garrett Temple started off the game shooting the lights out, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the first half, but when his shot wasn’t falling late, he found his teammates for open buckets and came up with big rebounds.
Cousins managed to post 22 points and grab nine rebounds, but he shot just 7-of-20 from the field and fouled out with a little over a minutes.
With the game on the line and no Cousins or Gay to rely on, the Kings pulled together instead of falling apart like they have done so many times this season.
“We just grinded it out,” big man Kosta Koufos told reporters following the game. “We knew they’re an experienced team, they were going to fight through the whole game for all 48 minutes. For us, just trying to execute as much as possible, efficiently as possible and we did that today.”
Koufos aggressively attacked a very good defensive frontline, using his baby hook to drop 16 points on his former team. He added 14 rebounds and three blocks while limiting big man Marc Gasol to just 6-of-18 shooting.
“I’ve been consistently working on them everyday and fortunately tonight, they were falling,” Koufos said of his jump hook. “I’m going to keep working at it. The most important thing is we won tonight.”
Point guard Darren Collison added 11 points and six assists in 38 minutes while turning the ball over just once. Tolliver, Ben McLemore, Ty Lawson and Matt Barnes each found a way to positively impact the outcome of the game.
With the victory, Sacramento improved to 10-16 on the season. They face an injury riddled Dallas Mavericks team on Sunday that sits at just 6-20 on the season.