SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings headed into halftime Monday evening trailing by nine with two of their starters in the locker room. Despite a spirited effort in the first 24 minutes, the game had a similar feel to so many others through 23 games.
And then a different Kings team showed up.
Sacramento looked like a wounded animal backed into a corner. They ferociously attacked a Los Angeles Lakers team that had played the night before and they didn’t let up on either end of the court. The end result was a 116-92 blowout for the Kings in front of a packed Golden 1 Center crowd.
With Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore sidelined, Omri Casspi and Garrett Temple started the third alongside Darren Collison, DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos. Be it play style or raw energy, the court appeared to open up, allowing Cousins to dominate down low, while Collison fired away from the perimeter.
“Ball movement, ball movement and player movement,” Temple said when asked what changed coming out of the half. “We defended them pretty well, but our ball movement was really fluid and guys were knocking down shots.”
Los Angeles looked stunned. Sacramento used an 11-2 run over the first 2:19 of the third to tie the game, but they weren’t done. The Kings throttled the Lakers in the third quarter to the tune of 39-13, erasing the halftime deficit and taking a 17-point lead into the fourth.
“Most of it was just getting the energy right,” Casspi said following the win. “Getting up on the ball, pressuring, getting steals. Playing with energy that we need to play with in front of our fans, in front of our home crowd.”
Cousins led the way, scoring 16 of his game-high 31 points in quarter, but he wasn’t alone. Collison knocked down all three of his 3-point attempts, scoring 10 points in the period. Temple found his range as well, hitting 3-of-3 from the field and even Koufos found success, scoring both of his shot attempts in the third while picking up three steals.
“I think we got more aggressive defensively,” Cousins said. “Shared the ball, played together - we had a good flow going towards the end of the game. I think we clicked as a team late down the stretch and that’s what helped us push through.”
In total, the Kings starting unit coming out of the intermission hit 14-of-16 from the field (87.5 percent), while holding the Lakers to just 26.3 percent shooting. It was the best quarter of basketball Sacramento has played all season.
The Kings looked fresh and energized after falling apart in the fourth quarter Saturday night in Utah. But they also looked like a team that went into halftime and had an offensive epiphany.
For one of the few times this season, the ball moved like it was a hot potato. Players cut and played off of the Kings’ star center. It was a glimpse of what Sacramento could become if they play unselfishly.
“It’s the key to offensive success on our team,” Temple said of the movement. “We have a guy like DeMarcus that they key on so much. So when he has the ball, whether it be at the top or in the post, we have to be able to work off of him.”
With shots falling and players streaking around the court, Cousins often found himself in one-on-one situations with Timofey Mozgov. The two-time All-Star went to work both in the post and from the outside and with the floor spaced properly, the Lakers 7-foot Russian had no chance.
Sacramento has had moments early in the season where they look like they are pulling it together, but sustaining success has been an issue. At 9-15, they head out on the road beginning Wednesday in Houston against a high-powered Rockets team that lit them up from the perimeter earlier in the year.
There is no early word on the availability of either Gay or McLemore, but reinforcements are on their way. The team has called up all three of their rookie first round picks from the Reno Bighorns, giving them plenty of extra bodies if needed.