Opposing teams are making a habit out of bloodying the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter. Game after game, the team wearing purple falls behind big out of the shoot and it was no different Friday night in Boston. The Celtics looked energized, taking a 13-point lead early and then held on for a 97-92 win.
A clearly frustrated coach Joerger placed the blame on his players in postgame, answering, “no, no” when asked if there is anything he can do to to get the team off to better starts. When pushed if it was on the players, he bluntly said, “yep.”
It’s become a chronic issue. The starters stumble. The second unit runs onto the court with buckets trying to bail water as quickly as possible. Whether it’s energy, effort or compatibility, something needs to change.
At the 3:13 mark of the first quarter, Avery Bradley dropped in a 26-foot 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 29-16 lead. The combination of Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson and Omri Casspi went to work alongside DeMarcus Cousins and closed out the quarter on a 13-0 run to tie the game.
“They struggled out of the gate,” Joerger said of his starters. “The second unit was good. They had a lot of energy and brought us back from a slow start.”
Making up big deficits take plenty of energy, which always seems to come back to haunt the Kings late. They keep the game close, only to run out of gas at the finish line.
“It’s almost like we got to get hit first to react,” Cousins said from his locker stall. “That’s kind of been the slogan the whole year. It’s not good for us.”
Despite not playing since Monday, the Kings starters were a step slow on their rotations and two steps slow on their closeouts. Boston moved the ball freely and found the open man on their way to 5-of-9 from three in the first 12 minutes.
“We’re in a situation where we have to come out and be the aggressive team every night,” Cousins said. “We’re not that team that can just start playing and think we can turn it on whenever.”
Unfortunately, Cousins is making a similar speech on too many nights early in the season. Clearly it’s wearing on the two-time All-Star.
“If we don’t figure this thing out, we’re going to continue to have these types of games and just another losing season,” said Cousins.
Cousins backed his coach in post game, taking the blame, along with his teammates. For the first time in four contests, he didn’t crack 30 points or more, finishing with 28 and nine rebounds.
“If we want to change things around, it’s on us,” Cousins said. “And we’ve got to hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility for our effort coming out early in games.”
To add injury to insult, the 26-year-old fielded questions with tape surrounding his right eye. Cousins took an inadvertent elbow to the head from teammate Ty Lawson at the 7:08 mark of the fourth quarter. He missed two minutes of game time, which proved to be crucial, but returned to the floor after having the wound glued shut temporarily.
Following the game, Cousins received eight stitches from the team’s medical staff.
Sacramento has a chance to get back to even on their five-game road trip Sunday afternoon when they face the 10-9 New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The NBA schedule waits for no one. If they want to climb out of their slumber, they’ll need to find a solution to their early game struggles on the fly.