If you weren’t taking the Sacramento Kings and DeMarcus Cousins seriously, maybe their 94-91 win over the San Antonio Spurs will change your mind. After years of rebuilding and failing to find the right formula, it finally seems like a franchise that almost left to a different city not too long ago is on the right path towards success.
Cousins got into foul trouble and played just 27 minutes, but it didn’t stop him from scoring 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, making some big defensive plays late in the game like the block on Tim Duncan or disturbing the final shot from Manu Ginobili to pull off another win that makes the Kings look completely different than in previous years – a team with a good offense, a surprising defense and a superstar that might be the best in the league in his position.
This wasn’t one of those games in which the Spurs are frustratingly good despite not playing everyone. Kawhi Leonard was on the floor for 40 minutes, Tony Parker played 36, Danny Green and Tim Duncan had 34. The NBA champions simply didn’t make enough plays and let the Kings jump ahead a bit too much in the second quarter. Tim Duncan struggled in the paint (only 4-of-11 from the field), Manu Ginobili made only 1-of-7 3-point attempts and Darren Collison came up huge in the end.
The Spurs kept cutting the lead back to one as the Kings were trying to finish off the game. Collison made one huge layup in traffic and then got a chance to close out the game from the free throw line. He made only 1-of-2, leaving the Spurs with 6.6 seconds and one shot to tie the game.
Kawhi Leonard got the ball off the inbound pass and dribbled, waiting for Ginobili to come off the screen from the weak side. Ginobili arrived on time, but was pestered by Cousins who has greatly improved his defense over the summer. Partially because of Team USA, but it also has something to do with him becoming a much more serious basketball player, a lot less worried about breaking up hand shakes and more concerned about doing his best to win.
Ginobili missed the shot and the Kings went on to move two games above .500, coming following two consecutive games of blowing big leads. Rudy Gay helped out with 18 points and Collison helped with 19 points. It looked similar to how it worked last year: The trio (Thomas instead of Collison) combining to score over 60 points, while the defense and bench ruin the game for them.
But the Kings, a year into their Mike Malone era, are a different team. More disciplined, better on defense, simply improved on almost every level. One win against the NBA champions doesn’t mean this ends with a playoff berth. However, these were the kind of games the Kings always found a way to lose in the past. Now? Even with the supposedly best in the NBA taking it completely seriously, a team built around the skills and personality of Cousins seems to be good enough to pull through, and that’s saying a lot about him and his teammates.