By Morris Phillips
All of a sudden the Sacramento Kings are so good, they…
Don’t need to depend on their prolific scoring to win games. In Tuesday’ 113-109 thriller at the Grindhouse in Memphis, they put up a “mere” 113 points, the lowest point total in any of their ten victories this season. And yes, the defense was present. The formidable Grizzlies were held to 17 points in the decisive, third quarter in which they missed seven of eight 3-point attempts.
“I thought our third quarter defense was really good,” coach Mike Brown said. “Might be our best defensive quarter of the year.”
Don’t need to shoot the lights in order to win. The Kings have made slightly more than half of their shot attempts on the season, but against Memphis they made do with 43 percent shooting, and survived their whopping 30 misses from distance.
Don’t need to command the stat sheet to prevail. The Kings were outrebounded, fouled more and didn’t commit fewer turnovers, but they still pulled it out. To be fair, the numbers between the teams were extremely close in all three areas, but the contention that the Kings don’t have to unveil their best effort to win holds weight.
Don’t need a big finish to get a win… and this one on the road against a quality opponent to boot. This time the Grizzlies, not the Kings, dominated play down the stretch, cutting a 14-point, fourth quarter deficit to three on several possessions inside two minutes remaining. Ja Morant, who led all scorers with 34, missed a 3-pointer with 1:10 left that would have brought the hosts even at 104. Morant’s three-point play with five seconds remaining pulled the Grizzlies within 109-108, but the Kings converted four, subsequent free throws to close it out.
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 32 points, but Brown pointed to Harrison Barnes and his 26 points as the key to the Kings’ surviving the frantic finish.
“Obviously, we were haywire out there. Going crazy, and Harrison just made some big plays down the stretch,” Brown said.
The Kings have won seven straight for the first time since they did it in 2005, the season of their most recent–but distant–playoff appearance. Kings’ fans with anxiety issues might not want to look at the Western Conference because their long forlorn team occupies the third spot behind the Suns and the equally, surprising Jazz, just percentage points above the fourth-place Clippers.
The Kings were their typical, freewheeling selves in the first half on Tuesday, shooting 51 percent with eight makes from distance to lead 64-59. The third quarter saw the Kings extend their lead to 12, and they led 99-85 with 6:08 left after Barnes hit a three.
Memphis responded with a 5-0 run which set the stage for the tense finish. Morant was terrific after missing the previous game with an ankle injury, scoring 20 of his 34 in the fourth.
The Kings complete a back-to-back on Wednesday in Atlanta where they will confront the 10-7 Hawks.