By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–Jimmy Butler’s dunk and ensuing free throw with 6:15 remaining had Kings’ fans feeling creepy, and not in a festive, Halloween type of a way.
More like a take off your costume and head home feeling, Golden 1 Center grew tense and weary with the Kings clinging to a 101-100 advantage after leading by 22 points at the half.
Nightmare on L Street? Could have been had not Kevin Huerter and rookie Keegan Murray stepped up with some big baskets to cool the Heat.
The pair combined for 11 of Sacramento’s final 18 points and the Kings reversed their fortunes in a 119-113 win on Saturday afternoon.
“They came in with desperation,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra of the Kings. “They wanted to get that first win.”
Coach Mike Brown exhaled the deepest. His high-energy coaching, seven years experience as an NBA head coach, and four NBA titles as an assistant weren’t going to wear well in an 0-5 start to his tenure in Sacramento. Instead, he was afforded a business-as-usual approach afterwards.
“Doesn’t matter when it comes,” Brown said of his initial win. “Hopefully we can have some carryover going on this road trip.”
The Kings held a lead in the final two minutes on opening night against Portland and couldn’t hold it. A two-point loss to the Clippers and a five-point loss to the Warriors weren’t any easier to digest. Their most recent loss to Memphis brought grumblings that a team thought to be the NBA’s most improved might not be improved at all.
With a win, they have their confidence reinforced.
“It’s big to get the first one,” Huerter said. “Any time you start a year, you get your first win, it’s kind of a big relief. We’ve worked hard, as hard as any other team in training camp. It’s been a long road up to this point. The first four games of the season, we felt like we had opportunities to win. We just couldn’t close the deal.”
The Kings shot 59 percent from the floor in the first quarter and upped that to 63 percent at the half as the Heat’s defense was uncharacteristically absent. That created a 71-49 at halftime that got dismantled in the third.
Domantas Sabonis put up all 18 of his points before halftime, and two quick fouls to start the third quarter. The Kings center fouled out with the game in the balance and less than six minutes remaining in the fourth. But Richaun Holmes came on for Sabonis, and the Kings steadied. That’s when the Heat appeared to run out of gas, a residual effect of their first half struggles.
“We didn’t match that intensity in the first half,” Kyle Lowry said. “They dominated the paint in the first half. We didn’t get back well enough early in the game. They were pushing every time we scored. You could hear their coach saying, Go! Go! Go!”
Huerter led the Kings with 27 points, Murray added 22, and De’Aaron Fox came up gritty with 17 points, 13 rebounds.
The Kings are in Charlotte on Monday to face the Hornets, kicking off a four-game road trip.