Kings stop Suns behind late defensive surge

Rick Hurd, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

SACRAMENTO -- In a game of offensive spurts, the Sacramento Kings leaned on their defense when it mattered most and unleashed the game's decisive run.
Two free throws by guard Isaiah Thomas and another by center DeMarcus Cousins capped a 10-0 Kings flourish over the game's final 3:33, and Sacramento edged the Phoenix Suns 107-104 Tuesday at Sleep Train Arena.
"I'm very pleased," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "We didn't defend most of the night, but one of our goals is to hold our opponent to 20 points or less in the fourth quarter, and to hold them to 16 points ... when we needed was great."
The Suns did not score after using their own 7-0 run to break a 97-97 tie. Phoenix, the NBA's leader in fast-break points entering the night, failed to convert on its final 10 possessions, turning the ball over five times in the process. The Suns shot just 36 percent from the field in the final quarter.
"This was the worst of them all," Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team let a late lead get away for the third straight game, all of them losses. "We were careless. We tried to run plays and didn't run them the right way. It was a lot of things."
Cousins, whose left shoulder slipped out of place during a battle for a loose ball with 15.9 seconds left in the first half, finished with a game-high 27 points and 12 rebounds for the Kings (3-6). It was his fifth double-double of the season. He also had four steals, including one against Phoenix point guard Goran Dragic that turned into a layup for Cousins on the other end of the floor. That play got Sacramento's final charge in gear.
"It was a complete team effort, not just one guy," Cousins said of the Kings' rally. "Our defense at the end won that game. If we can start games off playing that way, we can win a lot more games."
The Kings trailed 84-70 with just under five minutes left in the third quarter. Sacramento then turned around the momentum after allowing a season-worst 37 points in the second quarter, watching an eight-point, first-quarter lead turn into a 62-54 halftime deficit.
"It builds our confidence in that we know we can be a great defensive team if we dial in," Thomas said. "We dialed it up in the final quarter and a half."
Thomas finished with 19 points as the Kings won the opener of a back-to-back, home-and-home series between the teams. It also put him in the Sacramento record book; Thomas' nine consecutive double-digit scoring games off the bench broke Walt Williams' mark of eight.
Rookie guard Ben McLemore also scored 19 points for Sacramento. He made four 3-pointers, his best performance in four games since becoming a starter.
Forward Marcus Morris finished with 19 points for the Suns (5-5) but missed a 3-pointer from the corner with 1.9 seconds remaining. Cousins made one of two free throws for the final margin. Dragic missed a half-court shot at the final buzzer.
Guard Gerald Green scored 23 points to lead the Suns, who played without leading scorer and passer Eric Bledsoe for the first time this season. The point guard, who averaged 20.4 points and 6.8 assists in the Phoenix's first nine games, sat out with a bruised left shin, suffered when he collided with forward P.J. Tucker in practice.
Forward Channing Frye had 17 points and nine rebounds for Phoenix, and guard Archie Goodwin had 16 points off the bench for the Suns.
The Suns' high-octane attack was at its best in the second quarter. Phoenix forced nine turnovers and turned them into 12 points. Four of those turnovers came in the first three minutes, and Phoenix blitzed Sacramento with a 19-2 run to start the period.
NOTES: Sacramento F Patrick Patterson returned to action after missing Sunday's game and most of the previous one with a bruised knee. He contributed 10 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes. ... Kings rookie C Alex Len played for the first time in eight games, returning from a sore left ankle. He was scoreless in five minutes. ... Kings G Marcus Thornton was healthy but did not play. Thornton, counted on to be an outside threat, shot 6-for-19 in Sacramento's previous two games, including 2-for-12 from 3-point distance. ... The Suns outscored the Kings 25-4 on fast-break points. Phoenix was averaging an NBA-best 23.4 fast-break points per game entering the contest.

What to Read Next