No team ever wants to start the season with a loss. And for the Sacramento Kings, that’s how they tipped off the new year, falling 97-83 to the Chicago Bulls in their season opener. But there were things to like from last night’s defeat in the Windy City.
It certainly wasn’t a dud of a game. Yes, the Kings trailed by as many as 14 points, but they also showed some resiliency by storming back and kept the game within single digits in the final period. They shot poorly from the field (40.5 percent), but it wasn’t because of completely horrible shot selection or a me-first approach on offense. They faced arguably the league’s most stifling defense on the road and managed to hang around for a full four quarters.
After all that talk leading up the regular season, we finally got to see Tyreke Evans turn potential into production. Now starring for the Kings as a shooting guard, Evans was their best player on both ends of the floor yesterday evening. On defense, he stayed glued to Richard Hamilton and bodied up against Luol Deng. On offense, close to half his shots (six to be exact) were of the jump shot variety. His first points of the game came off a 3-point make that seemed to set the table for his 21-point performance in a team-leading 39 minutes.
While Evans was great, DeMarcus Cousins was not. He turned the ball over a team-high seven times and like much of last season was mired in foul trouble throughout the game. But there was a silver lining in Cousins’ poor performance. His field-goal percentage was, at the very least, a respectable 50 percent. Cousins has come into this season more prepared than his previous two years in the league. I don’t expect a repeat of last night’s struggles as the move onto their next opponent.
Marcus Thornton has officially become the Kings’ sixth man. Though he wasn’t very efficient (15 points on 15 shots), he looked comfortable in his new role. Thornton scored 13 of his 15 points in the third and fourth periods – the quarters that matter most in tight ball games. He may not have started, but the 25-year-old guard logged the second-most minutes for the Kings (31) in last night’s contest.
We’re likely looking at a point-guard-by-committee for the Kings this season. Not because they lack a true leader at the position, but because their top-two lead guards are both very good. Isaiah Thomas was the starter, but Aaron Brooks was the finisher. The veteran point guard recorded nearly half of his 23 minutes in the final period.
The Kings stayed in contention in yesterday’s contest because of defense. That defensive mindset Keith Smart has preached rolled over into game one of the regular season. The Kings were active in the Bulls’ passing lanes, forcing 18 turnovers out of Chicago. They also defended the Bulls’ guards and wings pretty well. Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Nate Robinson were a combined eight-of-28 from the field.
The result wasn’t what the Kings wanted. But you could think of worst ways to start your season than losing by six points to a sound-defensive ball club.