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Spurs outperform Kings in test of wills, 102-94

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DeMarcus Cousins played his heart out for the Kings in their first game in the brand-new Golden1 arena in Sacramento, but the San Antonio Spurs, led by Kawhi Leonard were able to wear them down with a superior second-half defensive effort.

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs' second game could not have been more different than their first one. In Oakland, San Antonio was the more physical team, dominating the jump-shooting Warriors from the opening tipoff until Jonathon Simmons' punctuation dunk that closed out the game. Tonight, they ran into an energized team that played hard for their new coach and outplayed the Spurs for much of the game.

Last year, Dave Joerger brought a combination of grit and grind defense and ground and pound offense to the Memphis Grizzlies, and got them to the playoffs despite losing so many players to injury that the team set new records for the number of players on the roster in one season. Inexplicably, Joerger was fired by Memphis, and after about 2 days of unemployment, he was hired by the Sacramento Kings, who, among other things, have the most talented big man in the league, DeMarcus 'Boogie' Cousins. Cousins has always been talented, but he's never been able to turn that talent into consistently great play. You can't say that Cousins has never had a great coach, but he's really playing with much more discipline and purpose this year. Maybe Joerger is the first coach he's ever had who he really listens to, or maybe he just learned from his Olympic teammates this summer about the importance of controlling your emotions under pressure.

This Sacramento team, led by Cousins and Joerger along with good games from Rudy Gay and Kosta Koufos, gave the Spurs all they could handle tonight, but Kawhi Leonard, who is rapidly becoming the best player in the league on both ends of the floor, would not let the Spurs lose.

A sequence of back to back Kawhi steals on Ben McLemore at the end of the third quarter that took up 15 seconds on the clock turned a 2 point Grizzlies Kings lead into a 3 point Silver and Black advantage. Although the Kings were able to bring the game back to a tie midway through the fourth, they never led again. Cousins scored 37 points with 16 rebounds, but his effort was matched by Kawhi's 30 point, 5 steal game. It came down to the rest of the team, where the Spurs have a significant advantage.

Game flow:

The aggressive Kings rushed out to a quick 12-4 lead as DeMarcus Cousins used his energy to get past a Spurs team that looked a little logy from their trip to Oakland. The Kings, on the second game of a back-to-back, seemed like a fresher team and Cousins and Ty Lawson took it to the Spurs for the first few minutes, who consistently settled for jump shots that banged harmlessly off the front, back and sides of the rim. Luckily for the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard was awake, and he hit his first two shots. The Kings continued their assertive play, but Kawhi kept the margin within reach, scoring 12 of the first 14 Spurs points. The reserves came in for the last four minutes and Dewayne Dedmon helped to contain Cousins and the first quarter ended with the Kings up 29-27. Altogether, it could have been much worse.

The second quarter started with two baskets from David Lee that gave the Spurs a two point lead. This was short-lived as Willie Cauley-Stein hit a layup followed by a long three-point shot from Matt Barnes (who sports the most ridiculous man-bun in the league). The rest of the quarter was a see-saw affair, with the high point being a three from Cousins. It almost seems unfair that a guy who's that good around the basket is also a decent three-point shooter. Kawhi got hit with his third foul and had to sit out the last four minutes of the half. Despite runs from both teams, the teams went into the locker room with the Kings up 57-53.

The Spurs picked up the defense in the third quarter, and the game was turned on the back-to-back steals on McLemore late in the quarter. Sacramento was held to only 14 points in the quarter and San Antonio raced out to a 76-71 lead going into the fourth.

Midway through the quarter Aron Afflalo hit a deep three and then a jumper in the lane on the ensuing possession to even the score at 83, and it looked like it might be a tight game down the stretch. But LaMarcus Aldridge, who had been quiet for much of the game, was having none of it. He began to hit and draw fouls, and played a key role in the Spurs outscoring the Kings 19-11 the rest of the way. When the buzzer sounded, the Spurs had grinded out a 102-94 win.

Observations:

  • Dewayne Dedmon was really important in this win. Boogie dominated the Spurs inside players with his superior strength and ball-handling skills. Dedmon is no match for Cousins' speed, but he did a great job of staying in front of the big center and even blocked four shots. More importantly, he was good on the boards, limiting second shots.
  • David Lee often doesn't look like he's doing a lot out there, but that's misleading. He has deceptive hustle, and he has soft hands and can eat up rebounds near the basket and turn them into points. He doesn't look graceful when he shoots, but he can get shots off in traffic that bound slowly into the rim.
  • Bold prediction: The talented and gritty Kings go to the Western Conference playoffs this year. And lose in the first round.
  • Did Bertans play? NO!
  • Tony Parker didn't have a great game, missing all of his shots and scoring all 4 of his points on free throws. But he distributed the ball and played decent defense while he was out there. Patty Mills had a really good game when Tony had to sit.
  • Joerger pulled Ben McLemore from the game with 2:30 left in the third quarter after Kawhi stole the ball from him twice in two possessions. He didn't see the court again.
  • The new Sacramento Arena is beautiful, but Pop didn't seem too impressed by it.

  • Kawhi had 5 steals which not only led to Spurs points, but really disrupted the flow of the Kings offense. With 10 steals in two games he's on pace for 410 steals for the season. [Note: that pace may not be sustainable.] In fact, the only player in the league who is averaging more steals per game is Anthony Davis, who had 7 in the Pelicans opening loss to the Grizzlies.
  • In the NBA, the more aggressive team gets the foul calls. Cousins earned foul calls for things like running into Pau Gasol's back while driving to the basket. In the second half, especially the fourth quarter, the Spurs played more aggressively and got some more calls, but the Kings shot 38 free throws in the game to only 27 for the Spurs.
  • The Spurs' bench outplayed the Kings' bench, outscoring them 43-18. Jonathon Simmons didn't have the incredible offensive game that he had on Tuesday, but he was pretty good on defense.
  • The Spurs new HEB commercials are pretty funny:


Musical interlude:

[Dedicated to David Lee]
Sorry guys, it's a guilty pleasure.

Up next:

The Spurs play the Pelicans at 6:30 Saturday at the AT&T Center in their home opener. It's a good chance to see Anthony Davis, who is another great big man who will be a tough cover for the home team. It's going to be a great game.