Following a long eight-month hiatus, the Sacramento Kings finally returned to Power Balance Pavilion and provided a sellout crowd with a 100-91 win over the rival Los Angeles Lakers.
After almost seeing their team move to Anaheim last season followed by a labor disagreement that caused a delay to the start of the season, Kings fans filled the arena for the Kings “blackout” game and were rewarded with a hard-fought victory by their new-look Kings.
Fans were loud and into the game before the ball was even tipped off. With the lights off, fans were instructed to activate the purple light sticks that they were given at the door, and continued cheering through much of a tribute video that followed the history of the Kings franchise.
In a game reminiscent of the rivalry from the early 2000’s, the Kings started the game with energy that lasted the entire game, which proved to be too much for a Lakers team that suffered a last-minute loss to the Chicago Bulls the night before.
Kings guard Marcus Thornton and Lakers star Kobe Bryant came out quickly and tried to get their respective teams going, each at seven points in the first quarter.
Kings rookie Jimmer Fredette entered his first regular season NBA game with 6:06 remaining in the first quarter. On his first possession, Fredette double dribbled, turning the ball over, but later scored his first NBA points on a 15-foot fadeaway jump shot that helped give the Kings a 21-20 lead after the first quarter.
Many new members of the Kings team were able to get going in the second quarter and make plays that helped extend the Kings lead in the first half.
At the 8:08 mark of the second quarter, Kings rookie Isaiah Thomas scored his first points in the NBA with a three from the corner that caused the Lakers to call a timeout.
Shortly after, Modesto native and new Kings forward Chuck Hayes was able to find the also newly-acquired Travis Outlaw on a deep outlet pass for an easy layup by Outlaw, who had beaten the Lakers defense. The bucket gave the Kings a 39-33 lead.
With just 20 seconds remaining in the first half, Kings point guard Tyreke Evans took advantage of a missed shot by Bryant and took the ball down the court for a driving layup that gave the Kings a 49-40 lead heading into halftime.
Though the Kings would never relinquish that lead, the Lakers gave their best effort to steal the victory away late in the game.
Metta World Peace, whose name was formerly Ron Artest, scored two consecutive baskets that cut the Kings lead to three at 89-86, but following some costly mistakes by the Lakers and a missed three by World Peace, Thornton was able to come off of a screen and hit a two-point jumper that iced the game and gave the Kings the season-opening 100-91 victory.
The Lakers Kobe Bryant led the game with 29 points. Marcus Thornton led the Kings with 27 points of his own, to go along with five rebounds and three assists. Thornton was also 4-7 from the three point line.
Kings rookie Fredette finished with only six points, but knows that he must keep attacking the basket.
“It is just going out there and trying to be aggressive and looking for my shots or my opportunities,” said Fredette. “It was just a great team effort tonight and a great win.”
The Kings out shot the Lakers from the three-point line, tallying 50 percent efficiency in three-point shooting while the Lakers only made 6.3 percent of their three-point attempts.
Newly acquired King Chuck Hayes finished with seven points and nine rebounds while he provided a solid veteran presence to this young Kings squad.
“Chuck Hayes is the glue of this team. We knew he would be the glue when we signed him,” said Kings head coach Paul Westphal. “He shows it everyday, whether it was guarding Gasol some, Artest some. He gets our defense going and he gets our offense going. He gave us 27 phenomenal minutes.”
Not only does the coach notice the presence that Hayes makes on this team, but Thornton also realizes the importance of having Hayes on the squad.
“Chuck Hayes is every little bit of 6 foot 6 inches. To battle Gasol, seven feet, like he did is great. And that’s what he brings to the team,” said Thornton in the locker room after the game.
The Kings, both old and new players on the squad, were pleased to see a sold-out crowd decked out in black in honor of the Kings “Back in Black” motto this season.
“I’ve heard they’re the greatest fans in the NBA and they showed it tonight,” said Fredette. “It was really loud in there and they really supported us with a packed house for the first game. It was really exciting to be able to go out there and play for the fans and win.”
Coach Westphal hopes to be able to provide a team that can keep the arena full and provide a similar atmosphere throughout the season.
“That’s how it is supposed to be in basketball,” said Westphal. “That’s how it feels when your team has the support behind it and delivers solid basketball. That’s the feeling that this building has had more often than not in its history and we are trying to get that feeling back and we want it every night.”
All photos by Ron Nabity