The Sacramento Kings might be as dangerous as a 19-win ball club can be.
And when DeMarcus Cousins started drop-stepping and spinning off the helpless Marcin Gortat and Robin Lopez, it looked like a 17-point, first half Phoenix lead might eventually turn into a Kings victory.
But the Kings might only be sitting at 19 wins this deep into the season because their talent that comes across as so dangerous also includes volatility — a lot of volatility.
Leading 82-81 less than a minute into the fourth quarter, Sacramento — behind a grumpy-faced Cousins — made enough mistakes to allow Phoenix to string out a lead as big as 12. What concluded was a 109-100 Suns victory in Sacramento on Tuesday night.
Cousins dominated the Phoenix centers en route to a career-high 41 points on top of 12 rebounds, but two turnovers in the fourth quarter and some clear frustration aided Steve Nash and the Suns in rebuilding a large first half lead that had evaporated as quickly as Cousins had gotten going.
Nash scored 18 points on the night including five straight points with about five minutes to go that took a four-point lead to nine, the seeming back-breaker that did in the young Kings. The All-Star point guard also registered 12 assists as all five Suns’ starters scored in double-figures, led by Gortat’s 20 points.
The Suns would go on to score 109 points on 44.4 percent shooting by simply staying calm through two big Sacramento runs.
Now standing at 27-26 on the season, Phoenix avoided what would have been a painful shot toward its playoff hopes. Early on, it looked as if avoiding such a loss was a foregone conclusion.
Phoenix opened up a 43-26 lead with 7:46 to play in the second quarter off a Michael Redd three-ball, but the bench unit then gave up 12 consecutive points to Sacramento as the Suns defense allowed 61 percent shooting in the quarter.
Like the double-digit advantage, a 59-51 halftime lead didn’t last either.
Holding a nine-point lead with three minutes to play in the third, the Suns’ bench entered once again only to let a 12-2 Sacramento push make it a one-point Phoenix lead going into the fourth.
That’s when Redd showed a little initiative that reminded you of his Milwaukee days.
After scoring 10 points to keep the second unit afloat in the second quarter, he scored six points in the fourth, buying enough rest for the starters to return. The veteran went 7-for-14 on the evening to finish with 16 points by way of drives, pull-ups and three-pointers. It was just enough firepower to keep the bench — the four other members combined for only 13 points — on the floor.
Despite continued struggles of the second unit, Tuesday night was all about the starters starting well and ending well.
Phoenix had a 29-18 lead after the first quarter, then outscored the Kings 30-22 in the fourth. It was in the final stanza when the Suns went 11-for-19 from the field and Cousins’ grimacing frown — not to mention some illogical shoving of Channing Frye and Gortat — coincided with his team falling apart down the stretch.
Similarly, Nash settled things down when he returned in the fourth, and Phoenix scored six second chance points in the quarter and capitalized on Sacramento mistakes to hold on for the win.
In the end, Phoenix had out-rebounded the No. 6 rebounding club in the NBA by two, equaled the athletic Kings with 18 fast break points, all while surviving Cousins and a 25-point, seven-assist night from rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas.
Even with Grant Hill’s absence, Shannon Brown and company held Tyreke Evans to eight points on 4-of-13 shooting. And after the big nights from Cousins and Thomas, the only other impactful performance on the Kings came via recent acquisition Terrence Williams, who scored 16 points, dropped five dimes and grabbed six boards off the Sacramento bench.
As the Suns exited the court with the victory, one thing was clear as well.
This wasn’t a win against any cupcake squad. The Suns know how big it was for building momentum as the season shrinks of opportunities, and having it coming against Sacramento despite Cousins’ stellar night and the Kings’ 14-13 home record was a bigger deal than it may appear.
And with a game against Utah tomorrow night that could shift Phoenix into the ninth place in the Western Conference with a win, Tuesday’s victory was worthy of the Suns’ excitement.
Steve Nash’s back apparently is in bad shape. Nash said that isn’t so, and his comments to Marc Stein before the game saying this is “the best it’s felt in a decade” and his 7-of-12 shooting during it back that up. The original report came out of the New York Post, according to a number of other websites (oddly enough, I can’t find the actual NY Post link). It’s the second time in as many weeks Nash has denied reports coming out of the paper, the first being a Post report that said Nash was in a crummy mood because Phoenix didn’t pursue a Boris Diaw signing.
Nash also told Stein he hopes to “sign for three more years this summer,” which would take him through his age 41 season. John Stockton played about a month as a 41-year-old point guard during his final season in which he averaged 10.8 points and 7.7 assists per game while starting all 82 games.