CK Press Box Report: Phoenix Suns 104, Sacramento Kings 99

by Jonathan Santiago & James Ham


The Sacramento Kings’ season came to an exciting, yet unsurprising conclusion on Wednesday night.  In a game that went down to the wire, the Kings fell once again, this time 104-99 to the Phoenix Suns in their regular season finale at Sleep Train Arena.

Through the first three quarters, the Kings played an inspired game against the Suns, holding Phoenix to roughly 40 percent shooting from the field.  However, the Suns came alive in the fourth quarter to shoot better than 70.6 percent and outscore the Kings 33-25.

“I just said, ‘Thank you,'” Kings head coach Michael Malone said of what he told his players in the locker room after the final game of the season. “The message was that I really appreciate my first time as a head coach.  There were a lot of ups and downs and we could’ve gone sideways. We could’ve let go of the rope. I was proud of the fact that, through everything, the losses and tough stretches, we stayed together and stayed united. I think that’s a huge positive for us moving forward. I just loved the effort that they gave and that they bought into the message I was trying to deliver on most nights.”

With Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay playing limited minutes and DeMarcus Cousins sitting out due to suspension, rookie Ben McLemore shined for the Kings in their last game of the 2013-14 campaign.  McLemore rose to the occasion and finished with career-highs in points (31) and assists (5).

In addition to McLemore, the Kings also got contributions out of Ray McCallum, Travis Outlaw, Jason Thompson and Aaron Gray.  The rookie point guard came off the bench to score 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting and dish out two assists. Outlaw shot extremely well and finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting.  Gray finished with a season-high 13 rebounds, while Thompson, filling in for Cousins at center, grabbed 11.

Meanwhile in their final outings of the season, Gay and Thomas both played fewer than 20 minutes in the loss.  The star duo combined for just 10 points and six assists.

“That was probably the fastest year,” Thomas said of his third campaign coming to a close on Wednesday.  “Even the lockout year didn’t feel that fast. It’s crazy to think we were in training camp in October and it’s over already.”

The Kings were torched by a pair of Suns reserves in the loss.  Rookie Archie Goodwin blew up to score 29 points on an efficient 11-of-13 shooting from the field in 31 minutes off Phoenix’s bench.  Marcus Morris also chipped in a 20-plus point effort, finishing with 22 on 7-of-15 shooting from the field.

The Kings finish the year at 28-54 overall and 17-24 at home.  They finish the regular season with the same exact record as last year and have the seventh-best odds of winning the 2014 NBA Draft lottery.

“My challenge to them is simple: we all have to come back better players and better coaches,” Malone said of his hopes for next season. “We cannot be a 28-win team next year. If we all make sacrifices and improvements, then we’ll be a better team for that. I just showed them my appreciation and told them my challenge to get them to continue to work harder because in the NBA, you don’t want long summers. This team and this franchise had a lot of long summers lately and we have to put a stop to that.”

Notes and Analysis

  • Ben McLemore looked aggressive tonight, going to the rim early and often on his way to a career-high 31-point game. The rookie shot 9-for-20 from the field and went to the line 15 times. He also added five assists and five rebounds in 42 minutes.
  • Ray McCallum put up another strong showing, dropping in 13 points on 5-for-12 shooting. I’m not sure if he is ready to be the full-time starter going forward, but he is certainly worthy of rotational minutes next season.
  • Isaiah Thomas wasn’t his typical self tonight, scoring four points and handing out four assists in 17 minutes. With free agency just around the corner, this may have been the last time Sacramento fans got to see one of their favorites in a Kings uniform.
  • After missing three of the Kings’ previous four games due to injury, Rudy Gay returned and looked rusty. He finished with six points and six rebounds. Like Thomas, Gay has a huge decision coming up about whether to opt out of the final year of his deal that will pay him $19.3 million.
  • Travis Outlaw continued his late-season surge, scoring 15 points in 25 minutes off Malone’s bench. The veteran forward has done a solid job of working his way back into the rotation conversation for next season.
  • With DeMarcus Cousins out due to suspension, Jason Thompson started at center for the Kings. The veteran big man finished with eight points and 11 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. After six seasons in a Kings uniform, it will be interesting to see if Thompson survives the summer and returns for a seventh year in Sacramento.
  • Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray played plenty tonight in the finale. Acy finished with nine points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes, while Gray grabbed a team-high 13 rebounds in 26 minutes.
  • Stat of the Night: The Kings finished the 2013-14 season 0-11 without Cousins.

Quote of the Night

Michael Malone on Kings fans:

“Everybody says that they have the best fans in the NBA. We had 14 sellouts—for us to be a 28-win team speaks to the passion, the belief, and the commitment that these fans have. I feel blessed to be a part of that. There are a lot of arenas where the teams aren’t winning and you can hear yourself talk. We still have a distinct home-court advantage. I appreciate our friends and none of us take them for granted because we realized earlier in the year that they’re grateful that we stayed. They want to see a team that competes, plays hard, and plays the right way. I’m hoping next year that we can take another step in the right direction to make them prouder of the way that we’re playing on the floor.”

Video shot and edited by Tobin Halsey.

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