For Sacramento fans, just seeing their Kings on the court was a victory after all the talk of moving at the end of last season.
Beating the hated Los Angeles Lakers in the season opener only made it sweeter.
Marcus Thornton scored 12 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and the Kings beat the Lakers at home for the first time in more than three years, 100-91 on Monday night.
”It was nice to be back,” coach Paul Westphal said. ”It was wild in there and our players really liked the feeling of that game. The fans were just fantastic.”
Tyreke Evans added 20 points, John Salmons had 13 and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Kings, who had lost nine of 10 to the Lakers and five straight at home.
”It’s not a rivalry,” Kobe Bryant said. ”We beat them every year. Oh my God. I don’t care if they beat us tonight. I like (Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof). I hope they enjoy this.”
Bryant scored 29 points and Metta World Peace added 19 for the Lakers, who opened the season with consecutive losses for the first time since 2002-03, putting a damper on the start of new coach Mike Brown’s tenure.
”We have a lot of games left, a lot of games left,” World Peace said. ”Everything is going OK. Everything will be great.”
Kings rookie Jimmer Fredette entered to a loud ovation midway through the first quarter and then committed a double dribble the first time he touched the ball.
Otherwise, it was nothing but a positive start to the season for the Kings, who didn’t even know if they would be in Sacramento after ending last season with an overtime loss at home to the Lakers.
But the city got a reprieve when the team decided to stay for at least one more season instead of moving to Anaheim. That has led to newfound optimism that an emerging roster of young and athletic playmakers can return the Kings to prominence and the city can build a new arena to keep the team here for the long term.
”These fans are unbelievable,” newly acquired forward Chuck Hayes said. ”I thought they were loud on TV. I thought they were loud as an away player and I think they’re even louder as a home player. It was just a great moment.”
The game was especially satisfying for Hayes, who got a major scare earlier this month when he failed a physical because of a heart abnormality. He then went to see specialists at the Cleveland Clinic and was cleared to play, leading the Kings to sign him once again. Hayes had seven points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes.
”’Chuck Hayes is the glue of this team,” Westphal said. ”We knew he would be the glue when we signed him and he shows it every day. It was a phenomenal effort for Chuck with what he’s been through.”
The Kings went on an 11-0 run around halftime and then put together a strong finish to the third quarter led by Cousins. Playing with four fouls, Cousins scored eight points in the final 3:20 of the third to give Sacramento a 78-64 lead heading into the fourth.
Thornton scored seven of the Kings’ first nine points of the fourth as Sacramento maintained its lead. But six straight points by World Peace helped the Lakers cut it to 89-87 with 4:24 to play.
Thornton hit a 3-pointer to give the Kings some breathing room and Hayes had a key block on Pau Gasol leading to two free throws by Evans. The Lakers never got the deficit to less than five points after that. Thornton’s jumper made it 99-89 with 1:10 to go, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
”We stayed the course,” Thornton said. ”We didn’t get riled up. When they were making that run, we shot a couple of quick shots. We got back to doing what we do best.”
Los Angeles doesn’t have to wait long to get a chance for its first win in this lockout-compacted season, as the Lakers host Utah on Tuesday night with their third game in three nights to open the season.
”Everyone is going to have to play three straight games and we will have to find a way through this,” Brown said. ”We have had a lot of practice, followed by a long day today, but everyone has to go through it as well.”
The Kings took a 49-40 halftime lead, holding the Lakers to 36.4 percent shooting including an uncharacteristic 4-for-13 performance from Bryant.
Sacramento even had success matching 5-foot-9 rookie Isaiah Thomas on Bryant on a few possessions in the second quarter despite a 9-inch height disadvantage. After missing a turnaround jumper over the shorter Thomas, Bryant could only manage to chuckle on his way back down the court.
Notes: The Kings have won six straight home openers. … Mayor Kevin Johnson, who helped keep the Kings in Sacramento this season, was presented a jersey from the Maloofs. … Bryant got called for a technical foul in the third quarter when he threw his hands in frustration after being fouled on a dunk attempt by J.J. Hickson.