Gay helps Kings bounce back against Blazers


October 31, 2014; Sacramento, CA, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (8) shoots the basketball against Portland Trail Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) and forward Nicolas Batum (88) during the fourth quarter at Sleep Train Arena. The Kings defeated the Trail Blazers 103-94. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Modest expectations for this season were lowered even further after Tuesday’s opening night dud against the Warriors. So a Halloween night date with the potent Portland Trailblazers didn’t seem like the best chance for a bounce-back for the Sacramento Kings. But this was not the same Sacramento team that took the floor Tuesday. The Kings looked better in every facet of the game — their offense moved smoother, the defensive intensity was constant and one Rudy Gay was an unstoppable force. The Kings put together four quarters of quality ball and took down a playoff-caliber Blazers squad, 103-94.

KINGS CRISP BALL MOVEMENT APPARENT — Eliminating the “sticky fingers” in the offense was a priority for the Kings this offseason, and on Thursday, the team showed off what they meant. The one-on-one, hero ball of Tuesday’s opener was thankfully gone. Led by point guard Darren Collison (38 MIN, 17 PTS, 6-14 FG, 8 REB, 8 AST, 3 STL, 3 TO), the Kings whipped the ball around until a quality shot was found. Making the extra pass seemed to be a theme for the Kings — Ben McLemore passing on a shot to find a wide-open Gay in the corner, Gay returning the favor on a breakaway for an alley-oop jam. Unlike the Warriors debacle, the offense had more of a purpose.

GAY’S HOT HAND SOLVES ALL — Of course, things tend to look better offensively when you have one player who can’t miss. Against Portland, that player was Rudy Gay (36 MIN, 40 PTS, 13-19 FG, 3-4 3FG, 11-13 FT, 8 REB). Any possession that ended with the ball in Rudy’s hands was seemingly successful. Gay scored very few baskets at the rim; instead, his mid-range stroke was on point, and Rudy didn’t hesitate to drop it over any Blazers defender. At this point, Gay is the only reliable Kings threat from the perimeter. His clutch shooting allowed the Kings to keep their foot on the gas.

KINGS DEFENSE SETS THE TONE — Right from the jump, the Kings displayed an effort defensively that would be critical in stopping an offensive juggernaut like Portland. Shooters were contested, and the Kings crashed the boards and limited second chances. Damian Lillard, who is well-remembered for his insane shooting performance in Sac last season, found very little room to operate, thanks again to Collison. In the second half, the Kings kept the pressure on, this time led by DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins (31 MIN, 17 PTS, 6-16 FG, 9 REB, 2 BLK) spoke of wanting to be a defensive anchor and he was all of that late in this one. His back-to-back blocks on Lillard in the fourth quarter stemmed the tide, ignited the crowd and helped push the Kings lead to nine with 3 minutes left. A pesky Collison with a disruptive Cousins on the backend and three others providing hustle and effort could be the recipe for a solid defense in Sacramento.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS — On the flip side, Cousins’ penchant for picking up poor fouls was again a problem. Frustration over a perceived missed call led the big man to swipe at Lillard in the backcourt and pick up a fourth foul in the third quarter. Portland responded by erasing an 8-point deficit with Cousins sidelined. That can’t happen … The Kings shooting guard spot is still in flux, as neither McLemore nor Nik Stauskas stepped up as a viable option. McLemore (32 MIN, 7 PTS, 2-5 FG, 4 REB) missed some gimme’s in the first half, while Stauskas missed all four of his shots on the night … Sacramento outrebounded Portland, 49-38, as LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez combined for just 10 boards … Omri Casspi (13 MIN, 10 PTS, 3-4 FG, 4-4 FT, 4 REB) had a nice, energetic stint in the first half. He hit the boards and attacked the basket. Casspi supplanted Derrick Williams (DNP) as the first swingman off the Kings bench.