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'Always preaching team': Bold move pays off for Kings coach Luke Walton as team rebounds

Jason Anderson, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Basketball

ATLANTA -- Kings coach Luke Walton made a bold move when he sat three starters and turned to his bench in the fourth quarter Friday night after the Atlanta Hawks cut a 21-point deficit to one.

The Hawks were hot. Trae Young was taking over. Atlanta had all the momentum. Sacramento -- seemingly clinging to life already in a playoff race that hasn't even taken shape yet -- couldn't afford to let a winnable game get away after going 0-5 to start the season.

Someone had to do something. Walton took Buddy Hield and Nemanja Bjelica out of the game and soon brought De'Aaron Fox over to take a seat with them. What happened next was a show of two of the team's supposed strengths, depth and versatility, and maybe some resiliency, too.

Bogdan Bogdanovic and Trevor Ariza combined for 20 points in the fourth quarter and Cory Joseph slowed Young enough to help the Kings regain control in a 121-109 victory over the Hawks at State Farm Arena. The three of them played the entire fourth period, mostly with Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes.

"That's why we're always preaching team," Walton said. "It doesn't matter who starts or who finishes. It matters who's out there playing well."

The Kings (3-6) have won three of four going into Tuesday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers (3-6) at Golden 1 Center. New and returning players are getting more familiar with each other and Walton's system. Spacing, pace and movement have improved at the offensive end. Fox, Hield and Bogdanovic are hitting open shots after some early struggles.

 

Walton is finding combinations in his rotation that work. One of those groups features Barnes with Joseph, Bogdanovic, Ariza and Holmes or Dewayne Dedmon. Harry Giles III, who made his season debut against the Hawks, might be a good fit with that unit as well.

The Kings had been outscored 36-28 in the third quarter and 10-3 to start the fourth when Walton went to that group against Atlanta. The move paid off as the Kings bench combined for a season-high 51 points. Fox only logged three minutes in the fourth quarter. Hield and Bjelica didn't play at all. They remained on the sideline, cheering the effort of their teammates.

"We have a lot of guys who can play," Fox said. "The second unit has beaten us in practice a couple of times. They did a great job of closing out that game. Bogi had a hell of a game and Cory was able to control the pace at the end."

The Hawks still shot 68.8% from the field in the fourth quarter, but the Kings made 7 of 9 from 3-point range and converted all five of their free-throw attempts. Bogdanovic and Ariza hit a barrage of 3-point bombs, combining to make 5 of 6 from beyond the arc. Ariza came up with two steals. Young was held to six points after scoring 16 in the third period.

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