SACRAMENTO, Calif. — George Karl has been a winner at virtually every stop during his illustrious 25-year NBA coaching career. He found a way to win again Friday night in his return to the NBA with the Sacramento Kings.
Center DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 15 rebounds, leading Sacramento to a 109-101 victory over the Boston Celtics in Karl’s debut with the Kings. Small forward Rudy Gay added 28 points for the Kings, who overcame a 16-point first-quarter deficit to win despite committing 24 turnovers.
Point guard Avery Bradley scored 28 points to lead four players who scored in double figures for Boston. Center Tyler Zeller scored 22 points.
Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, touched on his emotions after the game.
“I’ve been very emotional most of the day,” he said. “I’ve been very nervous. You start thinking, ‘Can you do this?’ It’s going to be a great challenge. I love the challenge, but I’ve got to be good, too. When they got that big lead, I kind of got punched a little bit. I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do here?'”
The Kings hired Karl during the All-Star break, signing him to a four-year, $15 million deal. Karl replaced Tyrone Corbin, who went 7-21 after taking over for Michael Malone in December.
Karl came into the game sixth on the NBA’s all-time list with 1,131 coaching victories, trailing only Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkins, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Karl guided his teams to the playoffs 22 times in 25 seasons. His resume includes one trip to the NBA Finals with the Seattle SuperSonics and nine consecutive postseason appearances with the Denver Nuggets, who fired him after he led the team to a 57-25 record and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2012-13.
Karl, who has a history of turning around struggling teams, smiled and waved to the crowd while receiving a rousing standing ovation before the game. He grimaced and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as his team committed six turnovers in the first four minutes. The Celtics turned those turnovers into easy baskets, racing out to a 16-2 lead.
“The turnovers hurt us and the pick-and-roll defense was probably too soft,” Karl said. “That was one me. I wanted to switch on their pick and rolls a little bit, and when we went away from that our defense got much better.”
The Celtics went up 27-11 on a jumper by Bradley, but the Kings rallied furiously behind their reserves, ending the quarter with a 17-0 run to take a 28-27 lead on a dunk by small forward Omri Casspi with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“Our second unit was great,” Karl said. “They came in with energy and they came in with confidence, and that has not been their personality all year.”
Bradley agreed, saying the Kings got a spark from their bench.
“Once their second unit came in, they made a run,” he said. “We weren’t getting back and they were getting easy buckets.”
The Kings took a 40-33 lead on a layup by Cousins with 8:34 to go in the second quarter. Boston tied the game at 40 on two free throws by Zeller, but a 3-pointer by Gay capped a 10-0 run that put the Kings up 50-40.
Sacramento led 56-51 at the break. The Celtics cut the deficit to 58-57 on a layup by guard Marcus Smart early in the third quarter, but the Kings regained control, going ahead 74-66 when Cousins dunked emphatically in the face of Celtics center Jae Crowder with 3:24 to go.
The Kings took an 82-74 lead into the fourth quarter. The Celtics stormed back to take a 90-89 lead on a 3-point play by Zeller with 6:46 to play, but the Kings quickly reclaimed the lead and held on in the final minutes.
“It’s good to get a win,” Gay said. “We felt energized. I feel energized now knowing we got a win and we’re buying into the system.”
NOTES: Boston PG Isaiah Thomas, acquired from the Suns in a four-team deal at the trade deadline, did not join the Celtics in Sacramento. Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points per game for the Kings last season, could make his Celtics debut against the Lakers on Sunday. … Celtics F Jared Sullinger (14.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is out indefinitely with a stress reaction to the fourth metatarsal in his left foot. … Kings PG Darren Collison missed his fifth consecutive game with a right hip flexor strain. … PG Andre Miller suited up for Sacramento a day after the Kings acquired him from Washington in a trade for PG Ramon Sessions. … The Kings signed G David Stockton to a 10-day contract. Stockton, the son of Hall of Famer John Stockton, averaged 16.6 points and 7.9 assists in 31 games for the Reno Bighorns, Sacramento’s NBA D-League affiliate.
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