By Charlie O. Mallonee
The Sacramento Kings took the floor on Sunday against the Houston Rockets and looked like an entirely different team than the one that lost to Phoenix on Friday. They moved the ball on offense, blocked shots, made steals and played solid defense. The Kings beat the Rockets 106-91 because they played like a different team.
The game came down to the fact that Sacramento’s big three – Cousins, Gay and Thomas outplayed Houston’s big three of Howard, Harden and Parsons. The Kings big three outscored the Rockets big three 66-57.
Rudy Gay had a big game in his Sacramento home court debut. He scored 26 points (14 in the first quarter), shot 50.0% (10-20) from the floor, pulled down 5 rebounds, added four assists, made four steals and had one blocked shot. Yes, Rudy Gay is a difference maker for this Kings team.
DeMarcus Cousins posted a double-double, 21 points and 10 rebounds, despite not scoring his first points until 6:01 in the second quarter. Isaiah Thomas scored 19 points, had eight assists and made two steals in his 41 minutes on the floor.
Dwight Howard scored 13 points for the Rockets. He really hurt his team at the free throw line where shot 5 for 13. “Hack-a-Howard” looks like a solid defensive plan.
Harden put up 25 points and was 3 for 9 from 3-point land. Chandler Parsons recorded 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 40 minutes of playing time.
The Rockets jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead in the first quarter. It looked like Houston might make it an early runaway. Then, Rudy Gay made a steal and a score that led the Kings on a 6-0 run. Gay, in his home debut, kept the Kings in the game with 14 first quarter points. Sacramento needed that from Gay as Cousins was held scoreless in the first period. At the end of one, the game was tied at 28 all.
The second quarter started off with the teams trading easy baskets. Derrick Williams led the Kings early in period and ended the first half with nine points. Isaiah Thomas hit a 3-pointer and was fouled. He hit the free throw for the rare 4-point play. Cousins scored his first points with 6:01 left in the half on a breakaway dunk. Sacramento opened up a 48-38 lead. The Kings also helped themselves from the free throw line. The Kings shot 16 for 19 (84.2%) from the line while Houston went just 10 for 20 (50.0%) from the stripe. Dwight Howard went 3 for 8 for free throws.
At the half, the Kings led the Rockets 57-49. Sacramento held Houston to just 21 points in the second quarter.
James Harden opened up the third quarter with a long 3-pointer. The Kings answered with an “alley oop” from Isaiah Thomas to Rudy Gay. At 10:54, Harden rolled his ankle while driving the lane. He shot two free throws one footed and left the game. The Rockets responded by stepping up their game and cut the Kings lead to one, 61-60. The Kings woke up and started scoring. Dwight Howard continued to kill his team from the charity stripe. Sacramento made steals, blocked shots and make baskets that allowed them to open up a 10 point lead. Harden returned at 5:26 but was obviously not at 100%. The third quarter ended with the Kings leading 81-71.
The Rockets made a mini run to open the fourth quarter cutting the Kings lead to 81-75. Howard continued to shoot poorly from the free throw line. The Kings settled down and opened up a 91-78 lead. Cousins, Thompson and Gay continued to break down the Houston defense and score baskets down low. The Rockets started looking tired, Harden was quiet and the Kings opened up a lead that they would never relinquish. Sacramento won the game 106-91.
After the game, Kings Head Coach Michael Malone said, “I felt better about the defense. We must have had a great film session.” Malone felt his team was ready to play.
Malone also stated, “I want DeMarcus (Cousins) or Rudy (Gay) on the floor at all times. Rudy makes us tougher to guard.”
With his team facing four games in five days on the road, Malone is hoping that the tough road trip will help his team build chemistry.
Note: Quincy Acy saw his first playing time as King versus the Rockets. He played 12 minutes, scored four points, had three rebounds and blocked one shot. Aaron Gray did not play on Sunday, but Malone indicated that Gray would see action on the road trip.