By Charlie O. Mallonee
The Sacramento Kings lost a winnable game in Houston on Saturday night 120-113. It was game that featured some boring play in the first half and uptempo play in the second half. The game turned into a true seesaw battle until the final two minutes of play.
It was a two-point game with 3:11 left to go in the game. DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay were playing with five personal fouls each. Cousins fouled out with 2:14 remaining in the contest. The Rockets responded by hitting 3-point baskets and converting opportunities at the free throw line. In the end, the Kings could only commit fouls and pray for Houston misses which did not happen. The game ended with the Rockets on top 120-113.
The Kings started the game with their 12th different starting lineup of the season due to the loss of Willie Cauley-Stein to injury (dislocated index finger) for the next four to six weeks. Rudy Gay moved to the power forward position and Omri Casspi started at small forward.
Sacramento fell behind quickly in the first quarter shooting an appalling 36.8-percent from the field and going 0-5 for 3-point attempts. The Kings were also hampered by personal fouls. Gay and Cousins both picked two personals in the first period and had spend time on the bench. The Rockets shot just 41.7-percent from the floor but hit on 4-of-12 3-point attemps which helped them establish a 29-16 lead after one quarter of play.
Things turned around for the Kings in the second quarter. Ben McLemore led the attack with 11 points and Omri Casspi added seven points. Sacramento also made 4-of-9 shots from behind the 3-point line. Houston was unable to put together any scoring runs and watched as the Kings outscored them 34-23 in the quarter. The Rockets led the game 52-50 at the half.
Both teams looked like different squads coming out of halftime DeMarcus Cousins had to spend considerable time on the bench after committing his fourth foul. The Kings caught fire shooting 70-percent (14-for-20) from the floor. Rajon Rondo (8), Ben McLemore (6), Kosta Koufos (6) and Darren Collison (5) led the charge for Sacramento. The Rockets shot 58.8-percent behind the scoring of James Harden (10) and Dwight Howard (9). The third quarter ended with the Kings leading the game 85-84.
Ben McLemore had a breakout game against the Rockets. He scored 19 points hitting on 8-of-14 shots including four successful 3-point attempts. McLemore added nine rebounds, three steals, two assists and one block to his box score. Several times in the flow of the game McLemore was the spark plug that kept the Kings charge going.
Rajon Rondo had another double-double night dishing out 19 assists to go with 13 points. Rondo also recorded four steals. It was the 11th game of the season where Rondo posted 10 or more assists.
Darren Collison came of the bench and scored 18 points in just 21 minutes on the floor. He was an impressive 4-for-6 from 3-point land. Collison also added six assists.
DeMarcus Cousins was hampered by foul trouble the entire game but also just seemed out of sorts throughout the contest. The Kings center scored just 14 points and pulled down 9 rebounds. Cousins shot just 4-for-16 and was 0-for-3 for 3-point attempts.
Rudy Gay also had to deal with foul trouble but scored 15 points. He was 6-for-12 shooting from the floor.
Sacramento had solid team numbers for the game. The Kings shot 46.9-percent (46-for-98) overall and 38.5-percent (10-for-26) from 3-point range. They converted 11 of 13 free throw opportunities.
The Kings out-rebounded the Rockets 47-43. Sacramento won the battle of the paint scoring 56 points to just 36 for Houston.
Sacramento recorded 35 assists and turned the ball over just 13 times.
James Harden led the Rockets scoring attack with 31 points. Harden shot 6-for-14 from the floor and hit on 5-of-6 3-point attempts. He also had nine assists for Houston.
Dwight Howard had a double-double game scoring 22 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. When the Kings employed the “hack-a-Howard” strategy, Howard responded by making 8-of-14 free throws.
Terrence Jones scored 16 points off the bench to join Trevor Ariza (14) and Patrick Beverley (14) in double figures.
Two stats tell the story of the Houston victory over the Kings. The Rockets were successful on 16-of-34 3-point attempts, and they went 32-for-43 from the free throw line. In the end, it was too many 3-point baskets and too many free throws that caused the Kings to lose the game.
What they said after the game
“It was a frustrating game and the free throws … trying to fight through a tough whistle is … I thought we did a great job. I was proud of how they fought. I was proud of how well we played. We got off to a bad start. I thought our bench came in and gave us a big lift. You know we had foul trouble. Everybody kind of gave us something but we ran out of gas in last four or five minutes,” said Kings head coach George Karl after the game.
When asked to analyze Cousin’s performance, Karl said, “I think his jumper is a little rusty from being out for a little bit. I think the foul trouble bothers me. Inconsistent type of rhythm that comes with not being in your normal routine, normal minutes. You know he’s playing against a pretty damned good center. (Dwight) Howard is a pretty respectful dude.
The Kings headed right to the airport and flew to Oklahoma City where they will play the Thunder (11-8) on Sunday afternoon. OKC is a tough back-to-back on the road opponent.
The Rockets hit the road and will play the Nets in Brooklyn on Tuesday. Houston will visit Sacramento on December 15.