Kings’ big, fourth quarter run goes for naught in narrow, home loss to the Heat

January 5, 2017

NBA, Sacramento Kings

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By Morris Phillips

SACRAMENTO–Winning in Denver on Tuesday night was a huge step forward for the playoff-hopeful Kings.

Losing at home to the lowly Heat 24 hours later was a sobering step back.

“We came out and they were more aggressive, and put up 64 points in the first half. That stuff can’t happen,” a disappointed Kings’ coach Dave Joerger admitted following a 107-102 loss in which the Kings’ huge fourth quarter comeback ultimately was too little, and not late enough.

With still more than half the season remaining, the Kings are still a long way off from ending their lengthy, playoff drought.  But a look at the standings doesn’t help temper expectations where the Kings are currently matched with the high-flying Warriors in a first-round series were the season to conveniently end today.

But lengthy NBA seasons are anything but convenient, starting with back-to-back sets with travel in between. Both the Kings and Heat were put in that situation on Wednesday, and when the ball was tipped at 7:35pm at Golden 1 Arena, the Heat were not surprisingly energized, while the Kings appeared burdened.

It didn’t take long for the scoreboard to reflect the collective mindsets of the two clubs, as the Heat responded to an early deficit with a 10-0 run to lead after a quarter, then briefly extend that lead to double-digits in the second.

If the Heat’s energy wasn’t the wake up call the Kings needed, it really showed in the two minutes after halftime when the Heat extended their lead to 13.

“Miami has always been a team and franchise that takes pride in playing great from top to bottom no matter if they have superstar talent or low-level players,” Aaron Afflalo said.

And the Kings?  Prideful as well, but on Wednesday–down 13 at home to a Heat team 15 games below .500 and missing injured center Hassan Whiteside –still eight minutes on the game clock away from fashioning a response.

Down 87-70 late in the third, the Kings 23-2 run gave them a 93-89 lead with 7:35 remaining.  With generous help from the bench trio of Anthony Tolliver, Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple and Afflalo, the Kings crawled back.

Only the final basket of the massive run belonged to Kings’ leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins,  who returned to the game just a minute earlier, rested for the game’s stretch run.  But Wednesday was not Cousins night,  and perhaps a painful counter to all those nights this season where Cousins was the Kings’ only force, the high-scoring center may have held his team back against the Heat.

In the final seven minutes, Cousins missed three of his four shot attempts, and missed one of two free throws that would have given the Kings the lead with 1:15 remaining.

Instead the Heat would score the game’s final five points, Cousins would miss a driving layup with 20 seconds to go, and the Kings failed to win a winnable game.

Cousins stat line said it all: 4 for 15 from the field, 13 points,  and a telling -27 on the plus/minus column.

“Basically half our team was on him.  We limited his catches in his sweet spots,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, explaining their strategy against the Kings’ star in the absence of Whiteside.

6’8″ James Johnson may have been the most effective of the Heat defenders, using his bulk to battle the taller Cousins.  But the beauty of Cousins’ game is he’s normally too quick for taller defenders, and too stout for shorter defenders, just not on Wednesday.

“This was a winnable game.  No excuses,” Cousins admitted.

NOTES: The Kings fell to 15-20 with the loss, the first of six consecutive home games.  The Kings will face the Clippers on Friday,  get their first look at the Warriors on Sunday, and also see LeBron and the Cavs, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on the homestand.  Rudy Gay again was not available due to injury.

 

 

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