By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–The Kings’ inconsistencies are so far reaching, they intersect with everything the faltering club touches. In this case, the first NBA basket for rookie Neemias Queta was muddied by a dubious footnote.
Queta, the rookie of Portugese decent, who was a standout center for Utah State, was rushed into duty with the Kings missing Richaun Holmes and Damian Jones (COVID protocols) along with Tristan Thompson, a late scratch with a quad issue. That left the Kings with starter Alex Len and an anxious Queta to combat the Cleveland Cavaliers’ imposing front line.
Just 30 seconds after Queta’s first quarter appearance, his nifty, jump hook in the lane gave him his initial points in the NBA. But six seconds later while the Kings’ defense took a pause, the Cavaliers’ Cedi Osman cruised in for an uncontested layup at the other end.
Monday’s fourth quarter was a mixed bag as well with Cleveland riding a 20-5 run to seize control and lead by double-digits only to see the Kings answer with a 9-0 run but come up short when De’Aaron Fox’s shot in the lane was a little long. That conclusion saddled Sacramento with a painful 109-108 loss at Golden 1 Center.
The Kings’ fifth consecutive loss came one night after the team was embarrassed in Portland by the Blazers, who were without their dynamic Lillard/McCollum backcourt. Against the Cavs, the Kings battled, only to come up short at the final horn.
Their biggest issue Monday? A lethargic start in which they missed eight of their first 10 shots and dug themselves a hole they ultimately couldn’t climb out of. But after an uninspiring start–and that issue of getting back on defense after a made basket–the embattled club played hard, and hit difficult shots.
Yes, the inconsistencies. But this time, interim coach Alvin Gentry generally seemed pleased.
“We did all we needed to do to put ourselves in position to win. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump,” Gentry said. “If you tell me that I could get De’Aaron Fox a foul-line jumpshot to win the game, I’ll take that. If we play that way night in and night out, we’ll change the direction of our team.”
The Cavaliers–also on a back-to-back–aren’t inconsistent at all. In fact, as one the league’s hottest teams, they’ve ruled the paint against all their opponents for better than a month. They were the unfortunate opponent for Golden State’s Klay Thompson’s return on Sunday, scoring a season-low 82 points. But the Kings’ porous defense immediately had Cleveland back on track; they scored their first 17 points on Monday in the paint.
Then Kevin Love got hot, pouring in 14 of his 19 points in the first half. The Kings appeared whipped at the break, trailing by 13, and not doing enough to inspire the smallest home gathering of the season.
“We were rebounding the ball, protecting the paint, doing everything that made us a good team, said Jarrett Allen, who finished with 18 points, 17 rebounds for the Cavs. “It was a huge step in the right direction.”
The Kings made it interesting in the second half by hitting 12 of their 14 3-pointers along with some blue collar work on the glass that would yield 15 offensive rebounds. The Cavs did their part in aiding the home team with 17 turnovers.
With Fox clearly laboring, likely due to a shoulder issue he’s battled, the Kings got scoring from Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. Haliburton’s three with 7:51 remaining extended the Kings only lead of significance to 94-89.
But the ensuing Cleveland run sealed it. Laurie Markkanen’s three with 2:34 remaining put the Cavs up 109-99.
Haliburton led the Kings with 21 points, 8 assists. Hield contributed 19 points while connecting of five of his eight 3-point attempts. Four other Kings scored in double figures, and Queta added 11 points, five rebounds in a career-high 24 minutes.
The Kings continue their five-game home stand on Wednesday when the Lakers visit, this time likely with the streaking LeBron James in tow. James has scored at least 30 points in 10 of his previous 11 games, with the exception being a 26-point, 7-rebound effort in a 108-103 win over Minnesota.