By Charlie O. Mallonee
Sacramento – The Sacramento Kings fell into one of the dreaded “black holes” that George Karl has talked about all season on Sunday. The problem for the Kings was the “black hole” did not last for five to eight possessions as usual. This “black hole” lasted for 24 minutes or the entire first half of the game.
The Kings – who never had a lead in the game – fell behind by 23 points in the opening half. Sacramento lacked energy and defensive effort and Utah took advantage of the situation. The Jazz shot 59.0-percent from the floor in the first half and went 8-for-14 (57.1-percent) from beyond the 3-point line. Sacramento appeared to be victims of the change to Daylight Savings Time, but the situation was not that simplistic.
Karl even went to a different rotation of Gay, Cauley-Stein, Cousins, Curry and Rondo in order find some defense to start the third quarter, and it worked. In fact, Karl stated it may have been the best second half defensive performance of the season from his team.
The Kings held the Jazz to 47 points in the second half. Sacramento outscored Utah 54-47 for the half, but Kings had dug a hole for themselves in the first half that was ultimately too deep to climb out of in the final 24.
Sacramento cut the Utah lead to just five points with 23.1 seconds left in the game. They just ran out of time to get enough possessions to overcome the Utah lead and the Kings lost the game 108-99.
It was the second consecutive win for the Jazz (31-35) who beat Washington at home on Friday night. Utah came into the game in ninth place in the Western Conference two games behind Houston and Dallas for the eighth and final playoff slot. The victory on Sunday really helped the Jazz to keep their playoff dreams alive.
The Kings (25-40) have lost five games in a row and have lost six straight at home. Mathematically, the Kings still have a chance at the playoffs. Realistically, the Kings have no shot at the playoffs.
The Kings were led by DeMarcus Cousins who scored a game-high 31 points in return from his one-game suspension. It was a double-double game for Cousins who recorded 10 rebounds and five assists. He converted 8-of-11 free throw opportunities.
Omri Casspi provided some real punch off the bench scoring 20 points in just 26 minutes of playing time. Casspi shot 8-for-12 from the floor and went 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line.
Darren Collison scored 14 points in a starting role while Cauley-Stein scored 10, Rondo 7, Gay 6, Curry 5, Koufos 4 and Acy 2. Marco Belinelli had a five-game streak of scoring in double figures broken as he scored no points in 11 minutes on floor.
As a team, the Kings shot 46.9-percent from the floor and were a respectable 9-for-21 (42.9-percent) from 3-point land. The team struggled at the free throw line hitting on just 14-of-21 attempts (66.7-percent). Sacramento turned the ball over 12 times giving up 22 points on those miscues.
The Kings were outrebounded 47-36.
Derrick Favors (28) and Gordon Hayward (27) led the Jazz scoring effort. Favors shot 10-for-16 from the floor to go with 14 rebounds. Hayward shot 9-for-19 from the field including four 3-point baskets.
Shelvin Mack had a strong game at point guard scoring 14 points and dishing out eight assists. Mack shot 5-for-11 overall and 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
The Jazz shot 47.6-percent from the floor and hit on 12-of-28 3-point opportunities. Utah really helped themselves at the free throw line going 18-for-22 (81.8-percent). The Jazz turned the ball over 16 times giving up a total of 16 points due to those mistakes.
What they said after the game
DeMarcus Cousins spoke the press after the game and allowed his teammates the opportunity to quietly slip out of the locker room. It was also the first time Cousins faced the press since serving his one-game suspension.
When asked to describe the game, Cousins replied, “Terrible first half and better second half.”
Cousins was asked where he is mentally after the suspension and he said, “I’m here.”
The Kings center responded to being asked to evaluate the last seven weeks for the team by saying, “It is the level of fight. There’s a lot of frustration in this locker room. I believe everyone believes that we should be a lot better than we are. We’re just frustrated that we’re not. We haven’t performed to the level of expectations so it’s a lot of frustration with that.”
Cousins also talked about his suspension. He feels that it was a coach’s suspension not a suspension generated by the organization. Cousins feels there is a big difference between the two.
The Kings will travel to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Tuesday night. It will be the last time they face Kobe Bryant as an active player. The Lakers game is the front end of a back-to-back that will be completed on Wednesday night in Sacramento when the New Orleans Pelicans visit Sleep Train Arena.
Utah returned home after the game and will host King James and the Cavaliers on Monday night in Salt Lake City.