By Charlie O. Mallonee
The Cleveland Cavaliers – featuring “King” LeBron James – rolled into Sacramento on Wednesday to kick off a four-game West Coast swing. If you are a Cavs fan, you were very pleased with the result as Cleveland (45-18) downed the Kings 120 – 111.
The surprise may have been that James was not the star of the game. Kyrie Irving took that role as he scored 30 points shooting 11-for-22 from the floor including three 3-point baskets. Irving hit on five of six tries from the free throw line. He was literally at the right place at the right time for the Cavs for the entire game.
It was a hard fought contest that featured eight lead changes and eight ties. The Kings led at halftime 60 – 54. Then came the third quarter and one of the Kings dreaded “black holes”.
Cleveland outscored the Kings 35 – 24 in the third period. The Cavs shot 13-for-20 from the floor and hit on five of eight 3-point attempts. They out rebounded the Kings 11 – 7. The quarter ended with Cleveland leading 89 – 84 and they would never look back.
The Kings (25-38) put up a good fight in the fourth quarter and cut the Cleveland lead to three points with 2:37 remaining in the game. The Cavs used their offensive rebounding ability to get second and third chance shots to run away with the game.
The Kings were led by DeMarcus Cousins’ 29 points. The Kings big man had to fight for those points as he shot just 8-for-22 from the floor. He struggled from the free throw line going 12-for-18 from the stripe. Cousins missed the front end of a two shot opportunity from line five times in the second half. It was another double-double game for Cousins as he pulled down 11 rebounds.
Rudy Gay had a good night for Sacramento scoring 19 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out three assist in 41-minutes of playing time.
Darren Collison started in the place of the injured Ben McLemore and scored 15 points. Collison alternated with Rondo on the point and distributed eight assists and added two steals.
Rajon Rondo did not have a great night for the Kings. He scored 11 points and had six assists but seemed frustrated all night long by the defense of Irving and JR Smith.
Omri Casspi scored 13 points while Caron Butler added seven, Kosta Koufos five and Willie Cauley-Stein four points.
Sacramento shot 47.6-percent (40-for-84) from the field and hit eight of 22 (36.4-percent) of their 3-point shots. The Kings struggled from the free throw line making just 23 of 32 opportunities (71.9-percent) from the charity line.
The Kings were out rebounded 51 – 38. They gave up 15 offensive rebounds to the Cavs. That is just too many second-chance opportunities to give a team as powerful as Cleveland.
Turnovers were not a problem for Sacramento. The Kings gave up just six points off 10 turnovers in the game.
Kyrie Irving had plenty of help on his way to a 30 – point night. All five of the Cleveland starters finished in double digits.
James scored 25 points. Tristan Thompson – who started for the ill Timofey Mazgov – put up 18 points and added 15 rebounds. Kevin Love scored 17 points despite shooting just 4-for-13 from the floor. JR Smith added 15 points.
The Cavs shot 43.3-percent (39-for-90) for the game. They went 13-for-44 from beyond the 3-point line. Cleveland took advantage of their opportunities from the free throw line converting 29 of 35 opportunities.
The Cavaliers turned the ball over 14 times which resulted in nine points for the Kings.
What they said after the game
“We play good teams. We do a lot of good things for extended periods of time then we hit a black hole or it seems like we run short,” said Kings head coach George Karl. “They didn’t miss a lot of shots, even in the fourth quarter, but it was the offensive rebounds, scramble situations where we didn’t come up for the loose balls. It’s kind of frustrating. We’re playing pretty damn good basketball at times; (we) just don’t have that edge or that finishing way of winning a game against them.”
“Well coming into the game we said we want to play with pace but we know this team plays at a great pace,” said Cleveland head man Tyronn Lue. “Number one in pace. I think second in fast break points so we don’t want to get out there and get wild. I think the team kind of misunderstood what I was saying so in the third quarter we want to play at our pace. We want to attack downhill. We want to get easy open three’s. We want to get to the basket. If we don’t have it, then pull it out and run something. I thought in that third quarter they scored but we were able to score also. We scored fast.”
The Kings will practice on Thursday and return to action on Friday night when they host the Orlando Magic in Sacramento.
Cleveland travels to Los Angeles where they will face the Lakers on Thursday night. That will be the second game of the doubleheader on TNT.