by Jonathan Santiago & James Ham

Recap

Box Score

 
It’s a small sample size, but the returns so far on Rudy Gay have been strong. Making his home debut at Sleep Train Arena, Gay scored 26 points on 10-of-20 shooting to lead the Sacramento Kings to a 106-91 victory over the visiting Houston Rockets.

“Still learning,” Gay said when asked how comfortable he’s getting with his new team.  “We got a great win today, but we’re still learning.  Learning how to play with each other and learning how to play off of each other.  We played well tonight, made the right basketball plays and played hard.”

Before being traded to the Kings, Gay was shooting a career-low 39.8 percent from the field this season. In two games with the Kings, the 27-year-old small forward has shot an efficient 56.3 percent from the field on 32 shots.

Kings coach Michael Malone went small and staggered his rotation in today’s victory. At various points in the game, Malone went to lineup combinations featuring both starters and reserves.

The strategy proved successful, allowing Gay and starting point guard Isaiah Thomas to put together productive efforts in big minutes. Gay and Thomas both played well over 35 minutes in the 15-point win.

“Part of it is that I want to have DeMarcus Cousins or Rudy Gay on the floor at all times,” Malone said postgame of staggering his rotation on Sunday.  ”Those are our two main go-to guys and Isaiah Thomas is going to be leading the league in minutes played after this season.”

Quincy Acy, who Sacramento also acquired in the trade with Toronto, enjoyed his first time on the court as a King. The Rockets’ decision to play small enabled Malone to use Acy, who totaled just four points and two rebounds but brought energy to the floor during his brief stint on the court.

The Rockets were paced by All-Star shooting guard James Harden. The 24-year-old veteran scored 25 points in 33 minutes, but left the game late in the fourth period. Harden sustained a left-ankle injury early in the third period, limiting him to just eight points in the second half.

Foul trouble limited Dwight Howard from being effective for the Rockets. The former Defensive Player of the Year scored just 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the loss.

The victory brings the Kings’ record overall to 7-15 and 5-9 at Sleep Train Arena. The Kings now embark on their first lengthy road trip of the season. They take on the Charlotte Bobcats in the first of a four-game Eastern Conference trip on Tuesday.

Notes and Analysis

  • Welcome to Sacramento Rudy Gay. The newly acquired small forward did not disappoint in his Kings’ home debut.  He finished with a team-high 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting. Gay also added five rebounds, four assists, four steals and a block in 39 minutes. Beyond the points, there was a moment early in the game when the Kings were playing without energy. Gay went in high for a rebound and instantly broke out of the pack, hitting Jason Thompson on the fly for a dunk on the other end. Adding a third scorer is nice, but adding a leader is even better.
  • DeMarcus Cousins won the battle of the bigs tonight against Dwight Howard. Like Gay, Cousins stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in 32 minutes. The Kings are developing a very nice big three.
  • Coach Michael Malone has asked Isaiah Thomas to get his teammates going first and tonight, that is exactly what we saw. Thomas finished the first half with 11 points on 3-for-3 shooting and three assists. He ended the game with 19 points, eight assists and two steals. Malone was clear after the win that Thomas is going to play the bulk of the point guard minutes going forward, even mentioning that he may lead the league in playing time before it is all said and done. After two seasons of yo-yo action, Thomas is just fine with that.
  • The Kings are looking for someone to step forward off the bench and it is looking more and more like that player is Derrick Williams. The 22-year old high-flyer finished with 11 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of play. He is going to get plenty of opportunity as the reserve forward on this team.
  • Travis Outlaw played an uncharacteristically high 30 minutes tonight, including some time at the two, three and four. The results don’t jump out at you – eight points and seven rebounds, but the Kings won and Outlaw was part of that win.
  • Ben McLemore is struggling. As is Marcus Thornton. The Kings are searching for answers at shooting guard and after tonight, I’m not sure where Malone will turn next. Against some teams, we will probably see Gay pick up a few minutes and even Outlaw again, but these aren’t really long-term solutions. Sacramento needs McLemore and Thornton to get better and to do it quickly.
  • Malone needs more nights like tonight from Jason Thompson. The Kings starting power forward finished with nine points, five rebounds and two huge blocks against Omri Casspi in 23 minutes of action. With Williams and now Acy breathing down his neck for minutes, Thompson ran the floor and finished strong on the break. He had instant chemistry with Gay and the results were solid.
  • Stat of the Night: Gay has scored a combined 50 points on 56-percent shooting in his first two games as a Sacramento King.

Quote of the Game

Michael Malone on the Kings’ defensive effort:

“I feel a lot better than I did the last two games. It must’ve been a great film session yesterday. My challenge to  our guys was that we had two games where gave up over 50 from the field and from the three—we can’t beat anybody like that. We each have to look in the mirror and be embarrassed about it, but also have more pride defensively. Tonight we did a great job holding a team that averages 107 to only 91 points. We held them to low 40s from the field. It was a very good defensive effort all around. When we defend like that, we become a much better offensive team and a very tough team to beat.”

Video shot and edited by Kimani David.