The Houston Rockets pounced on the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night and they did so early. The Kings allowed the Rockets to score 20 of their first 42 points in the paint, en route to a 129-103 loss at Sleep Train Arena.
“More than the defense, I’m more concerned about the lack of effort to start the game,” Kings head coach Michael Malone said after the loss. “We haven’t done that in a long time, so I’m hoping that it’s just a blip on the radar, if you will, (and) we’ll get back at it in L.A. Friday night.
“Losing, missing shots, making mistakes, is one thing,” Malone added. “But a lack of effort and a lack of trying we showed in the first quarter, that’s what is concerning.”
The Kings were caught on their heels, reeling from James Harden‘s best scoring performance of the season. The Rockets starting shooting guard scored a season-high 43 points on 11-of-20 shooting in just three quarters of action. It was Harden’s first 40-plus point effort of the season and the fourth such game of his career.
“For us to come out here after two solid wins, having played very good defense, not ready to play – I can’t put my finger on it,” Malone said when asked about the root of Tuesday’s lackadaisical effort to start the game. “I don’t know why we did that. I know that it’s not acceptable. I will watch it and we’ll work on it tomorrow and we’ll get ready for our next game.”
In the midst of Tuesday’s blowout, DeMarcus Cousins was unable to hide his frustration. With the Kings trailing nearly 20 points, the Kings starting center lost his cool in the period after halftime. Cousins ire with Courtney Kirkland reached its tipping point following a foul call on Dwight Howard at the 10:12 mark of the third quarter. Malone tried arguing on Cousins’ behalf only to see the 23-year-old center lose his temper, draw his 14th and 15th technicals and first ejection of the season.
“He was very frustrated,” teammate Isaiah Thomas said of Cousins, who is now one technical foul away from receiving an automatic suspension. “I think he got a few calls that were a few questionable calls and he was just frustrated. He knows he can’t act like that, but at the same time I can’t blame him.”
Rudy Gay was the only King who showed up to play Tuesday. The Kings starting small forward scored a team-high 25 points on an efficient 10-of-16 shooting from the field.
The Kings’ largest defeat of the season comes following news of a buyout of Jimmer Fredette. The third-year guard was not in the building for tonight’s game and is expected to have his release finalized tomorrow morning. With Fredette’s imminent departure, the Kings plan to sign guard Orlando Johnson, who was cut last week by the Indiana Pacers.
The Kings fall to 20-37 overall and 12-18 at home. They have the next two days off before heading south to take on the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Friday.
Notes and Analysis
- James Harden destroyed the Kings at Sleep Train Arena on Tuesday. After single-handedly outscoring Sacramento 22-17 in the first quarter, he continued his assault on rookie Ben McLemore until the late third period when Kevin McHale asked him to politely go sit on the Rockets bench. Harden finished with 43 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field, 6-of-9 from 3-point land and 15-of-16 from the line in just 31 minutes. His 43 points were just three points shy of his career-high of 46.
- DeMarcus Cousins looked embarrassed in the second quarter and tried to bring the Kings back in this one. He finished the half with 16 points and five rebounds, but melted down in serious fashion early in the third. At the 8:21 mark, with the Kings huddled for a time out, Michael Malone and referee Courtney Kirkland got into a heated discussion. Fighting through Corliss Williamson, Cousins added his opinion to the discussion and picked up his 15th technical of the season and an early trip to the showers.
- Rudy Gay tried to pick up the slack for Cousins, finishing with 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Gay added six assists, three rebounds, two steals and a block in 24 minutes of action.
- Ben McLemore’s 15-point, four steal night is incredibly deceiving. The rookie shot just 4-of-16 from the field, including 1-for-7 from 3-point range and most of his points came in garbage time. McLemore was also the guy not guarding Harden for most of the game.
- Isaiah Thomas struggled to get things going with Patrick Beverley draped all over him. He finished with 12 points, five assists and three steals in 34 minutes but shot just 4-for-14 from the field. After finishing with a combined 92 points last time out, the Kings big three scored just 53 in tonight’s drubbing by the Rockets.
- Derrick Williams came off the Kings bench to score in double-figures. The 23-year old wing grabbed four rebounds 23 minutes and was a perfect 6-for-6 from the line.
- Stat of the Night: Harden outscored the Kings 22-17 in the first quarter.
Quote of the Night
Kings coach Michael Malone on leaving Cousins’ ejection:
“It’s disappointing. To be honest, I’m more disappointed in how we played than any individual. Do I condone his actions? Not at all. Does he have to handle himself better? Sure he does. But, for us to come out and play the way that we did in the first quarter was unacceptable. You can have bad games and off nights at times, but the one constant that should never be questioned is your effort. For us to allow them to come out and score 42 points with 18 fastbreak points in the first quarter—that’s just crazy. At least we competed after that. The second quarter was better and the third and fourth were okay. That’s the best team in the NBA right now, since January 1. We allowed them to come in here and establish their dominance very early in the game.”
Video shot and edited by Tobin Halsey.