Sacramento Kings’ second-half struggles against Milwaukee Bucks limit rest for starters

Isaiah Thomas fumbles the ball against the Milwaukee Bucks. (Photo: Kimani David)

The final box score of yesterday’s game at Sleep Train Arena says that the Sacramento Kings blew out the Milwaukee Bucks. But Sunday’s 124-107 victory for the Kings didn’t have the feel of an easy win for head coach Michael Malone and his players.

Following a stellar first half in which they limited the Bucks to just 44 points and 35 percent shooting, the Kings came unhinged after halftime. Sacramento let Milwaukee score 63 points and shoot better than 60 percent from the field in the third and fourth periods combined.

Their ineffective play after halftime forced Malone’s hand. Even though their lead continued to be above or around 20 points, the Kings head coach stuck with most of his starters for much of the second half.

“Guys on the bench have to be ready to play,” Malone said after Sunday’s game. “I didn’t think our bench gave us a whole lot tonight. You’re up by 40 points at one point and then you look up and it’s lay-up, lay-up, lay-up and then they’re slowly creeping back into the game.

“I got Royce (White) in real late (and) I felt bad that I had Isaiah (Thomas) and Rudy (Gay) out there as late as I did,” Malone added. “But the flow of the game dictates who’s in the game and who you’re going to play, so I just felt comfortable keeping those guys in.”

Thomas played nearly 37 minutes while Gay played 41. The Kings starting point guard and small forward each logged 35-plus-minute games because the play of the reserves didn’t inspire much confidence in Malone. In 11 minutes, Ray McCallum finished a disappointing 1-of-4 from the field with just two points. Likewise, Derrick Williams failed to make much of an impact, finishing with only two points on two free throws in 24 minutes of action.

Though Malone turned to Thomas and Gay to carry the Kings in the fourth quarter, he gave DeMarcus Cousins the rest of the game off following the third. Cousins sat the entire final period of regulation after dominating the Bucks with a healthy 32 points and 12 rebounds through the game’s first three quarters.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to, but I wasn’t going to wait for it to be a two-point game to get him back in,” Malone said when asked if he had thought of sending Cousins back onto the court in the fourth quarter. “If it would’ve gotten there, I definitely would’ve put him back in if I had to, but it never got to that point.”

An early blowout like yesterday’s game ideally leads to extended minutes for young players like White. Unfortunately, the Kings’ performance in the second half prevented White, who played just 48 seconds in his second career contest, from seeing more time on the floor.

“There was a stretch in that fourth we did not get a stop,” Cousins said. “So even when we do have a large lead the way we did tonight, it doesn’t mean we can’t continue to do the right thing and take the right steps in the game to become a better team. I don’t think we did that to end that game.”

Sunday’s blowout win was an aberration for a team that just has 25 victories this season. In fact, the Kings have won only 10 games this season by 15 points or more. However, the franchise’s starting point guard doesn’t believe that their inexperience with success is a reason to blame for their poor showing in the final two quarters of yesterday’s win.

“You can’t use that as an excuse,” Thomas said after the victory. “You just gotta go out there and play basketball. Start of the fourth quarter, coach said, ‘Play to win. Play aggressive, play the same way and get stops.’ On offense, we did that, but (on) defense it was embarrassing in that fourth quarter. They got whatever they wanted.”


Jonathan Santiago
Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.

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