Kings 106, Rockets 113: Another One Bites the Dust in Crunch Time

March 26, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts after a call in overtime against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. The Rockets won 113-106. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

For the third game in a row, the Kings had a chance to win late, but could not take advantage. Houston would go on to beat the Kings in Overtime after Marcus Thornton's three point attempt at the end of regulation came up short.

Unlike the previous two losses, the Kings started out this one with a commanding lead that they then saw vanish over the next few periods. DeMarcus Cousins, a monster all night, got going quickly and the Kings jumped out a 26-10 lead late in the first. Houston chipped away the rest of the night though and eventually ended up outplaying and outworking the Kings on both ends of the floor.

7 of the 9 Houston Rockets players that played scored in double digits, led by Patrick Patterson's 24 (on 10-16 shooting). Patterson was the hero for Houston, as he hit the game tying jumper to send it Overtime and played very good defense on Cousins down the stretch. Patterson really got going in the 4th quarter, where he scored 12 of his points with an array of putbacks and mid-range jumpers. Luis Scola also came up big with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists in just 35 minutes. Goran Dragic, starting for the injured Kyle Lowry, also had a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists.

Sacramento's scoring was much less balanced, led by a monstrous performance by DeMarcus Cousins. DMC, who played 50 minutes and only picked up 4 fouls, scored a career-high 38 points (on 15-26 from the field) to go with 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block. Marcus Thornton was the other big scorer for Sacramento, finishing with 27 points. Tyreke Evans (12) and Terrence Williams (10) were the only other Kings in double digits.

Jason Thompson missed his second straight game due to a sprained ankle, so Donté Greene once again started in his place. John Salmons played just three minutes thanks to a hip injury suffered in the game. Keith Smart went with a very tight rotation from then on, with only 7 players playing significant minutes.

This was the first game in a while that the Kings didn't have at least 20 assists, going for just 17 to 17 turnovers, not a good ratio, particularly with how well the team had been playing. I believe a lot of the problems offensively tonight, particularly late, were because the Kings regressed back to the isolation type of basketball that absolutely kills their offensive flow. Isaiah Thomas, the sparkplug responsible for getting the Kings into their offense, had perhaps his worst game as a starter, with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists, but going just 3-13 from the field. Tyreke Evans had 5 assists himself, but also 5 turnovers (DeMarcus had 5 turnovers as well). Evans did finish with a career-high 6 steals though.

The bench was a huge factor in the game. Sacramento's bench scored just 13 points, mostly by Terrence Williams, while Houston's chipped in 47. Along with Patterson, Chase Budinger and Earl Boykins came in to provide a bit of a scoring punch. Marcus Camby didn't score much, but he was able to block a few shots and provide an intimidating presence in the middle for a Kings team that loves to attack inside. Sacramento still scored a lot of points in the paint (60) but their streak of three games with 70+ points in the paint was broken.

Houston made their comeback halfway through the third quarter. Up until that point the Kings were doing a good job of keeping Houston at bay with about a 9 point cushion. The Rockets proceeded to go on an 8-0 run though, and it was a new ballgame. By the end of the third quarter, the Kings 16 point first quarter lead had been cut to just 1.

The 4th quarter saw the Kings get the jump on Houston by feeding the ball back to DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins scored 7 of the Kings first 9 points as the Kings went on a 9-2 run to begin the quarter. It was exactly the start the Kings needed. Cousins and Terrence Williams carried the Kings through the first half of the final period. Williams came in and provided nice energy and some good shooting. He hit his first two three pointers (before missing his next two) and also a layup and a mid-range jumper. I've heard a lot about his inconsistent shooting, but he looks to have nice form and is definitely playing his way into the rotation.

After DeMarcus scored yet again on a drive to the hoop midway through the quarter to put Sacramento up by 8, Houston called a timeout and came out of it with renewed focus. Houston went on a 9-0 run, led by Scola, Patterson and Dragic. At the 3:34 mark, Patterson put back his own miss to give Houston their first lead since the start of the game. Terrence answered right back by attacking the basket, but Chandler Parson got by him on the other end for a short jumper. Parsons had an excellent all-around game, scoring 16 points to go with 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.

The Kings got a little bit of tunnel vision from here on out. Terrence Williams shot a three instead of feeding the ball in low to DeMarcus and missed. The Kings got the rebound but Courtney Lee blocked Marcus Thornton's putback attempt. On the other end, DeMarcus found himself helping on Dragic and actually poked the ball lose and began dribbling up the court with the ball, with Isaiah and Marcus trailing on a 3-on-1 break. Cousins took it to the basket himself, drawing the foul but failing to convert the shot. Isaiah gave DeMarcus a pep talk immediately after that I assume was something along the lines of "Get the ball to your guards".

DeMarcus made up for his mistake by making the first free throw, missing the second and grabbing his own rebound for the putback to get the three point play anyway, putting up the Kings 95-93. Patrick Patterson answered back with another mid-range jumper from the baseline however. He was automatic from that range all night long and the Kings didn't really have an answer for it.

Both teams traded off by missing three pointers and now it was Marcus Thornton time. Thornton took the ball to the basket and almost lost the ball, but ended up getting to the line as Luis Scola hacked his back. Thornton nailed both free throws to give the Kings a two point lead with 47 seconds left.

The Rockets came the other way and ran a pick and roll between Scola and Dragic. Terrence Williams made the mistake of switching onto Scola instead of fighting through the screen to stay on Dragic, leaving Hayes on Dragic. Dragic blew by Hayes and found Scola right at the rim for the easy basket for the tie. Marcus Thornton came back and answered with a very acrobatic layup of his own through a lot of contact. He did not get the foul call because he was the one initiating the contact.

Houston called a quick timeout to set up a play and came back with another pick and roll between Dragic and Scola. Again, Terrence Williams switched onto the bigger player, leaving Hayes on Dragic. In fact, he did it almost before the pick came, that I had to wonder if that wasn't the plan all along. Then I realized how crazy that is. Hayes actually did an incredible job of staying in front of the much quicker Dragic, utilizing his wide frame and quick feet, but Dragic used himself as a screen to set up Patrick Patterson for a wide open shot at the top of the key. Patterson got the ball and swished it, as he had been doing all night, tying the game with about 8 seconds left.

This is where I would have liked to see something creative from the Kings. Over the past three years, every Kings crunch time play has seemed to end in an isolation or a catch and shoot. The Kings got the ball to Marcus Thornton, who used a screen to get a mismatch against Patrick Patterson on the wing. Patterson actually made a mistake and gave Thornton way too much room to shoot, and shoot he did. Unfortunately, it didn't fall, and the game would go to Overtime. That's probably the best look the Kings have gotten for a game winner in a long time and I wasn't too upset with the execution.

I was incredibly upset at the effort in Overtime however. Sacramento played Isolation basketball throughout, and had just three unassisted baskets (along with a free throw) the entire period. DeMarcus Cousins got the first look on offense for the Kings, missing a short jumper, and then didn't touch the ball on offense again. This was infuriating to me, considering how well he had been playing up to that point. Yes, Houston (particularly Patterson) did a great job of fronting DeMarcus and preventing him from getting the ball. But instead of trying to figure out how to get DeMarcus free and give him the ball, they went away from him, not utilizing their best weapon when they needed him most.

The Rockets separated themselves after Dragic nailed a jumper to put the Rockets up by 5 with a couple minutes remaining. The Kings couldn't close the gap, and had a couple of silly fouls. After Tyreke Evans made a layup to cut it to three with 29 seconds left, the Kings trapped Earl Boykins at halfcourt between DeMarcus and Isaiah, and Isaiah was too aggressive and ended up fouling Boykins, sending him to the line. That pretty much sealed the game, as the Kings next three point attempts were all way off.

It's frustrating to see the Kings lose so many close games in a row. They're about three baskets short of being on a 6 game winning streak right now. But it is heartening to see them still in games that they otherwise would not have been. This game in particular looked like a step back in some regards, particularly in the ball movement, but I focused so much on it tonight because it had become such an uncommon occurrence. I also think we're seeing just how important Jason Thompson has become. I don't know if we win tonight or against Oakland with Jason, but I think we might have. Jason gives us much needed size on both ends of the court and unlike Hayes, can provide some offense of his own.

Sacramento gets to return home on Wednesday and try to get back on the right track against the Spurs. They've already beat the Spurs once this season (on the road no less), but this is still going to be a very tough game for Sacramento to win.

Random Observations:

  • DeMarcus was simply ridiculous. Houston has two really good big man defenders in Dalembert and Camby, and Big Cuz made mincemeat of them both. And he's just 21 years old! I get goosebumps thinking how good he can be.
  • Marcus Thornton really needs to put more effort on his defense and sticking with his man. Kings got burned quite a few times because they had to switch over on a man Marcus left, and it causes defensive confusion when that happens.
  • Isaiah looked like the rookie that he is tonight. It's a learning process.
  • Speaking of Isaiah, he wasn't the shortest person on the court tonight! That honor belonged to 5'6" Earl Boykins.
  • Is Patrick Patterson Carl Landry reborn? He scored his 24 pionts, but had just 4 rebounds.
  • I know we get on Tyreke a lot about "Man, if he could get a jumper...". I think the same thing several times a game about Donté Greene.
  • Does Houston have the best starting/backup PG combo in the league in Lowry/Dragic? Dragic should attract a lot of interest this summer.

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