The second night of a back-to-back on the road is usually tough; if you're playing in the Western Conference, that usually means playing a good to great team, and its paramount to play focused all game. Unfortunately for the Sacramento Kings, there just weren't enough stretches of good play, as they fell to the Houston Rockets by a final score of 102-89.
The Kings were led again by DeMarcus Cousins, who was able to take advantage of the absence of Dwight Howard and drop an impressive statline of 29 points, 17 rebounds and 6 assists on 9/18 shooting from the field. Unfortunately, without Rudy Gay and Darren Collison, playmaking duties fell disproportionately to the big fellow, who ended the game with 7 turnovers. Cousins just did not get enough help from his teammates tonight. Omri Casspi did what he could within his own limits, scoring 14 points on 5/9 shooting, but could not replicate the pure scoring volume he showed last night in New Orleans. Ben McLemore stayed aggressive and scored on a variety of impressive moves that showed just how much he's improved from last year, but unfortunately did not shoot the ball well enough from deep to make up for the Kings missing two of their top three guns. He finished the game with 14 points on 6/17 shooting and 2/9 from three, but the team needed more from him to win tonight, and did not get it.
Probably most disappointing was the awful play of Ramon Sessions. Well, disappointment is usually in proportion to expectations, and Sessions has been horrible for most of the season, so I'm not sure what to call this. Sessions was not ready to play from the start, throwing the ball all over the place, letting himself get picked clean by the Rockets' rookie Isaiah Canaan, and letting Canaan get loose for the majority of his 24 points and 6 three pointers. Sessions ended the game with 8 points on 8 shots, with an atrocious 3:5 Assist to Turnover ratio.
In an amusing change of pace, the Kings started out the game incredibly flat. Due to an influx of turnovers and porous pick-and-roll defense, the first quarter was about as ugly as it could have been. The Kings found themselves facing a 37-19 hole early, a lead that ballooned up to 22 points at times. Sessions was particularly terrible in this span, failing in every PG duty imaginable with 3 turnovers early. Sessions has had major issues earlier in the year with his high dribble, and the Rockets' fiesty rookie Canaan took full advantage. But it was more than just Sessions, as the entire team was in a big funk. Cousins found himself mostly on the perimeter and McLemore couldn't find his range. Thankfully, Ray McCallum came in and stabilized the Kings somewhat. He brought defensive intensity and stabilized the team offensively. Derrick Williams also brought a nice spark, aggressively getting to the line to score 7 points at halftime. The momentum carried over to the starters, who rallied behind the offense and defense of Cousins, willing themselves back into the game and chopping the lead down to single digits at halftime.
The third quarter proceeded with the Kings continuing the chip away at the lead. McLemore's defense shone brightly in this stretch, getting right into James Harden's jersey. Harden was not gun-shy, but he was clearly rattled by the combination of McLemore's on the perimeter, and Thompson and Cousins in the paint. Harden ended the game with 26 points on 31 shots. Cousins also came alive, scoring on a variety of moves from both the high and low post. The Kings were able to cut the lead down to two several times, but every time they came close, Canaan would come alive. Canaan was a one-man momentum buster, being able to shoot mostly open threes off the dribble and blowing by both Sessions and McCallum as if they weren't there.
Down the stretch, the Kings were able to hang around, but not quite get over the hump. Donatas Montiejunas got loose on the Kings' fatigued frontcourt defenders in the post, scoring on a variety of impressive post moves and moving the ball beautifuly in the interior. The tired Kings began to lose acuity in this stretch; James Harden finally found some open looks for three, the Kings had some sloppy turnovers, and the Canaan and Montiejunas combination allowed the Rockets to pull away late.
*Alternate headline: Rockets avenge Summer League Championship loss. Happy Thanksgiving!