The Kings kicked off the second half of the season just as they did the first, with a win. It was far less dramatic this time around, as Sacramento maintained a double-digit lead throughout the second half to defeat the Rockets 125-120. De’Aaron Fox led the way with 30 points and nine assists in the team’s largest margin of victory for the season.
The team started out the night as we’ve come to expect. The Kings scored relatively efficiently, but their defense was so porous that they weren’t able to create an advantage early. Doug Christie warned Mark Jones pregame that Eric Gordon was a Kings killer, and his words proved prophetic. Gordon had 17 first-half points for the Rockets to lead all scorers, but while Gordon was a one-man band, Sacramento had a deeper well of options to draw from.
Buddy Hield matched Gordon with 11 first-quarter points, none sweeter than when Tyrese Haliburton fed him a one-handed pass and was at half court by the time the ball went through the net.
Hali with the one-handed assist pic.twitter.com/yjmaPk0OD2— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) March 12, 2021
The second quarter was when the Kings started to create some separation against the short handed Rockets, who ended up being without John Wall and P.J. Tucker in addition to the expected absence of Christian Wood. Houston didn’t have any healthy bigs beyond Justin Patton, which forced the Rockets to start the second quarter with 6’6 K.J. Martin as their tallest player. The Kings took full advantage.
Sacramento was able to go relatively small with Marvin Bagley III at the 5, but still towered over Houston. Harrison Barnes and Bagley led the charge of attacking the paint, and collectively, the Kings took 14 shots in the paint while earning nine free throws in the second. The Rockets also went cold from the field (0-of-14 from 3-point range in the period), and without any true frontcourt players, were also outrebounded despite their bevy of missed shots. That resulted in a 14-point Sacramento lead at intermission.
By the end of the half, four of the five starters were in double figures. In the third quarter, it was De’Aaron Fox’s turn to carry the baton. He got to the rim at will, finishing all of his attempts at the cup, and dropped 11 points in the period. The Rockets made mini-runs, but the Kings were always able to keep the lead in double figures.
Nemanja Bjelica assumed the backup center minutes with Hassan Whiteside still unavailable. He picked up three fouls almost instantaneously in the first half, but when he returned in the second, he had a nice two-man chemistry with Fox. It helped to have another player with good passing instincts to combat the Houston zone.
All in all, it was a pretty clinical win for the Kings. They overwhelmed a lesser opponent with their depth and talent, as they should. On to the next one.