It was a night of stars in Houston. The Rockets all-world guard James Harden controlled the game for 45 minutes, and despite some solid offensive plays by the Kings, it looked like Harden’s dominance would be too much for Sacramento to overcome. But for maybe the first time all year, the Kings miraculously made all the plays down the stretch. And to be perfectly honest, the Kings star DeMarcus Cousins made all of those plays. Sacramento’s big man wrestled the victory away from the Rockets in a game that seemed destined for Houston’s win column. The Kings escaped with an impressive 110-106 victory.
COUSINS’ TWO-MINUTE CLINIC – If there was any doubt about DeMarcus Cousins’ (33 MIN, 17 PTS, 7-13 FG, 3-4 FT, 16 REB, 2 AST, 4 STL, 1 BLK, 4 TO) All-Star validity or future stardom, one needs to look no further than the final two minutes of Tuesday’s game in Houston. It was easily Boogie’s best stretch of fourth quarter ball this season. After Harden’s 38th point put Houston up three with 1:39 left, Cousins went to work. Out of the timeout, he scored on a slick reverse layup past Dwight Howard. On the ensuing possession, Cousins grabbed an offensive rebound and gave the Kings the lead with a terrific fallaway putback. With the lead in hand, DeMarcus went to work defensively. On the Rockets next possession, Cousins closed out on a Houston pick and roll, stripped Harden and fed an outlet assist to McLemore for the layup and three-point lead. Harden penetrated on the Rockets next turn, and there was Cousins, stepping in to take a charge to the delight of the Kings bench. From three down to three up with the ball in 1:09 thanks to four monumental plays by the Kings big man. That’s how you lead a team. Cousins was hot and cold early, sabotaging his team with some mistakes on both ends. That’s how you recover and prove you’re a winner.
BALANCED SACRAMENTO ATTACK – The Kings hung right with the scorching Harden thanks to a host of offensive producers. Ben McLemore (25 MIN, 13 PTS, 5-12 FG, 2-7 3FG, 4 REB, 3 AST) found a nice touch early and helped get the Kings going in the first quarter. The second quarter belonged to Rudy Gay (42 MIN, 25 PTS, 9-19 FG, 6-6 FT, 6 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL, 2 TO) and Marcus Thornton (20 MIN, 15 PTS, 6-9 FG, 3-5 3FG, 3 REB, 2 AST, 1 STL) — the two marksmen had their perimeter games working and helped the Kings to a six-point halftime lead. After a forgettable third quarter, Sacramento turned to its point guards for a boost. Jimmer Fredette (13 MIN, 10 PTS, 4-8 FG, 1 TO) scored six big time points with some nice dribble drives before giving way to Isaiah Thomas (35 MIN, 17 PTS, 6-17 FG, 10 AST, 0 TO), who scored six straight Kings points to put the team ahead briefly with 3:29 to play. Add these players to Cousins, and Sacramento had six players score in double figures.
MCLEMORE’S NIGHTLY LESSON – Ben McLemore’s trial by fire continued Tuesday, two nights after the rookie struggled with Spurs lefty Manu Ginobili. The test in Houston was Harden, and sure, a quick glance at the score sheet paints a dirty picture for McLemore. But really, this was a much better performance than Sunday. McLemore worked his tail off to stay with and in front of Harden. For the most part, he succeeded. On this night, it didn’t matter — Harden hit everything he looked at. But to see the improvement from a rookie is crucial. McLemore’s athleticism and relentless motor gives him a great foundation to be an effective defender. Tuesday — numbers aside — was a step in the right direction.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Offensive rebounds would have been to blame had the Kings come up short. The Rockets killed Sacramento on the offensive glass (14 offensive rebounds), creating a number of second chance opportunities that erased solid defensive stands … Derrick Williams (19 MIN, 0 PTS, 0-1 FG, 2 AST, 1 STL, 1 BLK, 2 TO) seems to be a little lost in his current role off the bench. The Kings don’t run any plays for him, and he’s not at his best when shooting off the dribble. It would probably be a good idea for Sacramento in incorporate his scoring … Houston made just 21-of-33 (63.6 percent) from the free throw line. The Kings countered with 19-of-23 (82.6 percent).