The Sacramento Kings may have had one of their least efficient performances against a team which has made it a point to capitalize on offensive mistakes, a team whose own offense continues to play as formidably as ever.
James Harden and his Houston Rockets managed to make life nearly impossible for any King looking to make a simple pass around the perimeter, reverting Sacramento’s progress to its most infantile form.
The Kings came out of the gate sloppy in this one, no thanks to the fact that this imposing Western Conference matchup came on the tail-end of a back-to-back road trip. While they played well the night before in New Orleans, Houston’s antagonizing ability to swallow passing lanes proved to be too difficult — and too tiring — for the Kings to deal with.
A proponent of the team’s struggles with the Rockets’ hounding defense was the absence of Rudy Gay and Darren Collison, two players who have proved themselves integral to Sacramento’s operation and whose precautious approach to various ailments left Ramon Sessions and Omri Casspi to fend for the starting lineup.
Both players have been excellent for the Kings, but did not bring enough to formulate a chain of scores and stops — at least in the first half. Sessions had trouble handling the ball in the midst of swarming pressure from Isaiah Canaan, whose 24 points and four assists are not even close to indicative of the impact he had on the game. His four steals fall short of telling what his defensive pressure did to the Kings’ backcourt, as his defensive play style, mirroring the rabid formula utilized by the Patrick Beverley versus the world.
Sessions’ five turnovers and the absence of Gay’s scoring ability left DeMarcus Cousins to fight for a majority of Sacramento’s points — a majority that would be forced in an attempt to surmount the impossible 18-point lead Houston built up after just the first 12 minutes of play.
Cousins life on offense was likely more terrifying to watch than it has been all year, with the combination of ingenious double-teams and the buzzing of James Harden’s trigger-happy hands bringing seven takeaways to Houston. Still, Cousins did what he does best with 29 points and 17 rebounds, numbers usually indicative of a comfortable all-around team win.
No individual performance could have saved the Kings; not with the efficiency and spite that Kevin McHale‘s team played on both ends. Every switch onto shooters and double-team to Cousins was precisely timed and expertly crafted, as it gave Sacramento looks they hadn’t seen before and may have given the NBA some insight as to how to go about beating the Kings down, how to isolate Cousins into his own world of production completely separate from winning and team-success.
The Kings had 20 turnovers in what was an excruciating offensive performance. They came back to put the game to within one, but the stellar play from Houston’s unified defense overcame any breath of a comeback or question of how good this Rockets team really is.