SACRAMENTO -- If this doesn’t sum up the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings, I’m not sure what does:
“I got a crazy team and I’m kind of crazy,” George Karl said following Tuesday’s 107-97 win over the Houston Rockets.
Once again embroiled in controversy, the Kings shook off a the noise from the outside and picked up their third straight win. With Rajon Rondo sitting this one out after being suspended by the league for making homophobic slurs to official Bill Kennedy, Darren Collison stepped into the starting lineup and did his best to hold down the fort.
Collison, who started 45 games for the Kings a season ago before a core muscle injury ended his season prematurely, stepped up big time. The 28-year-old guard played 41 minutes, finishing the night with 14 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.
“We all know what kind of player Rondo is, but when someone is down, we still got to be able to win games,” Gay said. “You’ve got to be able to pick each other up and today, Darren came out there and he made an effort to keep this team in check and run the team like a point guard should.”
The speedy guard shot an impressive 6-for-9 from the field and hit his only 3-point attempt. His only blight on the stat sheet was a whopping eight turnovers, but we’ll get to that later.
“Without Rajon, I think you have to give Darren Collison the game ball, because he had a lot of stress on him,” Karl said. “He had a lot of turnovers, but he also a lot of good basketball, a lot of good leadership, a lot of good guidance.”
Sacramento led by as many as 16 points, but they fended off the biggest charge Houston had to offer in the late third quarter and held a double-digit margin for most of the fourth quarter.
Holding onto late-game leads has not been a specialty of this Kings team. They have found plenty of ways to drop contests that seemed well in hand. With James Harden heating up for 14 third quarter points, heartbreak was written all over this game.
Harden continued his surge in the fourth, posting another nine to give him 33 on the night, but it wasn’t enough. Marco Belinelli found his range in the fourth, hitting 3-of-5 from long range in the final frame. Rudy Gay polished the Rockets off with a giant hammer on the break, sending the Kings home with a much needed victory.
“In this league, it’s about wins and losses, you know what I mean,” Collison said. “This city is desperate for making a playoff run.”
Playoffs? As silly as that may sound, after Tuesday’s win, the Kings are now just one game out of the Western Conference playoff picture. There is a lot of season left, but this team is showing signs of life.
It’s a dysfunctional group for sure and after another wild week, it’s very possible the Kings are crazy like their coach would have you believe.
“I don’t think I’m crazy, but, crazy people don’t usually think they’re crazy, so who knows,” said a smiling Rudy Gay.
“There's some type of saying - the team usually matches the coach,” DeMarcus Cousins added.
The Sacramento Kings won the game despite turning the ball over 29 times on the night. That is the first time in the Sacramento era that the Kings have pulled off that feat, although it’s not really a recipe that they should try to repeat.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever won a game by a 10-point margin giving almost 30 turnovers,” Karl said.
Collison’s eight led the team, but he wasn’t the only culprit who undervalued the ball. Casspi and Gay both finished the night with five giveaways and Cousins continued the generosity, handing the ball over four times.
“We turned the ball, but we played hard on defense,” Gay said. “So we made up for it.”
Gay makes a good point. After starting the season as one of the worst defensive units in the league, the Kings have shown a new commitment to slowing their opponent over the last few games.
Sacramento held the Rockets to just 41.5 percent shooting from the field and limited Houston to 12-of-39 (30.8 percent) from long range. They forced the Rockets into 22 turnovers, including seven from Harden.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Casspi said. “We kept our composure. We’ve got to learn from the mistakes that we obviously did - 29 turnovers is way too much. But it’s always fun to learn when you win.”
Casspi pointed to the Rockets switch to a small-ball lineup as one of the reasons for the increase in turnovers. He felt the team maybe tried to force the ball into DeMarcus Cousins a little too much. Karl agreed with that assessment.
“We forced it into Cuz when they went small and we stopped running,” Karl said. “They’re a very good turnover creating team.”
Karl was excited by the win and pointed to his team pushing the envelope on their passes. Sometimes simple is better, although he is always asking for his team to increase the pace.
“I think they’re learning each other, they’re learning, maybe me what I want,” Karl said. “It’s a process of growing and getting better.”
After a tremendous breakaway dunk by Ben McLemore at the 8:02 mark of the third quarter, Rockets veteran guard Jason Terry got into a verbal altercation with a person in the stands. It turns out that it was Cousins’ manager Andrew Rogers that drew the attention of Terry.
The replay shows Terry go into the stands slightly while trying to slow down and extend an arm into Rogers' chest. Rogers slapped Terry’s hand away, leading to a conversation between the two.
“I just didn’t want the situation to escalate,” the peacekeeping Cousins said. “I’m on both sides of things. I know how that is as a player and of course that’s my guy. The biggest thing is just defusing the situation. Not making it bigger than what it already was.”
Rogers and a fan sitting nearby were ejected from the game.