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SACRAMENTO -– The Kings failure to defend and adhere to their true identity led to Sacramento’s demise in a 118-108 loss to the Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena on Friday.
“I believe every guy in this locker room knows why we lost tonight is because we didn’t defend at all,” said DeMarcus Cousins.
“You can’t not defend against a team like that – (they’re) too high-powered offensively.”
The third quarter was the watershed moment for the Kings, who held a 60-54 after halftime.
“We just came out slow in the third,” said Kings point guard Darren Collison. “Third quarter we just had a slow start and they started to get it going.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kings struggle in second half, fall to Nuggets]
The Nuggets outscored Sacramento 36-15 in the third period to take a 90-75 into the fourth quarter.
“We just didn’t come out with a sense of urgency during that third quarter, and they did, so they were able to take the game over at that point,” said Kings coach Tyrone Corbin.
Ty Lawson put up 14 points in the third quarter and rookie center Jusuf Nurkic added eight of his 16 points on the night in the quarter as well.
“He (Lawson) was aggressive,” said Corbin. “We talked about them being explosive - they’re an explosive team and they play fast.”
Simultaneously in the third quarter, Denver picked it up defensively.
“It’s probably the best we played in a long time,” said Denver forward Darrell Arthur. “I thought we did a great job of making DeMarcus (Cousins) work for everything he got. I thought (Jusuf) Nurkic did a great job of battling him down there on the block.”
While Arthur contributed 11 points, Denver’s entire frontcourt was tenacious.
“They were energetic,” said Corbin. “Kenneth Faried was great in there, also. When they got a stop, they got a second opportunity because of the plays that their bigs made.”
Faried recorded a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds and J.J. Hickson, who once toiled for Sacramento, added 16 points off the bench.
“They were able to kick the ball out and make some of those three-point shots on the side,” said Corbin. “I think that they had 20 second-chance points. We had 20, as well, but their second-chance points really hurt us in the second half.”
While Lawson finished with 22 points, backcourt mate Aaron Afflalo set the tone early scoring 11 of his 22 points in the first quarter.
The Nuggets offense produced a balanced scoring attack including six players in double figures and the Kings, by their own admission, couldn’t keep up with the Nuggets pace.
“We wanted to make sure that we controlled the tempo of the game, because we wanted to play fast but at a pace that was favorable to us and not them,” said Corbin. “So, we ended up settling for jump shots and didn’t make them.”
Further evidence of the Kings resorting to the perimeter game can be found by examining the free throw numbers.
Sacramento entered the game leading the NBA in free throw attempts at 30.8 per game yet did not attempt a single free throw in the third quarter.
While the Kings finished 18-for-24 from the charity stripe, 16 of the attempts occurred in the fourth quarter with the Nuggets maintaining a sizeable cushion. Sacramento cut the Denver deficit to 14-points on two occasions in the final stanza but got no closer.
In contrast to Friday’s 24 free throw attempts, Sacramento got to the line roughly twice as much - 47 and 50 attempts - in two wins earlier in the season against Denver.
“We basically played their game tonight – that’s how they wanted to play and we’re not that type of team,” said Cousins.
“So that’s the type of results you get, what you got tonight.”
DeMarcus Cousins put up 32 points and 13 rebounds good for his fifth 30-point game and 20th double-double of the campaign.
Sacramento’s defense was ineffective in allowing 118 points to Denver – 16 points above the Nuggets average.
The sooner the Kings embrace who they are, the better.
Keeping up with the Jones’ and trying to outscore teams like the Nuggets is fool’s gold.