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SACRAMENTO -- The Rockets (17-5), led by James Harden, exposed Sacramento’s flaws in a 113-109 overtime win over the Kings on Thursday in front of a sellout crowd of 16,676 at Sleep Train Arena.
Harden, who went for a season-high 44 points, sniffed the Kings (11-12) vulnerability and inability to protect an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, nailing a late 3-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Harden takes over, Kings fall to Rockets on OT]
And just to prove everyone’s insecurity that it was his world and we were just living it, Harden scored the first seven points in the extra session and 12 of Houston’s 18 points as the Rockets finished off Sacramento.
“We didn’t do a good job in adjusting to James Harden,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “He kicked our ass tonight and got whatever he wanted. There was no resistance and he got to the rim for layup after layup.”
“He (Harden) played great tonight . . . sometimes it’s tough in the NBA, one person beats you but tonight he was a big factor in us losing,” said Rudy Gay, who only scored 13 points and whose jumper that could have won it at the end of regulation went in and out.
In addition to the lead, the Kings also could not protect the ball.
“The turnovers,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “Once again, offensively, we didn’t value the ball. To have 22 turnovers for 27 points in an overtime game—that’s going to get you beat.”
In a November 26 loss in Houston, the Kings committed 21 turnovers leading to 32 points for the Rockets.
Rudy Gay, who finished roughly eight below his season-average, couldn't make good on an opportunity to win it at the end of regulation.
“With DeMarcus Cousins out, Rudy Gay is going to be the guy that, if we’re in a tie game like that, I’m going to put the ball in his hands,” said Malone. “He gets a very high-percentage shot, for him, and if he makes it, then great . . . Whether he’s 10-for-10 or 0-for-10, I still have confidence in Rudy in most situations.”
Both teams were without their centers as the Kings fell to 2-6 without DeMarcus Cousins due to viral meningitis, while the Rockets are 8-3 without Howard due to a right knee strain.
“It’s very tough – we’ve got to find ways to finish,” said Jason Thompson, who contributed 13 points and 15 rebounds in defeat, recording his first double-double of the season.
“We’re a good team even with (DeMarcus) Cousins not on the floor so every guy was locked in; we’ve just got to find ways to know how we get leads and not worry about the scoreboard and just keep building on it rather than being complacent and letting the other team have a chance to get back into the game.”
Sacramento’s defense stifled the Rockets in the first half holding Houston to just 36 points on 31 percent from the floor and 21 percent from 3-point range.
The Kings committed 22 turnovers that translated into 27 points for the Rockets.
Tough defensive teams have given the Kings fits leading to turnovers and opportunistic points for the opposition.
Defensive inconsistency reared its ugly head on Thursday as the Kings effort of holding Houston to just 36 points in the first half was squandered.
Additionally, Sacramento cannot afford to look in the rearview mirror and see Player of the Week accolades as they did after Kyle Lowry’s recent 27-point performance in Sacramento and that they’re sure to see for Harden this week.
At 2-6 without Cousins, the Kings are close - especially taking leads into the fourth quarter against the Lakers and the Rockets this week - but have yet to turn the corner without the big man whose return remains unknown.