The Kings are disproving the cliché that it’s not how you start, but how you finish. Sometimes, there’s no catching up.
Sacramento’s habit of poor first quarters resurfaced against Houston on Friday, when the Rockets built a 38-19 advantage after the opening frame and went on to win 117-104 at Golden 1 Center, ending the Kings’ two-game winning streak.
Houston launched 17 of its NBA-record 50 3-point attempts in the first quarter. Houston never trailed, leading by as many as 29 points in the first half.
The Kings (6-10) are 2-7 when trailing after the first quarter.
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Coach Mike D’Antoni’s teams are known for unleashing a barrage of 3-pointers, but the Kings seemed caught off-guard on the perimeter for much of the first half. The Rockets capitalized all game, making a season-high 21 3-pointers.
“We were just too loose,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “Certainly we know they can shoot 3s, so we started to stay in there. As the roller was to the rim, it was either a layup or a kickout. We did not get back in front of the ball, especially in the first quarter. When they missed, they got offensive rebounds and they started getting some free looks.”
Center DeMarcus Cousins made a career-high five 3-pointers, four in the fourth, to get the Kings within eight with 1:12 to play at 112-104. But Sacramento surrendered a 3 to Eric Gordon on the next possession.
The Rockets hustled for extra shots, leading to a 23-12 advantage in second-chance points, including 14 in the first quarter.
“I don’t understand these starts to games,” said Cousins, who finished with 32 points. “It’s one thing with a team getting hot and making a lot of shots. It’s one thing if our gameplan didn’t work from the beginning. But on the missed shots, the multiple offensive rebounds, if we get those, instead of being down 30, we’re down 10 and we don’t have to fight an entire game to get back from 30. By time we get to the fourth we’re dead.”
More than once this season they’ve rallied from big deficits to make it close late, but it’s not good enough.
“If we played the way we play in the last five minutes of every game this season from start to finish, we’d probably be undefeated,” Cousins said.
Trevor Ariza made four of his game-high six 3s in the first quarter and finished with 18 points. James Harden led the Rockets (10-6) with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, his fourth triple-double this season.
Harden, Ariza and Gordon each attempted at least 11 3-pointers. Seven Rockets made a 3-pointer.
“I don’t mind it, but I’d like to get the record for the most makes, not just the most attempts,” D’Antoni said. “We play the game and if that’s what they’re giving us, that’s what we’ll take. Trevor obviously started us off really hot. A lot of guys contributed and a lot of guys got good shots.”
Looking for a jolt from the bench, Joerger turned to small forward Omri Casspi, who had been out of the rotation since playing Nov. 11 at Portland. He had seven points, five assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes.
“Earlier in the year, I should’ve done a better job of bringing that energy and kind of earning Coach’s trust,” Casspi said. “I think it’s something I need to build on.”
Cousins said the onus is on the players to increase the effort at the beginning of games.
“It’s on us,” Cousins said. “If we want to continue to be this team that teams just walks in and think it’s an automatic ‘W,’ that’s what’s going to happen if we continue to play this way.”