Dave Joerger has talked repeatedly about the Kings needing to find sources of offense other than DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay. In the third quarter Thursday against the Lakers, Cousins’ offense went quiet – and the rest of the Kings followed suit.
The Kings shot 29 percent in the second half and blew an early 19-point lead in a 101-91 loss to the Lakers at the Golden 1 Center. They had a two-game winning streak snapped before quickly turning around to playing at Portland on Friday night.
The Kings led 30-16 after one quarter and took a 10-point lead into halftime, as Cousins paced them with 18 points.
But Cousins did not score at all in the third quarter despite playing more than 10 minutes, and with the rest of the Kings struggling to find their shots, the Lakers began chipping away at their lead. Cousins’ next points came with 8:55 left in the fourth, with the Lakers ahead.
“Second half, we didn’t make any shots,” Joerger said. “Defense was just on the run all night and they (the Lakers) made shots. It came down to who made shots.”
The easy baskets the Kings were getting off of Lakers turnovers in the first half gave way to a slower pace after halftime. Joerger said he still thought the Kings had plenty of good looks in the second half, when they were outscored 56-36. Gay agreed.
“We had good shots in the second half, they just didn’t go down,” Gay said. “Some of my looks I’d take any day.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, shot 54.1 percent in the second half, sealing the game by making 10-of-16 shots in the fourth quarter. Cousins returned with 10 points in the fourth, finishing with 28 to lead all scorers, but the rest of the Kings combined to go 2-for-15 from the field.
Joerger said he thought the repeated misses “kind of took the juice out of our defense a little bit.” Cousins wasn’t as magnanimous about the defensive lapses, which often led to open lanes to the basket for the Lakers’ guards.
“I think we got soft defensively,” Cousins said. “We just can’t have those type of breakdowns. We should’ve buried them in the second half. The game was going our way, and we gave them life.”
The Lakers used a 17-2 run starting late in the third quarter to take their first lead since the opening minute. And after the Kings tied it at 82-82 with 5:55 left to play on a layup from Cousins, Los Angeles ripped off another 10-0 run capped by a 3-pointer from Nick Young.
“They were just coming downhill,” Kings forward Matt Barnes said. “We were missing coverages on pick-and-rolls, and the whole floor opens.”
The reactions to Young’s 3-point were telling. While the Kings called timeout, Young and Lakers forward Julius Randle bounded back up the court screaming. A young team playing under first-year head coach Luke Walton, the Lakers displayed the kind of energy and resilience Thursday the Kings are trying to play with on a nightly basis. In the first meeting of these long-time rivals in the Kings’ new arena, a sizable contingent of Lakers fans erupted after Young’s shot.
“They had some pop to the offense,” Gay said. “They were going fast, they were making plays fast. I think that’s something we can take from them. They’re a young team and they’re well-coached.”
Reserve guard Lou Williams paced the Lakers with 21 points, 13 coming in the fourth as the Kings seemed unable to keep him from driving to the basket. The Lakers outscored the Kings in the paint 46-38, after Joerger had talked before the game about the need for perimeter defense to help contain that area.
Gay said Williams is “one of the players in the game that can get off at any minute. I honestly think he’s pretty underrated.”
Cousins tried to keep the Kings in the game in the fourth, driving to the basket for a layup and foul with under three minutes left that cut the deficit to five. But the Kings would get no closer.
Frustration with the loss and repeated contact from the Lakers seemed to come to a head late as Cousins and Randle got locked up near the Lakers’ bench. But Cousins brushed it off as “just some friendly UK love” with his fellow Kentucky Wildcat.
Barnes said the loss provided a lesson for the Kings.
“Can’t take our foot off the gas,” he said. “We’ve got to have more of a killer instinct.”