The Kings had lost four in a row. They were down two starters, including their All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, who was out with a sprained left ankle.
But if the Kings know one thing, they know they can beat the Milwaukee Bucks without Cousins – as long as they have Rudy Gay.
Sacramento won for just the second time this season without Cousins, defeating the Bucks, 111-104 on Monday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings are 2-7 this season without Cousins. Both wins have come against Milwaukee.
The constant in both games has been the play of Gay, who has three 30-point games this season, and two coming against the Bucks.
Without Cousins, Gay became the focal point of the offense.
Gay had a game-high 32 points with nine rebounds, six assists, two steals and only one turnover.
“DeMarcus being out had a lot to do with it,” Gay said. “Obviously he’s been carrying us for a while for the most part this season. Just had to step up. When guys go down, not just him, Ben (McLemore) is out, so guys have to step up.”
The Kings pulled away in the fourth quarter thanks to Gay being a willing passer and the rest of the team following suit.
Eight of Sacramento’s 21 assists came in the fourth quarter and the Kings outscored the Bucks 37-30.
“I expected it,” said Kings guard Rajon Rondo of Gay. “I think the last time Cuz was out when we played Milwaukee and (Gay) had 36. Every time his name is called he always steps up to the challenge, especially when we’re a man down.”
Nineteen of the Kings’ assists came from three players. Rondo (19 points) led the Kings with seven and Marco Belinelli had six.
“Rudy was good,” Kings coach George Karl said of the fourth quarter. “I thought we shared the ball well. The three-ball (the Kings made four of eight attempts) finally went in.”
Gay took advantage of an aggressive Bucks defense that was geared to slow him down. He made good decisions to help keep the Kings going and was able to exploit Milwaukee for his own offense.
Gay shot 65 percent (13 for 20) Monday.
Karl was especially pleased with how the Kings moved the ball. He felt they missed a lot of good shots but because the team continued to pass the ball, those shots eventually fell in the fourth quarter (when they shot 52.6 percent).
“They were crowding or double-teaming Rudy,” Karl said. “Rudy had rhythm and anytime Rudy had any type of space, they closed it down pretty well and our guys shared the ball well.”
That Gay was the focus wasn’t a surprise to the Bucks. He shot 13-for-21 in scoring 36 points in Sacramento’s 129-118 win at Milwaukee Nov. 25.
“(Gay is) already a problem,” said Milwaukee center Greg Monroe. “You know he’s definitely going to be even more aggressive with Cousins out … He was pretty aggressive the whole game. He’s scoring and other guys are making threes at the rate they were in the second half, it’s tough for us to win.”
Belinelli started for McLemore and scored 18 points. McLemore’s injury ended a streak of 211 games played, which was the second-longest active streak in the league behind Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson (335).
Monroe led the Bucks with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams had 18 points and 13 assists.