As Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd ran on the court and congratulated center Zaza Pachulia for his defensive effort, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins dropped to the floor and slammed his fist in disgust.
The Kings had suffered their fifth consecutive loss, 108-107 to the Milwaukee Bucks, Thursday night at Sleep Train Arena.
Cousins, who missed the previous 10 games recovering from viral meningitis, had a chance to win the game, but his 15-foot jump shot was off-target as time expired.
“Zaza kind of played me to my right; I tried to go left,” Cousins said. “(Brandon) Knight helped, so I crossed over, and I tried to take the best shot available with time running out. I think I got a good look; it just didn’t fall.”
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Most of Cousins’ shots fell in his return. He made 8 of 12 from the field and 11 of 13 from the foul line, and finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
But it wasn’t enough to overtake Milwaukee, which shot 13 of 23 (56.5 percent) from the three-point line.
Cousins’ minutes on the court were monitored to make sure he didn’t run out of energy too quickly. He last played on Nov. 26 at Houston.
Cousins, however, said he didn’t accept that he was going to limited and played 33 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter.
Cousins said his timing was off, especially on rebounding, and that he felt a step slow. He entered the game averaging 12.6 rebounds.
Without Cousins, the Kings went from looking like a playoff contender to a team that could be in the running for a top pick in next June’s NBA draft.
The Kings were 2-8 in his absence. While Cousins was out, the Kings fired coach Michael Malone on Sunday.
Cousins’ relationship with Malone was better than with any other coach he’s had with the Kings, and Malone’s abrupt dismissal while Cousins was recovering didn’t sit well with the star center.
Now that he’s playing, Cousins wants the Kings (11-15) back on track. Sacramento was 9-6 when Cousins left the lineup.
“There’s just so much going on,” Cousins said. “I’m not looking for excuses. I don’t care about the situation that’s going on; I don’t care about the decisions. We’ve got to move forward, and that’s the only thing on my mind – moving forward and getting this thing right.”
Coach Tyrone Corbin cited the Kings’ defense against three-pointers and their turnovers (21 for 17 Milwaukee points) as problems.
The Kings shot 56.7 percent from the field, but the Bucks’ perimeter shooting gave them the boost they needed to win.
Corbin said this week has been emotionally draining for the Kings.
“We’ve got to get everybody on the same page,” Corbin said. “It’s been a tough week for the guys; it’s been a tough week for everybody. The only way we’re going to get through this thing is if we get our minds right, get our minds clear and come in and play.”
The Bucks were without their best option to bother Cousins. Starting center Larry Sanders was suspended by the NBA on Thursday for one game for a flagrant foul 2 in Wednesday’s loss at Portland. Sanders pushed Portland forward Nicolas Batum while he was airborne.
The Kings started well, leading by 12 in the first quarter, but the Bucks’ perimeter shooting made it a game as they led at halftime.
Milwaukee made 10 three-pointers in the first half, the most by a Kings opponent in a half this season.
Brandon Knight led the Bucks (14-13) with 20 points. O.J. Mayo had 19 points, including 17 in the first quarter to keep the game close. Jared Dudley added 19 off the bench.
Ben McLemore scored 22 points for the Kings, and Rudy Gay had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists.