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Kings go out of character and win a low-scoring game over Knicks

DeMarcus Cousins, center, reacts after scoring during the second half on Sunday, March 20, 2016 in New York. The Kings defeated the Knicks 88-80.
DeMarcus Cousins, center, reacts after scoring during the second half on Sunday, March 20, 2016 in New York. The Kings defeated the Knicks 88-80. AP

Last week, coach George Karl wondered why the Kings didn’t play physically at home while admitting that’s not his team’s personality. While the Kings score a lot, they give up gobs of points.

But against a struggling team missing its best player, the Kings changed their personality.

The Kings won the kind of game they’re not designed to win – an ugly, low-scoring contest – and held off the New York Knicks 88-80 Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

35.2 New York’s field-goal percentage, lowest by a Kings opponent this season

Karl has called his team crazy more than once this season. And it doesn’t get much crazier than the Kings winning a game in which they matched their season low in scoring while establishing a season low for points allowed.

“I have no idea why we come out on our home court with some of the best fans in basketball and treat them to kind of a (bad game),” Karl said. “I thought the emphasis of the game tonight was the start. We were tired of giving up 30-point (first) quarters ... Had a lot of ugly, too, but it’s a win.”

The last time the Kings won a game while holding an opponent to 80 points or fewer was Feb. 3, 2014, in a 99-70 win over the Chicago Bulls. The last time the Kings did that on the road was Dec. 8, 2012, in a 99-80 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Kings hadn’t won a game scoring 88 points or fewer since Feb. 8, 2015, when they beat the Phoenix Suns 85-83.

The Knicks shot 35.2 percent, the lowest by a Kings opponent this season. And except for New York’s 35-point second quarter, when Sacramento’s defense reverted to its flimsy form, the Kings held the Knicks in check.

But the second quarter was a reminder of what the Kings have been all season: inconsistent.

“It’s definitely a mental thing, and we’ve got to stay conscious of that throughout the whole game,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “I think we lose that focus a lot during games, and that’s why we’ve had so many ups and downs throughout the year. We’ve got to find a way.”

Cousins said the Kings “defended well,” but the Knicks’ frequent layups and 17 second-chance points bothered him.

“We’ve got to find a way to have that type of energy all four quarters,” Cousins said. “Not just one or two or three.”

Then again, you can get away with lapses when the Knicks (28-43) are missing Carmelo Anthony (migraine).

I thought the emphasis of the game tonight was the start. We were tired of giving up 30-point (first) quarters ... Had a lot of ugly, too, but it’s a win.

Kings coach George Karl

“It was not a stellar basketball game,” Karl conceded. But he liked how the Kings (27-42) played defense and maintained their composure.

“When you take Melo out of the scenario, you can be a little more chancy and risky because you don’t get blown up by your decisions,” Karl said. “I think Melo not playing tonight was definitely an advantage for us, and I’m glad we took advantage of it.”

Cousins finished with 24 points and 20 rebounds, his second 20-20 game of the season and the 10th of his career. Knicks center Robin Lopez had 23 points and 20 rebounds.

It was the first time opposing players had 20/20 games since Jan. 10, 1996, when Michael Cage had 20 points and 20 rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers and David Robinson had 23 points and 20 rebounds for the San Antonio Spurs.

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“Me and Lopez talked about it after,” Cousins said. “It was a fun battle. You really don’t get a chance to see those types of battles with bigs anymore; it’s so much of a guards game. But we battled for a full game, so it was a lot of fun.”

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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