Originally published on SacramentoPress.com on April 4, 2012
The Sacramento Kings were unable to achieve back-to-back wins as they fell to Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns for the third time this season Tuesday night at Power Balance Pavilion.
DeMarcus Cousins did all he could, leading all scorers with a career-high 41 points en route to the 109-100 loss. Cousins also hauled in 12 rebounds and shot 16-25 from the field.
“He had a career night taking advantage of their interior,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. “We had him posting up in different areas on the floor, so he had both baseline- and middle-drive. Then they started doubling, and that’s something that’s going to happen to him as he grows as a pro.”
But not even Cousins’ monster game could overcome Nash’s collected control of the game.
As he has done so many times throughout his 15-year career, Nash orchestrated the Suns offense nearly flawlessly and took over the game late when the Kings threatened to steal the victory.
“I believe tonight it was five against one,” Cousins said. “It was all five of us trying to guard Steve Nash. All the credit to Steve. He’s an incredible player, and he knows how to run his team — definitely a professional, and one of the best points (guards) to play this game. He’s a tough matchup, for anybody.”
Nash put on a clinic when running his pick-and-roll offense, finishing with 18 points, six rebounds, a game-high 12 assists and only one turnover.
“In the pick and roll, he’s probably the best, along with Chris Paul, I think, in the NBA,” Kings forward Tyreke Evans said of Nash. “He dribbles the ball so much, then the guy cuts and he finds the open guys. He’s done it for years.”
The Kings started slow, falling behind by as many as 17 in the second quarter and trailing 59-51 at halftime.
Sacramento then came out and played solid defense in the third quarter to hold the Suns to only 20 points in the quarter, while the Kings offense connected to score 27. Newly acquired King Terrence Williams hit a jumper at the end of the quarter to bring the deficit to just one point at 79-78 heading into the fourth quarter.
Sacramento regained the lead on the first possession of the fourth quarter when forward Travis Outlaw hit two free throws to give the Kings an 80-79 lead. Sacramento's first and only other lead occured when they held a 10-9 lead early in the first quarter.
But then the veterans on the Suns took over. Veteran guard Michael Redd got the hot hand and scored six quick points to keep the Suns ahead, followed by Nash returning to the game to close out the Suns victory.
With the Kings deficit down to just four points with a little over five minutes remaining, Nash took advantage of two Kings mistakes, allowing him to hit a three followed by a running jump shot to extend the Suns lead 99-90. The lead proved to be too much for the Kings.
“Just a breakdown at the end,” Cousins said in the locker room. “We kind of broke down, took some steps back tonight. We just got to make plays down the stretch and finish the game strong. Once again, it’s the last couple of minutes that’s killing us, and it results in a loss.”
Despite the loss, Smart saw improvement in his team, the youngest in the NBA, and approved of their resilience.
“I thought our guys did a really good job,” he said. “I thought we played and managed to get ourselves back into the game from a 17-point deficit. They could have rolled over, but they did a good job and held their composure and chipped away at the score.”
The Kings struggled from the free-throw line, which once again contributed to their demise. Sacramento shot just 21-of-32 (65.6 percent) from the foul line, whereas the Suns shot 24-28 (85.7 percent).
“We have got to make our free throws,” Smart said. “In a close game, you have to knock those free throws down. We did a good job getting into the bonus (fouls), getting us to the line, but we just have to make those foul shots.”
Evans finished with only eight points, six rebounds and four assists. Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas added 25 points, three rebounds and seven assists to his outstanding rookie season. The Suns were led by center Marcin Gortat, who finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out late in the game.
The Kings will look to get back into the win column as they take on Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers at home on Thursday at 7 p.m.