SACRAMENTO, CALIF.: The points in the paint at the end of the night were dead even at 52 apiece, but the Sacramento Kings were more powerful in the way they muscled to a 124-118 victory over the Cavaliers on Monday.
As the growing list of areas where the Cavaliers need to improve continues to swell, add one more – they need to get tougher inside. The Kings scored 32 points in the lane in the first half, DeMarcus Cousins bashed and bruised his way around the court and the Cavs failed to really punch back.
“There’s no doubt we have to get tougher as a basketball team,” coach Byron Scott said. “That’s just something we have to do, period. Sometimes it takes getting your butt kicked a whole lot of times before it starts coming out of you.”
The loss overshadowed Dion Waiters’ terrific night. Waiters set a career-high with 33 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, but the Kings still managed to sweep the season series and end a six-game losing streak to the Cavs at home.
Scott thought the Cavs began to fight back a little more in the second half, but only after Cousins was whistled for a technical and a flagrant foul 85 seconds apart. He bashed Cavs rookie Tyler Zeller in the nose, then earned the flagrant with a clothesline to the neck.
The typically cool Zeller began barking back at Cousins and Scott quickly removed Zeller from the game.
“It was just one of those things,” Zeller said. “Just talking.”
Zeller was later booed for a hard foul on Tyreke Evans when he prevented Evans from getting a layup.
“I’m not trying to hurt anybody or do anything crazy,” Zeller said. “I was just trying to get the ball and make him shoot two free throws rather than give up an easy layup.”
Zeller has endured a difficult couple of weeks in place of Anderson Varejao. He was tossed around Sunday against Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers and was even flung to the floor once by Howard. Then he took the brunt of Cousins’ physical play on Monday.
Scott switched up the defensive pairings and used Tristan Thompson on Cousins extensively as well, but his message is clear to all the bigs and the entire team in general.
“It’s pretty simple. You’ve got to start fighting back,” Scott said. “You just can’t let people take advantage of you. … Sometimes you’ve got to fight fire with fire.”
The Kings shot 51 percent, the second opponent to shoot better than 50 percent against the Cavs in as many nights, and scored more points than any opponent this season.
The Kings led 112-107 when Kyrie Irving turned the ball over on consecutive possessions – two of his six turnovers on the nights. The Kings scored off both turnovers to extend the lead to nine with 1:29 left and send the Cavs to their third consecutive loss on this road trip with two games remaining.
They are also dangerously close to the league’s worst record. A loss at Portland on Wednesday, coupled with a Washington Wizards victory over these same Kings on Wednesday will give the Cavs the NBA’s worst record.
Irving had 15 points and four assists, but shot just 6 of 19 while battling through traps and double teams most of the night. Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 15 rebounds and Omri Casspi had 10 points in his first game back in Sacramento. Casspi was cheered throughout the night and the man who sang the national anthem prior to the game even wore one of Casspi’s old No. 18 Kings jerseys.
But the hottest player on the floor for the Cavs was Waiters, who for one night flourished in his new role as a reserve. He was 5 of 9 and made all three of his 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter to single-handedly keep the Cavs in the game on a night Irving struggled.
“I thought he played great,” Scott said. “He scored, made some great decisions offensively. He didn’t turn the ball over. He did some real good things.”