SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The play of the 76ers all season long has been puzzling in not just how fast it can change during a game but how dramatically it comes.
Tuesday night against the Sacramento Kings the 76ers put together perhaps their best half of offensive basketball. In the first 24 minutes of the game, the Sixers shot 27-of-48 from the floor (56.3 percent) including 8-of-16 from three point range. They protected the basketball to the tune of just four turnovers and scored their most points in the first half of the season with 70.
The seven point lead they had built at the intermission, however, quickly dissipated as the Sixers went 10-straight possessions in the third quarter without a point, lost the lead and ultimately the game, 107-106, to fall to 17-54.
As was the case in Philadelphia almost two weeks ago, Kings center DeMarcus Cousins did a terrific man against boys impression as he erupted for 33 points and 17 rebounds. He shot 17-of-19 at the foul line as the Sixers tried to collapse everyone in the lane in hopes of stopping him. And when the defense was solely focused on Cousins, Rudy Gay was able to find holes on his way to 21 points.
"I think that they heated up defensively," said coach Brett Brown of the Kings in the third quarter. "I'm sure the 70 points at halftime inspired them to take their length and coach (George) Karl wound them up a little bit and it bothered us. They did a hell of a job taking us out of some stuff and we had far too many turnovers."
After protecting the ball so well in that first half, the Sixers wound up turning it over 17 times in the second. Still, they had a chance to win the game when they had possession of the ball after a timeout with 8.2 seconds left, but they never got a shot off as Hollis Thompson had the ball taken away by Cousins to end the hard fought game.
Cousins' performance didn't match the one he had in Philadelphia when he totaled 39 points and 24 rebounds, but he was just as dominant. Though he shot just 8-of-27 from the floor, many of his misses were gathered by teammates due to the Sixers collapsing on Cousins so much. The Kings (25-45) finished the game with 20 offensive rebounds.
"He's the best center in the league," said Sixers forward Thomas Robinson, a former teammate of Cousins. "He's scary, too, for him to be that size and to move the way he moves, the I.Q., the skill set. You haven't seen nothing like this since probably a younger Shaq (O'Neil)."
Robinson, who was drafted by the Kings in 2012 with the fifth overall pick, had another good game with 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Robert Covington, who scored 12 consecutive points in a one minute, 14 second span in the middle of the fourt quarter, led the Sixers with 21 points. Nerlens Noel, who was saddled with foul trouble much of the second half, collected 14 points, 10 rebound and six blocks while valiantly battling Cousins all night. Ish Smith and Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 while Thompson added 11.
"Once a team makes adjustments, you have to make adjustments as a team as well," said Covington. "Once they start guarding things different, then we have to find ways to get others involved in certain spots. We did that in the fourth and tried to fight our way back."