Bobcats race to lead, hold off Kings

John Delong, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- According to the old adage, NBA games are usually decided in the fourth quarter, but Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford begs to differ.
Clifford wants fast starts, and he got one Tuesday, when the Bobcats snapped a three-game losing streak with a 95-87 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
The Bobcats jumped out to a 35-22 lead after one quarter, and they led by as many as 18 points in the second quarter. That gave them the working margin they would need to hold off a Sacramento comeback in the second half.
"Everybody always talks about the NBA is a fourth-quarter league, but statistically it's much more of a first-quarter league than a fourth-quarter league," Clifford said. "Our readiness out of the gate was good. We were able to play from ahead, and I think having that cushion early was the difference."
Guard Kemba Walker led the Bobcats with 24 points, hitting four 3-pointers, and guard Gerald Henderson added 20 points. Henderson got the Bobcats off on the right foot with 12 first-quarter points.
"The first quarter kinda shows if you're ready for the game or not," Henderson said. "We're not a team that's as good coming from behind from the start. We know that about ourselves, and so we like to get going early and get control of the game. And tonight I think we did a better job of finishing the game, too. Against some of the really, really good teams in the league, we struggle doing that, but I think we're getting better."
The Bobcats (11-14) were coming off losses to the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers by a combined margin of 17 points. Charlotte watched the Lakers score the last nine points in the Bobcats' 88-85 loss Saturday.
"We'd lost three in a row, three very winnable games," Henderson said. "We probably should have won at least two of them. It's tough when you lose three in a row, a couple at home, so we just tried to come out tonight with a lot of energy. It was a must-win for us, and we took advantage of it."
Walker shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range on a night when the Bobcats were a combined 8-for-17 from beyond the arc. Both Walker and Henderson were 7-for-13 from the field.
The Bobcats also got 16 points off the bench from guard Ramon Sessions but just 10 points from center Al Jefferson, who fouled out after being totally outplayed by Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins had a monster game with 30 points on 9-of-13 shooting, plus 17 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
The Kings got 21 points from guard Isaiah Thomas, but not much else. Newly acquired forward Rudy Gay played just 24 minutes because of stiffness in his left knee. He finished with four points on 1-of-6 shooting. The Sacramento bench combined for just 16 points.
"There were two very good low-post players going at it tonight, and for him to get Al fouled out of the game, well, you look at the stat line and he was a monster," Sacramento coach Michael Malone said of Cousins. "He made some very good passes for a while until they started double-teaming him, and we have to work on that, with our spacing. But DeMarcus kept us in the game for a long time with his play tonight and his presence in the low post."
The Kings (7-16) shot 37.5 percent from the field. They became the 21st team the Bobcats held under 100 points in 25 games this season.
"Credit to them, I think Steve Clifford does a great job," Malone said. "They are one of the better defensive teams in the league, so give them credit. But we had some shots we didn't knock down. Rudy got off to a tough start, his leg was bothering him. He's one of our main cogs, and he played limited minutes, so that was tough."
NOTES: The Kings opened a four-game Eastern trip that will also include games against the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, the Miami Heat on Friday and the Orlando Magic on Saturday. ... F Rudy Gay scored 24 and 26 points in his first two games with Sacramento, then was limited to four on Tuesday. ... The Kings have played the fewest road games of any team in the NBA. They are 2-6 on the road. ... The Bobcats were without F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (fractured left hand) and C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture, left foot). Coach Steve Clifford said that Kidd-Gilchrist would continue to wear a cast until Dec. 27, then will be evaluated again. All signs are that he will be ready soon thereafter. ... The Kings were without F Carl Landry (torn left hip flexor). ... The Bobcats closed out a three-game homestand. They will play the Raptors in Toronto on Wednesday.

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