SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins and the Detroit Pistons' Greg Monroe, two up-and-coming centers, looked forward to facing off in the paint Wednesday, having compared each other's careers since entering the NBA as first-round picks in 2010.
On this night, Cousins earned the win despite Monroe's impressive statistical performance.
With Cousins producing 21 points and 11 rebounds and hitting a crucial free throw with two seconds left, the Kings held on for a 105-103 win at Sleep Train Arena.
Monroe recorded his first career triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, but he said he'd have preferred a victory. He had Detroit's first triple-double since 2004 and the NBA's first this season.
"Frustrating because we're close," Monroe said. "We did a lot of things well, but we have to focus on defense. We score 100 points, we should win."
Sacramento (2-3) broke the 100-point barrier for the first time this season.
The Pistons, in the midst of a nine-day, six-game road swing, are off to an 0-5 start for the second time in three seasons. Washington (0-3) is the only other NBA team that remains winless.
Cousins attacked Monroe with drives and up-and-under moves, including one for a 102-97 lead with 30 seconds remaining. Monroe's last assist went to Brandon Knight for a 25-foot 3-pointer with 23 seconds to go to pull Detroit within 102-100.
"It's fun going against him," Cousins said of facing Monroe.
Said Kings coach Keith Smart, "Cousins played big. He can do that for us."
Sacramento's Isaiah Thomas scored 12 of his 15 points in the first quarter, and fellow guards Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette and Marcus Thornton went for 15, 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Knight had 21 points for the Pistons, making five of seven 3-point shots. Rodney Stuckey had five points for Detroit while shooting 2-for-5. He has made eight of 46 shots (17.4 percent) this season.
Evans made just one of nine shots Monday in a win over Golden State, but went he went 5-for-11 against Detroit when he wasn't chasing after Stuckey on defense.
"That's big for us because we've got to get Tyreke going," Thornton said.
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said defense doomed his team -- again.
"Until we have a defense-first mind-set, it's going to be hard for us to win," Frank said. "We score 103 points, have 23 assists, get to the free throw line 31 times, and lose. Six guys in double figures and we lose. It comes down to this: we have to commit to defending.
"Defend, rebound. Simple formula, hard to do, but we'll get it. We all want to win games. We have it in us. Right now, we're getting what we deserve."
Kings rookie forward Thomas Robinson was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul and ejected for throwing elbow to the neck of Jonas Jerebko. The blow floored Jerebko with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Kings nursing a 79-74 lead. Robinson and Jerebko were positioning for a rebound.
Moments earlier, Jerebko was poked in the eye by Evans, dropping him to the floor in pain. With his right eye nearly swollen shut, Jerebko was called for delay of game while he attempted to regain his senses on the free-throw line.
Back in the second quarter, Detroit's Jason Maxiell dropped Cousins with a hard foul to the head and shoulder as Cousins went up for a shot. Maxiell was called for a Flagrant 1 foul. Cousins was fitted with a shoulder harness but ditched it after missing a free throw in the third quarter.
NOTES: The Pistons have lost 21 of their last 22 road games against Western Conference opponents. The lone victory in that stretch was a 124-112 decision over the Kings last March to snap a 17-game road skid against the West. The Pistons' previous win before that against the West was vs. Sacramento in November 2010. ... The Pistons are in the midst of a six-game, nine-day trip, having logged 4,835 miles already. ... Kings swingman John Salmons, a starter last season, has yet to be activated. He missed the bulk of the preseason because of the birth of his third child. He rejoined the club last Thursday and is working his way into playing shape. ... Terrence Williams had a productive season in his lone season in Sacramento last season, then signed with the Pistons but did not make Detroit's roster. He has since signed with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.