HOUSTON -- Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins copped to being swept up in the moment, intoxicated by his matchup with Rockets center Dwight Howard on Tuesday night at Toyota Center.
Then he settled down.
Cousins rebounded from early foul difficulties and took over down the stretch, delivering spectacularly on both ends of the court as the Kings snatched a 110-106 win over the Rockets.
With Houston clinging to a 104-101 lead, Cousins scored on a reverse layup after spinning past Howard on the baseline with 1:32 to play. He added a put-back off an offensive rebound for a 105-104 lead with 56.3 seconds left before picking the pocket of Rockets guard James Harden.
After Kings rookie guard Ben McLemore turned Cousins' steal into a transition layup, Cousins drew a charging call on Harden to seal the win.
Cousins finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds and four steals. After picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter, he watched from the bench as Howard dominated the second. The fourth period was his.
"I look forward to games like that," Cousins said. "I think the fact that I do look forward to those games, that's what got me in early foul trouble. I was so antsy, so pumped to play well. I guess you can say that got me in foul trouble, but I love games like this."
Forward Rudy Gay was one of five additional double-digit scorers for the Kings, adding 25 points in his 10th game with Sacramento (10-20).
Harden paired a season-high 38 points with 10 rebounds. He poured in 16 points in the third quarter and then buried a series of difficult jumpers to seemingly put the Rockets in control in the fourth. However, Cousins was a tour-de-force alongside Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, who struggled with his shot yet proved disruptive.
Thomas finished with 17 points and 10 assists.
"I thought we had the game really under control up until two minutes left," Rockets guard Jeremy Lin said. "At that point it's just making winning plays, and they made a lot of winning plays."
Gay produced an opening half far more efficient than his previous visit to Toyota Center, scoring 17 points on just nine shots after hoisting 37 shot attempts en route to a 29-point outing in a loss with the Toronto Raptors on Nov. 11. He worked over whomever Houston sent his way defensively, drilling a trey and also converting all four of his foul shots.
When the Rockets (21-13) attempted to forge a comeback behind Howard, who followed his scoreless first quarter with a 13-point second period, guard Marcus Thornton came off the bench to energize the Kings. Thornton poured in 15 first-half points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. His burst proved key for the Kings.
After the Rockets clawed to within 49-48 on a dunk by forward Chandler Parsons with 3:05 left in the first half, Thornton sparked a 9-2 run with his offensive rebound and put-back at the rim. The Kings led 58-52 at the break, largely on their plus-12 advantage on shot attempts.
"We didn't start off with great energy," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We came in at halftime and I thought we had a little bit more burst in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter, again, we dried up."
The Kings stifled Howard in the second half, and he wound up with 15 points and eight rebounds. Sacramento's ability to withstand Harden late reflected lessons learned from its near-win over the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday.
"I thought down the stretch tonight on both ends of the floor we did a much better job," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "We did not crumble and wither and try to do it ourselves tonight. We tried to win as a team."
NOTES: The Rockets capped a difficult run of eight games in 12 days on Sunday in Oklahoma City, prompting coach Kevin McHale to give the team Monday off despite a 31-point loss to the Thunder that left Houston with a 5-3 record during that stretch. "I don't know if we earned our rest -- we took it though," McHale said. "I wanted to practice so bad, but I thought we'd probably have about six or seven guys." ... Rockets F/C Greg Smith (sprained right knee) missed his sixth consecutive game but is probable to return Friday night against the New York Knicks. ... The Kings' 112-104 loss at San Antonio on Sunday included being outscored by 14 points in the fourth period, an indication of their continuing effort to acclimate newly acquired F Rudy Gay. "We've shown flashes," Sacramento coach Michael Malone said. "But for it to be there consistently, guys are still figuring out how to play with each other, most importantly in crunch time."