SACRAMENTO, Calif. — George Karl has been a winner at virtually every stop during his illustrious 25-year NBA coaching career. He found a way to win again Friday night in his return to the NBA with the Sacramento Kings.
Center DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 15 rebounds, leading Sacramento to a 109-101 victory over the Boston Celtics in Karl’s debut with the Kings. Small forward Rudy Gay added 28 points for the Kings, who overcame a 16-point first-quarter deficit to win despite committing 24 turnovers.
Point guard Avery Bradley scored 28 points to lead four players who scored in double figures for Boston. Center Tyler Zeller scored 22 points.
Karl, a two-time cancer survivor, touched on his emotions after the game.
“I’ve been very emotional most of the day,” he said. “I’ve been very nervous. You start thinking, ‘Can you do this?’ It’s going to be a great challenge. I love the challenge, but I’ve got to be good, too. When they got that big lead, I kind of got punched a little bit. I thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do here?'”
The Kings hired Karl during the All-Star break, signing him to a four-year, $15 million deal. Karl replaced Tyrone Corbin, who went 7-21 after taking over for Michael Malone in December.
Karl came into the game sixth on the NBA’s all-time list with 1,131 coaching victories, trailing only Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkins, Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. Karl guided his teams to the playoffs 22 times in 25 seasons. His resume includes one trip to the NBA Finals with the Seattle SuperSonics and nine consecutive postseason appearances with the Denver Nuggets, who fired him after he led the team to a 57-25 record and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2012-13.
Karl, who has a history of turning around struggling teams, smiled and waved to the crowd while receiving a rousing standing ovation before the game. He grimaced and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as his team committed six turnovers in the first four minutes. The Celtics turned those turnovers into easy baskets, racing out to a 16-2 lead.
“The turnovers hurt us and the pick-and-roll defense was probably too soft,” Karl said. “That was one me. I wanted to switch on their pick and rolls a little bit, and when we went away from that our defense got much better.”
The Celtics went up 27-11 on a jumper by Bradley, but the Kings rallied furiously behind their reserves, ending the quarter with a 17-0 run to take a 28-27 lead on a dunk by small forward Omri Casspi with 1.3 seconds remaining.
“Our second unit was great,” Karl said. “They came in with energy and they came in with confidence, and that has not been their personality all year.”
Bradley agreed, saying the Kings got a spark from their bench.
“Once their second unit came in, they made a run,” he said. “We weren’t getting back and they were getting easy buckets.”
The Kings took a 40-33 lead on a layup by Cousins with 8:34 to go in the second quarter. Boston tied the game at 40 on two free throws by Zeller, but a 3-pointer by Gay capped a 10-0 run that put the Kings up 50-40.
Sacramento led 56-51 at the break. The Celtics cut the deficit to 58-57 on a layup by guard Marcus Smart early in the third quarter, but the Kings regained control, going ahead 74-66 when Cousins dunked emphatically in the face of Celtics center Jae Crowder with 3:24 to go.
The Kings took an 82-74 lead into the fourth quarter. The Celtics stormed back to take a 90-89 lead on a 3-point play by Zeller with 6:46 to play, but the Kings quickly reclaimed the lead and held on in the final minutes.
“It’s good to get a win,” Gay said. “We felt energized. I feel energized now knowing we got a win and we’re buying into the system.”
NOTES: Boston PG Isaiah Thomas, acquired from the Suns in a four-team deal at the trade deadline, did not join the Celtics in Sacramento. Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points per game for the Kings last season, could make his Celtics debut against the Lakers on Sunday. … Celtics F Jared Sullinger (14.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg) is out indefinitely with a stress reaction to the fourth metatarsal in his left foot. … Kings PG Darren Collison missed his fifth consecutive game with a right hip flexor strain. … PG Andre Miller suited up for Sacramento a day after the Kings acquired him from Washington in a trade for PG Ramon Sessions. … The Kings signed G David Stockton to a 10-day contract. Stockton, the son of Hall of Famer John Stockton, averaged 16.6 points and 7.9 assists in 31 games for the Reno Bighorns, Sacramento’s NBA D-League affiliate.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.