Asked what he brought to the Sacramento Kings since his Dec. 9 trade from the Toronto Raptors, small forward Rudy Gay said mostly veteran leadership to a young team.
After the events of Tuesday’s game at New Orleans Arena, in which his teammates were whistled for three technical fouls, that may be true.
However, Gay failed to mention other things, such as athletic plays, versatility and scoring — lots of scoring. With Gay pouring in 41 points, including big shots that quelled Pelicans threats, the Kings rolled to a 114-97 victory.
The performance, which tied his career high, came after Gay was ejected from Sunday’s loss at Oklahoma City, scoring just six points in 27 minutes.
“I didn’t even know how much I’d scored; it was more about just getting the win,” said Gay, who shot 16-of-26, including 5-of-8 on 3-point attemtps. “The guys started expecting me to be even more aggressive. I never heard people tell me to be more aggressive when I already had a lot of points.”
The loss was the ninth in 10 games for New Orleans (16-24), coming after a road win in Memphis on Monday. The Kings (15-25) had lost their previous two games, but have won nine of their past 20 against a tough schedule.
The win avenged a 13-point loss to the Pelicans, who were not limited by injuries then, in Sacramento on Dec. 23.
The Pelicans entered the fourth quarter trailing 91-70 but scored six quick points to start the quarter, cutting the deficit to 15. However Gay soon hit his fifth 3-pointer, pushing it back up to 20.
He said the victory was impressive not because of his performance but because of how the Kings played.
“We came out in the third quarter with a lot of momentum,” Gay said. “And in the first half, we moved the ball around, and people were getting shots and scoring easily. And we were playing good defense.”
The Kings built a 23-point lead in the first half but gave the Pelicans hope by losing their composure near the end of the half. But Sacramento snatched it back in the third quarter.
Sacramento outscored the Pelicans 7-4 to start the third, taking a 71-60 lead at the 9:27 mark. Then Gay sank a 3-pointer that ignited a flame. By the time he sank his second 3-pointer of the quarter, with 4:54 showing, the Kings had gone on a 12-0 run, pushing their margin to 83-60, matching second-quarter bulge they had.
The Kings started the third 8-of-11 from the field. New Orleans didn’t trim the margin below 20 points until Brian Roberts sank a jumper at 2:49, making the score 85-66. And it was 88-70 when Gay sank a 30-foot 3-point shot at the third-quarter buzzer, pushing the lead to 21.
“We just never got it going,” said Anthony Davis, who scored 16 points on 4-of-16 shooting. “I couldn’t get it going. We were right there. Then they took off again, and we had no chance.”
The Pelicans entered the second quarter trailing by 18 and with Gay beginning to have his way.
However, New Orleans scored on 10 of its last 11 possessions in the quarter to climb back from a 23-point deficit to 64-56 after center DeMarcus Cousins went to the bench with his third foul. Rookie center Jeff Withey scored 12 of his career-high 14 points in the quarter.
With Gay scoring on the fast break and on tip-ins and jump shots, the Kings built a 55-32 lead with about six minutes showing in the quarter.
“In the first quarter, we held them to 38 percent shooting,” said Kings coach Mike Malone, who was on Pelicans coach Monty Williams’ staff in 2010-11. “In the second quarter, it was the Jeff Withey show. We stopped defending and got selfish with the ball.”
Sacramento quickly gained control by the 8:44 mark of the first quarter and ended strongly, gaining a commanding 38-20 lead.
The Kings shot 70 percent from the field and shot 13 free throws, making eight. Cousins was 4-of-6 from the line in scoring eight points. New Orleans had just five free throws, making three.
Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps vehemently denied on Tuesday morning recent reports in the New York Daily News and on the Internet that the team is shopping guard Eric Gordon and guard/forward Tyreke Evans. Demps said “It’s simply not true.” ... Reserve guard Anthony Morrow was ill and sat out Tuesday’s game.