HOUSTON -- Rudy Gay has played only 10 games with the Sacramento Kings, but he remembers what he saw of them.
When things got tough, they usually didn't show the mental toughness to deal with it.
"There was times before playing this team you would see guys just drop their heads, and we didn't drop our heads (Tuesday)," Gay said. "We kept it positive."
The Kings showed the kind of focus they've lacked and pulled off their biggest road victory of the season. Trailing the Houston Rockets by three points with 1:40 to play, Sacramento responded by scoring nine unanswered points and won, 110-106, at Toyota Center.
After so many games in which the Kings looked panicked and confused down the stretch, they exhibited poise on offense and defense.
"We looked like a mature team," Gay said. "Where we had breakdowns and where I've seen the game turn around, we didn't let it go. They went up; we went back up. We kept playing the game."
The Kings survived the hot shooting of James Harden, who scored a season-high 38 points, and defended well in the fourth quarter.
Kings coach Michael Malone's goal is to hold opponents to 20 points or fewer in the fourth period. His team did just that, holding Houston to 20 points on 9-for-27 shooting after giving up 34 in the third quarter.
In the middle of much of the defensive action in the fourth was DeMarcus Cousins, who helped hold Dwight Howard scoreless in the period while collecting two steals and a blocked shot. Cousins also drew a charge on Harden with 30.9 seconds to play and the Kings leading 107-104.
"It wasn't about getting buckets. It was about getting stops at the end," Cousins said. "That's what we did as a team and we came out with a big win."
Malone has criticized Cousins for not playing defense well enough, but he had nothing but good things to say about the way he handled himself on defense against the Rockets.
"It's great to see," Malone said. "(Cousins) is not a shot blocker; that's just the reality. But even if you're not a shot blocker, you can be a great position defender, and there are guys like that in the NBA. And DeMarcus has proven and shown at times that he's willing to give up his body in key situations. To see him do that, to be in the right spot at the right time, to give his body up to give us an extra possession is big time."
Cousins finished with 17 points, 16 rebounds and four steals.
"In the second half, DeMarcus, his defense and his offense carried us," Malone said.
Howard finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, but he had only two points in the second half. Cousins picked up two fouls in the first quarter and sat out much of the first half.
The Kings (10-20) were coming off a loss Sunday at San Antonio where everything seemed go wrong late in the game. There were multiple defensive mistakes, and the offense became stagnant.
Against Houston (21-13), the Kings showed more resolve, especially on defense.
"We communicated more, we talked more and got a little more physical," Isaiah Thomas said. "Guys were just talking more, knew their principles, and guys were ready to help each other."
There was also more help on offense. Gay, Thomas and Cousins combined for 80 points against the Spurs, but the Kings had six players in double figures against the Rockets.
Gay led the Kings with 25 points. Thomas had 17 points, 10 assists and no turnovers. Ben McLemore added 13 points.
And the bench accounted for 30 points, 15 coming from Marcus Thornton and 10 from Jimmer Fredette.
"We did not crumble and wither and try to do it ourselves," Malone said. "I thought we tried to win as a team."
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