SACRAMENTO -- Sometimes it comes down to just one play. A bad bounce. A skip off the rim. A tipped ball that slips through your fingers.
The Sacramento Kings didn’t play a perfect game Friday night as they fell 106-98 to the Los Angeles Clippers at Golden 1 Center. In fact, the second quarter was one of the worst 12 minutes of basketball they have played all season.
But with 23.9 seconds remaining in the game, Sacramento had a shot. They trailed 100-98 to a very good Clippers team and one play decided the outcome of the game.
DeMarcus Cousins beat his man off the dribble and when help came, he tried to find Gay under the basket. The pass didn’t find its destination. Instead, it found the Clippers Chris Paul.
It’s impossible to fault Cousins for the late turnover. He was being unselfish, like he had been for much of the game. His team-leading seven assists can attest to that.
“The ball’s in his hands, we trust him to make decisions,” Rudy Gay said of DeMarcus Cousins and the deciding play. “There’s a lot of guys in the paint. I would have rather him shoot it to be honest with you, but it is what it is. We trust him to make the right play and usually he does.”
If Cousins had it back, he probably would have gone up for the lay-in. Or maybe not. It wasn’t a bad play, just a bad outcome.
“It was a solid play,” Darren Collison said. “We live with Cuz down the stretch. Whatever plays he decides to make. He’s been winning a lot of games for us down the stretch since I’ve been here. Every once in awhile it may not go too well, but he tried to make a play. That’s all you can ask for.”
Garrett Temple was forced to foul Chris Paul, who knocked down the two free throws. The Kings struggled to get a good shot twice more, fouling Paul on each occasion. He scored six points at the line in the final 22.7 seconds of the game to give the Clippers the eight point win.
It shouldn’t have come down to one play. The Kings had plenty of opportunities to turn the tide earlier in the quarter, but they struggled to hit shots with the game on the line. Sacramento shot just 37.5 percent in the quarter and were outscored 31-25 by Los Angeles in the fourth.
“If we’re trying to make the playoffs, this is something we have to learn from,” Collison said. “If we’re going to be able to make a run, we have to beat teams down the stretch. They’re not going to beat themselves. You’ve got to beat them. You’ve got to beat them by executing.”
This is a growing trend with this Kings team. Small mistakes seem to snowball into much bigger situations. A two point lead finds its way to five or six and then the game is out of control.
With the loss, Sacramento fell to 15-21 on the season. They return to Golden 1 Center Sunday evening to face a Golden State Warriors team that is fresh off a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night at Oracle Arena.
JOERGER GOES SMALL
Dave Joerger loves his big man lineup. More than once this season he’s hinted that he would mix things up, only to revert right back to a starting group that included both Cousins and 7-footer Kosta Koufos. And then he threw a curveball Friday night against the Clippers.
For one of the few times this season, Joerger went small with his first unit, inserting Ty Lawson into the starting point guard spot alongside Collison, Gay, Cousins and Matt Barnes.
“I thought it was effective, it was more spacing on the court,” Collison said following the loss. “I thought me and Ty operated pretty well with one another. We were able to get in the paint and create shots for each other and the rest of our teammates. Anytime we have that much space, it’s so much easier to get into the paint.”
The Kings used the newfound spacing to attack the Clippers, jumping out to an early 29-19 lead after 12 minutes of play. They shot 12-of-24 from the field and posted a 7-to-1 assist to turnover ratio in the quarter.
Collison finished the night with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting and added five rebounds in 35 minutes. Lawson dropped in 17 points and six assists. The addition of a second ball handler with the starting group helped Sacramento bolster their assist-to-turnover rate to 23-to-7 on the night.
There is no word on whether this was a permanent move or a one off for Joerger and his staff.