SACRAMENTO -- When it really matters, the ball almost never bounces the Sacramento Kings’ way. They are the Charlie Brown of the NBA. Always so close to that magic moment, only to have the ball ripped out from underneath them as they hurl through the air with a barbaric yelp, landing firmly on their backside with nothing to show for all their hard work but bruised ego and another loss.
It happened again on Sunday night. Mired in a four game losing streak, they had one of the best the Eastern Conference has to offer on the ropes. Up three with 2.4 seconds remaining, all Sacramento needed was a stop to send the Golden 1 Center crowd into a frenzy.
The Toronto Raptors inbounded the ball to veteran guard Terrence Ross. He took a separation dribble and then launched a 29-foot 3-point attempt over the outstretched arms of Matt Barnes. Stunned, the Sacramento faithful turned from elated, back to Charlie Brown in the matter of .1 of a second.
Just like so many times before, they were hurling through the air with nowhere soft to land. Overtime.
“I knew I tipped it, I knew he didn’t get it off in time, I knew it didn’t start on time, I also knew we were going to overtime,” center DeMarcus Cousins said from his locker stall. “That’s just usually how things work for us, meaning the Kings.”
Cousins remembered the last time something like this happened. It was two seasons ago against the Memphis Grizzlies and the Kings’ current head coach Dave Joerger. With 0.4 seconds left, the Grizzlies threw a ball under the basket to Courtney Lee and he somehow managed to curl the ball up from his waist and into the basket for a stunning victory.
The Kings cried foul that night, telling the officials that big man Ryan Hollins had touched the ball at the point of inbounds, which should have started the clock. The officials saw it another way and handed Joerger and his crew a big win.
Joerger had a front row seat for the action again, standing just feet away from the inbounder as the final sequence unfolded.
“I said right away, he tipped it, he tipped it, he tipped it,” Joerger said.
Cousins instantly ran to the officials and asked them to review the tape. He knew the ball had glanced off his fingertips and if that was the case, it might have taken too long for Ross to get the shot off.
It seemed like eternity. Again, the Kings hurling through the air knowing that they never catch a break. After an elongated review, which included the play being watched countless times both in Sacramento and in Secaucus, New York at the replay center, official Mike Callahan waived off the shot, giving the Kings a much needed 102-99 victory.
"I think we showed who we really are, what we're really capable of doing," Cousins said. "We locked in as a team. We didn't get distracted with what was going on."
According to the official transcript from Callahan to a pool reporter following the game, Cousins did indeed tip the ball, and the clock should have started .1 of a second earlier than it did. After watching the play countless times, the officials were able to determine that Ross took exactly 2.5 seconds to release the ball.
Cousins’ tip saved the game and the Kings ran to their locker room to celebrate a hard fought win. For one night, Charlie Brown didn’t miss. He hit it right on the laces and it was bedlam in Golden 1 Center.
“It was a tough NBA game, I hope it was fun to watch,” Joerger said. “It was fun to be part of.”
It wasn’t a party in the locker room. It can’t be when you are looking at 5-9 record on the season. But there was a sense of relief amongst the players.
“We’re just trying to get off our snide,” Rudy Gay said following the contest. “Obviously, we really needed that win. We came out, executed, played well, played through adversity.
“We don’t never get those breaks. So it was really surprising. I guess it was the basketball gods looking down on us because we played a really good game.”
The game will go down as the tip game, but the tale of the tape will show much more. Sacramento’s defense shut down one of the league’s best scorers in DeMar DeRozan for the second time this season. The high scoring wing came into the contest averaging 33.0 points per game and when it was all tallied in the end, he posted just 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting.
On their home floor, the Kings were outrebounded 48-37, but they shared the ball, coming away with 26 assists to just 14 turnovers.
Gay was the star of the night. He found another gear in the fourth quarter, scoring seven of his 23 in the final frame. He added nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the win.
Cousins struggled with his shot, but still managed to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds. In his first start of the season, Darren Collison came away with 15 points and a game-high nine assists while turning the ball over just once in 32 minutes of action.
The Kings finish up their five-game homestand with games against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday and then the Houston Rockets on Friday before hitting the road for a six game trip out East.