DALLAS -- With 5:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and his Kings trailing by five points Tuesday night, coach Dave Joerger sent three of his starters back into the game and hoped for the best.
Center Willie Cauley-Stein and forward Harrison Barnes both had solid games coming into the fourth, but in the last five minutes, it was all De'Aaron Fox.
The sophomore point guard turned on the jets, running right at the heart of the Dallas Mavericks' defense. He hit floaters. He hit layups. He got to the free-throw line.
“You’ve just got to be in attack mode, just try to keep going to the rim,” Fox said. “When we got stops, we were able to run back at them.”
After scoring 11 points through the first three quarters, Fox hit Dallas with a 12-point outburst in the closing minutes to lead the Kings to a 125-121 win at American Airlines Center.
“We have a lot of guys in here that want to take that big shot," Fox said. "We were able to do it today. We knocked it down, but you’ve got to have that confidence, you’ve got to have the guts to be able to shine in those moments.”
It was like a switch was flipped. After letting the refs know his displeasure with the lack of whistles early, the 21-year-old turned up the intensity late. For stretches, he looked like a man possessed.
“Man, he’s so talented, he’s so fast, too fast,” Joerger said. “He got very competitive. He felt like he was driving earlier and not getting to the foul line. He put a little extra juice in it coming down the stretch. You see the competitor that he is.”
Fox finished the night with 23 points, eight assists and five rebounds. His final rebound came off his own missed shot and led to another basket that helped seal the Kings' win.
There was an aggression in Fox’s game that he shows in flashes. As he gets stronger and more mature as a player, it’s likely that we'll see more of this version.
“He’s going to come back next year a lot stronger than he was this year, just like he came back a lot stronger than he was the year before,” Cauley-Stein said. “He’s growing into his body, and it’s going to make his finishing a lot more crazy. I don’t know what people are going to do when he can muscle them.”
The Kings haven’t been eliminated from the playoffs quite yet, but it’s close. They would need a miracle to make it to the postseason -- they're 5 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot with eight to play -- so their focus now is on finishing the right way.
“We’re trying to win as many games as we can before the season ends,” Fox said. “You just try to take that momentum into next season.”
The 37-37 Kings would like to get to the 41-win mark and cement a .500 record for the first time since the 2005-06 season. It won’t be easy. Not only do the Kings have a handful of difficult games, but they're grouped together oddly without much of a break.