SACRAMENTO -- That loud thud you might have heard Friday evening in the Sacramento area was the Kings falling flat on their face in a must-win game.
The Kings needed a win to climb within a game and a half of the San Antonio Spurs for the 10th spot in the Western Conference standings. But Gregg Popovich’s squad refused to yield.
Led by 25 points from DeMar DeRozan and a 22-point, seven-assist performance from Dejounte Murray, the Spurs outlasted the Kings down the stretch to come away with the 113-104 victory at Golden 1 Center.
“This definitely was a big game for us, I hate that we didn’t get it done tonight, but we still got a fighting chance,” Terence Davis said following the loss. “Everyone knew it was a big game that these guys were going to come out and play their best.”
Davis was one of the lone bright spots for the Kings. He was a sparkplug off the bench, finishing with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting in 32 minutes of action. There were a few other strong performances, but overall, the Kings looked every bit the part of a shorthanded team missing crucial pieces in an important game.
It was a battle from the opening tip with an experienced Spurs team trying to enforce their will on the Kings early in the game. Sacramento fought back multiple times and even had an 81-78 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We gave ourselves a chance and we’re disappointed in the loss, clearly, but loved the fight from the group and we did some things well out there, just not enough down the stretch,” coach Luke Walton said.
After a spirited back-and-forth battle, the Spurs built an 11-point lead with 5:49 remaining in the fourth. The Kings made one last run, cutting San Antonio’s lead with one with 3:43 remaining. But Popovich’s squad attacked the rim, hit their free throws and knocked down mid-range jumpers as they put the Kings away.
“They made big shots, big plays down the stretch,” Richaun Holmes said. “I feel like there was a lot of plays we were there defensively. They cast a mid-range or a tough shot just right over our heads honestly. Give all the credit to the Spurs, they did what they had to do.”
With the loss, Sacramento now trails San Antonio by three and a half games with five games remaining. Maybe more importantly, they lost the season series to the Spurs 2-1, which means that they need to finish ahead of San Antonio in the standings if they are going to advance to the play-in game.
The Kings aren’t eliminated quite yet. They have a pair of winnable games with the Oklahoma City Thunder rolling into Sacramento on Sunday and Tuesday. But a 3.5 game lead with five games remaining is a nearly impossible hill to climb.
Meanwhile, the Spurs start a six-game stretch against the Blazers, Bucks, Nets, Knicks and Suns twice over a brutal nine-day stretch to finish the season starting Saturday in Portland.
Sacramento hasn’t been in a game like this in a long time. Most of their players are inexperienced when it comes playoff-level basketball, which is what the team faced Friday night in front of a noisy and engaged home crowd.
The Kings still plan to finish out the season strong and try to win every game possible. De’Aaron Fox is getting closer to a return, as is Harrison Barnes and according to Walton, he plans to use every able body to finish out the year, as long as they have medical clearance.
This is one of the few times in the last 15 seasons that the Kings have had a meaningful game this late in the season. Hopefully they learned something from the experience, even if they came out on the losing end.