SACRAMENTO -- One rebound. One stop. One finish in transition. The Sacramento Kings couldn’t get the one play they needed to break through and come away with a win Friday evening at Golden 1 Center.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. After falling behind by 13 at the 7:34 mark of the fourth quarter, the Kings did exactly what they usually do. They fought back and made it a game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
With 50.2 remaining, De'Aaron Fox hit a driving layup to cut the Clippers' lead to three. After a series of misses and offensive rebounds by Los Angeles, Buddy Hield picked up a steal and the Kings broke out with Harrison Barnes leading the way.
Barnes attacked the rim, hit the layup and drew a whistle. Unfortunately for Sacramento, the call went to Danilo Gallinari, who slid in to take the charge with just under 10 seconds remaining.
Sacramento couldn’t recover from the play and ended up losing by a final of 116-109.
It’s a reoccurring theme with the Kings since right before the All-Star break. They are competing with high-quality teams, but they’ve lost five out of six, mostly in heartbreaking fashion.
"It's pressure, man, it's anxiety,” Hield said of the recent stretch of losses. “All that is around. Everybody knows what's going on. You don't want to miss. This is called being a professional. This is our job and this is the fun part about it - proving yourself. And we've got to prove ourselves."
Hield led the way for Sacramento with 23 points, but shot just 6-of-19 from their field. Known for his ability to take over in the fourth quarter, the Kings’ leading scorer went scoreless in almost eight minutes of action down the stretch, missing both of his field goal attempts.
He wasn’t the only one to struggle. Bogdan Bogdanovic shot 3-of-15 from the field on the evening and just 2-of-6 with the game on the line in the fourth.
The tension is mounting for the Kings. They are scoreboard watching on a nightly basis and they understand what a win would have meant in the standings.
“Every game from the [All-Star] break is a playoff game,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “Every possession matters and everything goes down to the wire. Every game is a playoff game. This is our playoff right here to get to the playoffs. This is our playoff to the playoffs. We have to have that mentality every game from here on out.”
It was the fourth loss this season to the Clippers and a costly one at that. They dropped three games behind LA for the seventh spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
“They just made the right plays in the last five minutes," rookie Harry Giles said. "That’s what it’s all about, who’s going to make the least amount of mistakes and they did and they won the game. That’s how it went tonight.”
The Clippers have their number. The Kings have lost nine straight overall to Los Angeles and a stunning 13 straight in Sacramento to Doc Rivers' team.
A win would have cut the Clippers lead in the standings to just a single game. The loss drops Sacramento three games back to LA and leaves them 2.5 behind the San Antonio Spurs for the eighth spot with just 20 games remaining.
Sacramento caught a break when the Lakers lost to the Milwaukee Bucks later in the evening. The Kings remain a game ahead of LeBron James’ club in the standings.
The schedule lightens up slightly over the next week. After two days off, the Kings will face the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics at home before heading out on the road to play the Knicks again, followed by a struggling Washington Wizards team.
They’ve dug themselves a hole, but with a quarter of the season still remaining, the Kings still have time to make up ground and get back into the conversation.