With the game winding down and the Kings clinging to a 117-116 lead, Hassan Whiteside missed a dunk and then ripped a ball away from three Toronto Raptors defenders. He shook off the crowd and found rookie Tyrese Haliburton standing at the right elbow.
After missing his first six attempts from three, the 20-year lined up a 28-footer and drilled it to give the Kings some much needed breathing room.
Sacramento came away with the 126-124 win over the Raptors, but up to that moment, Haliburton was struggling with his shot. Fortunately for the Kings, he’s never one to shy away from a big moment.
“When it’s winning time, I’m always ready,” Haliburton said during his post game interview.
Moxie. Confidence. Swagger. Whatever you want to call it, Haliburton got a second helping when the basketball gods were dishing it out.
“I guess I was brought up that big time players make big time plays when it’s crunch time,” Haliburton said. “I’ve always wanted to be a big time player, so in order to do that, I’ve got to make plays down the stretch.”
In just his 18th game as a pro, Haliburton has already earned the trust and respect of his teammates. If anyone on the Kings bench knew he had missed all of his 3-point attempts before that, they didn’t care. There is something special about the Iowa State star and it’s possible that his coach described it best.
“He’s got the clutch gene,” Luke Walton said. “Even though he was having an off shooting night, he stepped up and hit that when we needed it.”
It’s jarring to see a rookie play like this. Haliburton finished with a modest 10-point, 11-assist, six-rebound double-double. He set a new career-high in assists, but his stats were almost an afterthought in a highly contested game.
Harrison Barnes put up a team-high 26 points. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield combined for 46 points against a stout Raptors backcourt. Hassan Whiteside and Cory Joseph both outscored Haliburton off the bench.
But when the chips are down, Haliburton has a knack for making winning plays. Whether it’s a pass or a steal or a big shot like he had against Toronto, he’s a player that the Kings are starting to trust, regardless of his level of experience.
“He’s out there playing closing minutes,” Buddy Hield said. “That shows how much trust Luke has in him and shows how much trust we have in him. He’s got the ball in his hands to make the right play. He’s a rookie, but he’s playing like a vet. He’s very poised.”
While the Kings understand that Haliburton will make mistakes and there will be times when he will come up short, the early returns are stunning.
He has the clutch gene. He’s a big time player. Most importantly, he’s a player that gives the Kings a better chance of winning games. That’s a rare quality for any player, let alone one that played at the NCAA level last season.