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Clippers 97, Kings 95: Wild comeback falls short

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In a roller coaster of a game, a late Buddy Hield explosion can’t save the Kings

Kimani Okearah

A game of runs, they call it. It would be hard to find a game that better embodies this adage than today’s Kings game against the Clippers. At the end, a clutch Blake Griffin fadeaway with Willie Cauley-Stein draped all over him was the difference between the two teams, with the Kings falling to 5-14 after a 97-95 loss.

The Kings came out of the gates with hot shooting led by Skal Labissiere and Zach Randolph, who scored 7 points each in the first quarter to power the starting group. The Kings bench pushed the lead to 14 points at the end of the half, led by 11 points from Hield and 9 from Cauley-Stein.

The third quarter was when things went off the rails. After a George Hill floater put the Kings up 18 at 65-47, the Clippers unleashed a 26-4 run to take the lead, including 17 straight points. During this stretch, the Clippers flipped a switch on defense, getting into the Kings’ grill and making life uncomfortable with pressure on and off the ball. The Kings did not respond well at all, taking quick shots and committing eight turnovers in the third quarter on their way to getting clubbed 29-10 overall. The Kings have been playing better lately, but still show they can get rattled by defensive pressure.

The fourth quarter showed some better fight from the Kings on defense, but the offense was still far too slow. The Clippers stretched their lead to 10 points on a Wesley Johnson corner three.

And then Buddy Hield happened.

In the last 6:15 seconds of the game, Hield exploded for 16 points behind the kind of shotmaking Kings fans have been waiting to see from the second year lottery pick. He made threes off of screens, hustled for offensive boards, drove in for floaters, and punctuated the performance with a bonkers isolation pullup three over Griffin to tie the game at 95 with 15 seconds left. After Griffin’s clutch shot over Cauley-Stein, Buddy rushed a desperation heave with DeAndre Jordan on his hip, and that was the end of it.

At the end of the day, this wasn’t a discouraging performance from the Kings. We’ve seen the team clam up and die in the face of ratcheted pressure from their opponents often this year, and disastrous third quarter aside, they didn’t stop competing. Progress is still being made.

Observations:

  • In tonight’s episode of Dr. Cauley and Mr. Stein, we got to see a mixed bag from the Kings’ third year big man. On the one hand, his defense was mostly on-point; he was clearly the best option against Blake Griffin, who had his way with both Randolph and Labissiere. He did a great job anchoring the defense with his rim protection and activity helping beaten defenders. On the other hand, he still is abysmal at contesting three pointers, whether it was Griffin stepping out or a perimeter player he was switched out on. He took some bad shots on offense on his way to a 4/10 shooting night.
  • Garrett Temple’s shot has deserted him recently; as Tim pointed out on Twitter, he’s shot 5/30 from the field and 1/9 from three in his last four games. He’s still not shy taking shots, which is a double-edged sword. Sometimes he gets clean looks with his feet set, but other times he has a tendency to take bad fadeaways.
  • The Kings need Zach Randolph right now. The offense often completely dies, and Zbo’s shot creation, albeit inefficient, is a necessary evil to get through those slumps. But when the team is playing well, I dream of how the team looks like in a post-Randolph world, where his limitations on defense and tunnel vision on offense aren’t a problem.
  • Bogdan Bogdanovic looks incredibly comfortable running the second unit. Even in the third quarter, he was putting the ball on a platter for teammates, but Kosta Koufos missed a hook from two feet out and Temple mishandled a pass on the fastbreak right at the rim.
  • Buddy Hield in seven games as a starter, per 36 minutes: 15.7 points on 35.4/22.6/87.5 shooting splits (42.1 TS%). In 10 games as a bench player: 22 points on 50.5/59.1/81.8 splits (64.4 TS%). It might be time to perhaps move him back to the starting lineup. He might have struggled as a starter, but I suspect that was mostly because he was adjusting to all of his new teammates and struggling to find a good pass/shoot zen. In my opinion, he’s the best scorer on the team, and the starting group really needs his offense, especially now that he looking more and more comfortable by the game finding his offense.

For the opponent’s perspective, visit Clips Nation