On Friday night, the Sacramento Kings lost a close contest to the Golden State Warriors despite building a 10-point lead with 3:50 remaining. Sacramento’s offense ground to a halt, while their defense collapsed, and the Warriors closed the game on a 17-2 run, ultimately winning the game 130-125. And while the loss in and of itself was incredibly disappointing, studying the final few moments allows us to decipher not just what happened, but why it happened, and if it’s preventable in the future. Eight key miscues, along with a few bad breaks, led to the most disastrous three minutes of the Kings young season.
Miscues #1 & #2
The collapse was initiated by two mental mistakes made by the typically reliable De’Aaron Fox. Willie Cauley-Stein slipped a screen and darted toward the basket, but the passing lane closed too quickly, and Fox’s attempt to thread the needle resulted in a Golden State steal and transition opportunity. Steph Curry led the way on a 2-on-3 fast break charge, and De’Aaron Fox lightly wrapped up the Warriors star point guard in an attempt to prevent an easy bucket. De’Aaron traded a potential two-point bucket in a 10-point game for his fifth personal foul, not a winning swap.
Bad Break #1
Dave Joerger elected to remove the Kings leader from the floor for 1:12, putting his faith in Yogi Ferrell, and while the decision can be called into question, Sacramento’s Head Coach faced a fairly impossible quandary. Looking back, it’s easy to say that Fox needed to remain in the game, but if he had picked up a disqualifying foul prior to the game ending, Joerger’s decision to keep him in the game would also have been second-guessed.
The Warriors offensive possession following Fox’s exit featured a costly gaffe by Justin Jackson, although some grace can be allotted his way as he was asked to guard Kevin Durant down the stretch after the Kings lost Iman Shumpert to a hip pointer injury. Steph Curry jacked up a 25-foot three-pointer with just over three mintues remaining, and the 6’8” Jackson failed to contain the much longer 7’0” Kevin Durant on the offensive rebound. Willie Cauley-Stein fouled Durant on the put-back attempt, and K.D. knocked down one of two free throws, cutting the lead to nine points:
Fox’s absence left Bogdan Bogdanovic as the primary ball-handler and Yogi Ferrell as the off-guard. The Kings failed to penetrate the lane on the next play, their primary method of attack in the half-court, and the ball never moved anywhere below the free throw line. Bogdanovic passed the ball to Ferrell, who quickly dished it back, and Bogdanovic took an ill-advised three-pointer four feet behind the arc. While that’s normally a comfortable shot within Bogi’s arsenal, he wasn’t set well, the Kings didn’t need a triple, and there were still 12 second remaining on the shot-clock:
Bad Break #2
Bogdanovic’s missed three-pointer allowed Golden State another opportunity to chip away at the lead, and that’s exactly what happened. Sacramento’s defense initially held, as Bogdan was able to disrupt a Steph Curry pass to Kevon Looney, but the out-of-bounds play turned into a Kevin Durant fade-way jumper over Justin Jackson. J.J. managed to stick with the Slim Reaper for the entire possession, but elite offense simply bested solid defense:
Bad Break #3
With the lead now sitting at seven points with 2:30 remaining, the Kings executed well on the offense end of the floor, but couldn’t capitalize on their ball movement. Four of the five players touched the rock on the play, and the ball was passed five separate times, eating up most of the shot-clock, but Yogi Ferrell simply missed an in rhythm, open three-pointer:
In a retaliatory move that gave the Kings a bit of a taste of their own medicine, the Warriors immediately pushed the ball up the floor following Ferrell’s miss. Kevin Durant coasted by Justin Jackson in the open court and actually spun the second year forward around. No help defenders showed up in the paint area, even though four defenders were within a couple of feet, and Klay Thompson was somehow left wide-open despite the lack of interior seal by the Kings:
Jackson not only allowed the layup, but fouled Durant in the process. The Kings probably could have afforded to give up a layup or a shooting foul, but certainly not both. Durant nailed the free throw, reducing the once 10-point lead to just four:
The 6-0 Warriors run prompted Dave Joerger to insert De’Aaron Fox back into the lineup, and although it seemed an eternity had passed in the moment, just 1:12 had ticked away in actual game time. Fox attacked the basket on the following offensive possession, looking to Buddy Hield for an open three-pointer, but Steph Curry read Fox’s intent like a brilliant piece of Greg Wissinger fan fiction, and jumped the passing lane, leading to an easy layup. The lead shrunk to just two points:
Nemanja Bjelica entered the game for Justin Jackson following Steph Curry’s bucket, likely to provide spacing on the offensive end of the floor, but the Kings guards failed to utilize his presence on the next possession. The ball once again stayed above the free throw line for the majority of the shot-clock, resulting in a fairly open, but difficult step-back jumper from De’Aaron Fox:
The next possession for each team resulted in a pair of points. Kevin Durant drew a tough foul on Willie Cauley-Stein during one of his patented rip-through maneuvers, while De’Aaron Fox nailed a tough fade-away jumper from almost exactly the same spot he missed just a moment prior:
Although he avoided any mistakes up until this point during the Warriors 17-2 run, Buddy Hield made the most critical error of the evening with 40 seconds remaining in the game. Golden State once again pushed the ball after a Sacramento bucket, with Kevin Durant acting as the primary initiator, and Hield simply forgot who he was guarding. He followed Draymond Green throughout the first 5 seconds of the possession, even though his assignment was Klay Thompson, as it had been for most of the evening:
The result was devastating. Klay Thompson knocked down the open long-ball, and the Warriors took a one-point lead, which they would never surrender, and erased their 10-point deficit in just under 2.5 minutes:
The Kings didn’t score a point the rest of the evening, as De’Aaron Fox failed to connect on another jumper and Buddy Hield missed a desperation three-pointer with five second remaining. Steph Curry made a pair of free throws to seal the game, and the young superteam lost another close game to the defending champions.
Although the post-locker room discussion centered around the players refusal to acknowledge a “good loss” or a “learning moment’, and that’s the exact kind of attitude fans want to see, there were several educational examples for the developing core. Their shot selection in an intense game was poor, as four of their final seven shots were three-pointers, despite a 10-point lead. The Kings also penetrated the key just one time in their final nine possessions, too often trying to sink a singular dagger rather than closing the game within a comfortable rhythm.
Sacramento struggled to get stops on the defensive end of the floor, as well. Golden State made their final four shots and managed to draw nine free throws during their 17-2 run, resulting in too many easy shots with the clock stopped. Iman Shumpert’s hamstring injury in the third quarter cost the Kings their best wing defender, and his absence clearly demonstrated the lack of perimeter stoppers on the depth chart.
The Kings lost an important game to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. They missed out on an opportunity to jump three wins over .500, and failed to execute down the stretch, but a few small changes likely would have resulted in a victory. This team is still growing and learning on a day-to-day basis, and missteps like those on the 14th can evolve into important teaching moments down the road if players are able to recognize and resolve those late game blunders.