Last night’s victory against the New York Knicks was just the 20th of the year for the Sacramento Kings, but once again, it took last minute heroics for the Kings to pull it out. The Kings let a lead disappear once more, but Skal Labissiere played the savior and bailed the team out with a huge three.
The Kings as a whole have seemed to find themselves in this situation quite a bit this year. According to NBA.com, the Kings have played 30 games this season in which they’ve been in a “clutch” situation (ahead or behind by 5 points or less in the last two minutes) and they’ve won 16 of them.
The Kings offense also transforms in these situations. Normally, the Kings have the worst offensive rating in the entire league. But in these close games in those final minutes, the Kings offensive rating jumps to 127.5, second best to just the Cleveland Cavaliers. No team has a better effective Field Goal percentage in these situations than the Kings either.
Why are the Kings so good in these situations compared to, well, the rest of the time? The answer might lie on the sideline in Coach Dave Joerger.
Coming into Sacramento, Joerger had a reputation for being fantastic coming out of timeouts and as a game manager. His work micromanaging the Grizzlies a couple years ago with all their injuries and still making the playoffs was nothing short of a herculean effort. And when you look at Dave Joerger’s teams in the clutch, you can notice a trend.
Last year, a season in which the Kings won 32 games, the Kings played 44 games in the clutch, winning 22 of them. That was good enough to tie for 5th most clutch wins in the league last season, with every other team until Philadelphia at 16th place having an over .500 record overall. The year before that, Dave Joerger’s last with the Grizzlies, Memphis won 25 of 41 clutch games, good for second most in the league. In 2014-15, Memphis led the league in clutch victories, going 27-13 in 40 games. They once again led the league in clutch victories in 2013-14 going 30-14 in what was Dave Joerger’s coaching debut.
Dave Joerger’s teams have historically done very well in close games, and the Kings are proving to be no different, even if the talent and/or experience level is not nearly the same as it was in Memphis. Of course, the problem for Sacramento is in keeping the game close. Too often this Kings team gets blown out early and spends the rest of the game playing catch up. They also haven’t had many big leads to hold themselves.
But for now, this is a start.