D’Angelo Russell caught fire in the form of a layup drill on his way to 44 points, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hit the game-winning layup in the last seconds of the game.
After the game, Kings head coach Dave Joerger and the players explained what happened.
”We relaxed and were very casual, didn’t run back on defense, turned the basketball over a ton and took a lot of jump shots because we thought it was going to be easy, and I told them two minutes into the fourth quarter – this team is going to run it back at you because we’ve made so much carelessness with the basketball, and we fouled kind of silly fouls, and so they were in the penalty shooting the rest of the game with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. So, what they did is just pin their ears back and just kind of got to the lane over, and over and over. It’s a good experience for us, I don’t like to have to take a loss to learn that, but I think we’ll be better for having gone through this. When you have opportunities to put teams away you’ve got to do that.”
”They had confidence and when you get confidence you can’t do nothing about it, you make everything.” “We didn’t do anything about it, so who are you going to blame for it? Blame us for it, the coach for it? ... Gotta blame us who were on the court, we’re professionals we’ve got to learn to adjust.”
”We got too confident that we’re going to win the game.” “They’re fighting for something, they had more fight than us ... they just out-toughed us, out-played us, they’re the guys that were most confident, they were talking, they were having fun, they took the fun away from us in the fourth quarter.”
”They made shots, we turned the ball over, they got it going, got hot and they finished the game better than we did.” “You can’t have that, especially in this position we are in, you try to let it go, but of course, this one is going to sting a little bit.”
”We blew it. I hate losing, especially like that, that’s pretty much all I’ve got to say.” “They just went on a run, De’Angelo made some good plays, we let them make good plays and we lost the game ... he got to his spots, made sure he got where he wanted to get to, and we let him, and that can’t happen.”
”No matter up 40, no matter up 5, 10, whatever, we’re up, down, whatever, we’ve got to keep playing hard and we didn’t do that tonight and we got beat.”
”We kind of relaxed in those moments and then the Basketball God punished us, that’s how it goes.”
”They were just running, we were making a couple of bad turnovers, and some bad shots, and they were just running … transition defense, it’s tough to guard the three-point shots and that’s how he gets going (Russell).”
A common theme with the Kings in the later stage of this season is an inability to close out games. Since Feb 13, the Kings have suffered 10 losses, and five of those losses have been by two points or less, as Akis pointed out. We’ve heard the players say it seemed like the other teams wanted to win more. Hield recently said, “We’ve got to dig deeper, we’ve got to play hard, scrap, we can’t have teams wanting to win more than us.”
While it may feel like that in the moment after a tough loss, it is more likely that this group just doesn’t quite yet grasp what it takes to win these close games.
Harrison Barnes, who has the playoff/championship experience on this roster, recently had this to say about why this team hasn’t been able to close out games.
”I mean, 50-50 basketballs, that’s been a big thing for us, we haven’t been able to come up with those in timely possessions and rebounding, I think we can do just a better job of limiting second chance points, but overall we are scoring the basketball, we are running up and down, we’re developing chemistry since this team has come together,” Barnes said before the recent east coast road trip. “We’re playing teams that are hungry. Everyone is trying to climb for a position, whether they have already made the playoffs or trying to make the playoffs ... we just have to be a little bit better down the stretch.”
Hield also recently referenced what the Denver Nuggets did last season, learning from just missing out on the playoffs.
”They learned from the experience and then they grew, and that’s something we can learn from,” he said.
The common message in this recent stretch of tough losses has been “learning experience.” Let’s hope that by next season, this group understands how to close out teams when they have a chance, thanks to what they are going through now.