With nine minutes to play, the Kings were staring down the barrel of their tenth consecutive defeat. They were down eight, having blown a double-digit first-quarter lead, and the Pistons were revving up for the finish.
But a surprise stint from Nemanja Bjelica — brought into the game in the fourth quarter to help juice the offense — was just the ticket to turning Sacramento’s momentum around, as the Kings rallied and held on for a 110-107 win.
Bjelica came into the game with six seconds left in the third and then didn’t leave the court for the rest of the night. He finished with eight points and three assists and broke the defense for a game-winning layup with nine seconds to play.
It didn’t seem like the Kings would need to down to the wire to earn the win. Sacramento came out in the first quarter with the appropriate anger of a team that had just been slapped in the face the night before. The starters collectively blitzed the Pistons, scoring on 11 of their first 12 possessions, and offensive rebounds were a critical piece of that success. The Kings had 18 points in the paint and nine second-chance points in the first 12 minutes. Richaun Holmes finished the half with 12 rebounds, a season-high.
With three minutes to play in the first quarter, Sacramento was up 31-14, almost twice the biggest lead the Kings have had over the last 10 games.
Sad stat:— Jason Ross (@JasonRoss1140) February 27, 2021
This is already the largest lead for the Kings during the losing streak at 9 points. Their largest lead on this road trip was 5 points.
The Pistons inevitably came back to close the margin to 10 at the end of the first, though the Sacramento bench without Haliburton did yeoman’s work to keep the Kings afloat. DaQuan Jeffries only made one of his six shots, but he played great defense, specifically in transition. Kyle Guy also put up a goose egg in a scoring lineup, but he leveraged the threat of his scoring to get into the paint and create buckets for Harrison Barnes and Holmes.
The starters unfortunately didn’t have the same juice when they got back into the game in the second quarter, understandable on the second night of a back-to-back. Dennis Smith’s pace and Jerami Grant’s physicality in the half court proved problematic. The lead dwindled to three by halftime.
The third quarter continued the downward trend for the Kings, and the turning point was when Holmes picked up his fourth foul. Sacramento was up 65-59 when Holmes went to the bench, but trailed by five at the end of the quarter.
The fourth quarter was a different story, with Holmes able to come back and Bjelica acting as a hub on offense. He proved to be the secondary playmaker De’Aaron Fox needed to get the point guard comfortable. Fox scored 11 points in the fourth on 4-of-7 shooting, benefiting from the spacing and passing Bjelica provided.
It was neck-and-neck for most of the fourth quarter until Barnes gave the Kings the two-possession cushion they needed. He was defended by Mason Plumlee on a switch, and stepped back for the clutch three.
"BUTTER. BARNES. BIG TIME. BUSTIN' IT OPEN." pic.twitter.com/XYhgHLZGm0— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) February 27, 2021
Winning against the Pistons, who have the worst record in the East, isn’t exactly a signature victory. But for now, it’s something to celebrate for the Kings. Good to get the losing streak over and turn a new leaf.