The Game That Ended the Kings Season

Think midseason NBA games don't matter? Just ask the Sacramento Kings about their January 25th game against the Charlotte Hornets.

On Sunday January 24th, the Sacramento Kings were 20-23. They were riding a five game win streak, and were in sole possession of the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The bottom half of the standings looked like this:

6. Dallas            25-21
7. Houston        24-22
8. Sacramento  20-23
9. Utah             19-24
10. Portland     20-26

DeMarcus Cousins was coming off a career high 48 points in the previous games statement victory over the Indiana Pacers. The Kings hadn’t traveled further east than Utah since January 5th and were only a game back of Houston in the loss column. Sacramento was to host the Charlotte Hornets on the 25th in the final game of a three-game homestead before heading out on a mini-road trip. 

That mini-road trip was to begin the following night, on the 26th, in Portland. The Blazers would have had three off days by the time the Kings came to town, poised to make a run at that last playoff spot. The Kings were scheduled to fly to Portland as soon as their contest with the Hornets wrapped up. Their plane would have to wait much longer than expected. 

The Hornets were 21-23, and the matchup with the Kings was their first game of a 4-game west coast swing. Charlotte was fighting for the playoffs in the east, only two games behind Miami for the last spot. Point guard Kemba Walker was on a tear, having averaged 35 points, 6 rebound and 6 assists per game in his previous four contests, including a career high 52 points in a game against Utah.

Kemba was hot, but DeMarcus and the Kings were hotter. During the same time span that Kemba was putting up big numbers, Cousins put up bigger ones. He was averaging 36 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists and the Kings were winning. Looking at the matchups, it was easy to predict a big game for Cousins. With Al Jefferson out, the Hornets would employ Spencer Hawes, Frank Kaminsky and Tyler Hansbrough to defend the leagues most talented big man. 

The Kings came out firing, outscoring Charlotte 31-16 in the first quarter, and held a 56-46 lead at halftime. The third quarter, as usual for the Kings this season, was terrible. They were outscored by the Hornets 42-28, who hit nine 3-pointers on their way to a franchise record 20 3-pointers made. The Kings would actually outscore the Hornets in the fourth and final frame, and found themselves up by 1 with five seconds left and the Hornets in possession of the ball. 

A Kemba Walker drive and foul resulted in two free throws for the Hornets, and a chance to win the game for Kemba. After making the first free throw, he missed the second, and the game was headed to overtime.

That plane would have to wait on the tarmac a bit longer. 

Overtime went back and forth and as Cousins continued to add to his point total, and so did Troy Daniels. A player who averages 10 minutes per game, Daniels had not scored in double figures all season. He would eventually finish with 28 points, going 8 for 11 from 3-point range and adding seven rebounds. Each time it looked like the Kings were about to make a run, Daniels would hit a dagger three to quiet the crowd. 

It was Walker again, however, who had the ball in his hands with the score tied at 124 and under ten seconds on the clock in overtime. He drove again, but this time his shot was rejected by Willie Cauley-Stein, and the game would head to double overtime. 

Its hard to assume what the thoughts are of a professional athlete in the heat of battle, but these guys are pretty sharp. The fact that they had a game in 20 hours, in a different city, had to be somewhere in the back of their minds. 

In the second overtime, Cousins would foul out, finishing with a career high and franchise record 56 points. The Kings would hold a two-point lead with ten seconds to go, until Troy Daniels hit his eighth and final 3 of the game to give the Hornets the victory. 

The Kings were deflated, and the plane was waiting. 

At the time, the Kings were 2-8 in the second game of back-to-backs, none of which came after an overtime game. They didn't stand a chance the next night in Portland. Sacramento lost by 15, and Cousins was the high scorer with 17. The Blazers bench was too much for an exhausted Kings second unit, as Gerald Henderson, Ed Davis and Allen Crabbe all scored in double figures. The win would kickstart the Blazers run that would put them in the playoff picture for good. 

Portland would go 13-2 over their next 15 games behind superb play from Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum. 

The Kings? They went 5-10 over that span, and 3-7 over the next 10. The Jazz would eventually surpass Sacramento, as have the Nuggets. The Kings will likely finish in 11th place and select in the top ten of this years draft. 

Good teams will learn from a loss and bounce back from it. The Kings let a bad back-to-back derail the only hopeful season the franchise had in the last decade. 

Heres to next season.  

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