Even though Domantas Sabonis recorded his 15th consecutive double-double on Wednesday against the Atlanta Hawks, the Kings fell short in another nail-biting finish.
The Hawks defeated the Kings 120-117 in front of 17,611 fans at Golden 1 Center, led by John Collins’s 22 points and 12 rebounds.
For the Hawks, De’Andre Hunter contributed 22 points and eight boards (19-20). Dejounte Murray and Trae Young each finished with 21 points. Originally from Serbia, Bogdan Bogdanovic started his professional career in the Golden State.
Kings guard De’Aaron Fox scored 25 points and added 5 rebounds and 5 assists (20-17). Both Kevin Huerter (24) and Harrison Barnes (22) scored in double figures against their previous club.
Sabonis finished the game with 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists for his 28th double-double of the season, which ranks first in the league. After DeMarcus Cousins set a franchise record with 15 straight double-doubles from December 31, 2013, through January 21, 2014, Sabonis tied that mark.
In their last five games, the Kings have won four of them by a combined total of three points, including a 127-126 victory over the Denver Nuggets, a 126-125 victory over the Utah Jazz, and a 117-115 victory over the Jazz.
After taking a 116-113 lead against the Hawks with 1:16 to play, the Kings went on a 13-2 run but were unable to seal the deal this time.
Kings head coach Mike Brown said, “One thing you do enjoy is we were down for most of the game and our guys found a way to make a run, and not only make a run but to grab a two-possession lead with about a minute to go.” To paraphrase, “It was good to see tonight the resiliency of the group, just knowing that we’re never going to be counted out,” which is something you’ll need to keep in mind throughout the year.
After a thrilling comeback win against the Jazz in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, the Kings were on the road again Wednesday night to take on the Hawks in the second game of a back-to-back set. For the first time since the 2003-04 season, the Kings won 20 games before January 3.
The team hasn’t been five games above.500 since April 2006, when they were, had they beaten Atlanta.
The team has been victorious in a number of “tight games,” as Huerter put it. This seems to be the first close loss we’ve had in quite some time. We’ve done a wonderful job in the last few minutes.”
Many of the players from both teams gathered at midcourt before the game to meet and greet their former colleagues. Bogdanovic played for the Kings for the first three years of his NBA career. Huerter played in Atlanta for the first four years of his career.
Alex Len, a backup center for the Kings, played for the Hawks for two seasons before making his first of two moves to Sacramento.
Fox and Bogdanovic enjoyed a hearty embrace and some laughter, as Huerter shook hands and hugged several of his old colleagues.
During pregame warmups in the opposition’s locker room, Bogdanovic expressed his delight at returning to action. Only the pleasant times here remain in my memory, therefore it’s great to come returning.
Bogdanovic praised Fox’s “great year” and the Kings’ solid play.
I’m pleased for them,” Bogdanovic exclaimed. I was a member of that initial, sort of, unsuccessful attempt. We finished the ninth year and the tenth the following, but we learned a lot. As of this season, I am playing for my first NBA squad. I’m grateful to them because they gave me a shot at the league, and I’m cheering for them this season. They realize that they have chemistry. Everybody’s playing well.”
Huerter’s 3-pointer for the Kings brought them back from a 7-point deficit after the Hawks had jumped out to an early lead. At the end of the first quarter, and for the majority of the second, the score was knotted.
At the intermission, the score was 61–58, with Atlanta in the lead for the Falcons. After the Kings had tied the game early in the third quarter, the Hawks went on a 9-0 run, capped by a jumper from Collins, to take a 73-64 lead.
The Kings were down by seven points with 3:50 to go, but they trimmed the deficit to three with a late third-quarter surge that culminated in a tie score thanks to a breakaway dunk by Barnes.
With under a minute to play, the Kings went on a 13-2 run that was capped by Huerter’s 3-pointer and Fox’s nasty dunk over Onyeka Okongwu, giving Sacramento a three-point lead.
Sabonis stepped to the free throw line with 50.1 seconds left and the Kings still holding a one-point lead. Sabonis went 0 for 2 from the free throw line during that time, despite the Kings going 25 for 25 overall.
With 31 seconds left, Murray converted two free throws to put Atlanta up 118-117. He then stole the ball from Fox and scored on a fast break layup to increase Atlanta’s advantage to 120-117.
In the waning seconds, Sacramento had a chance to win, but Okongwu blocked a floater by Fox and Sabonis missed a putback.
Brown was questioned if Sabonis’s missed free throws were a deciding factor. Brown said that their defense collapsed at the end, allowing Young to score a layup and a three-point play.
Sabonis’s missed free throws were a “thing like that,” Brown remarked. Similar to the recent staff changes at Fox, it’s inevitable that this will happen as well. You can’t let the opponent score two easy layups, especially if one of them is an and-one, in the final three possessions.
“You just have to do a better job guarding the basketball collectively in a circumstance like that because, I say this all the time — people say, ‘Hey, guys, you’re doing great playing fast and the offense is this, the offense is that.’
The offense is exciting to watch and may even lead to a few regular-season victories, but if we want to be a serious playoff contender, we need to be able to shut down opponents when they score.