By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–Slow starts, heartbreaking finishes, the Kings have seen enough of those this season.
But the reality is that’s what the Kings are about, and Monday’s heartbreaking 114-112 loss to the Magic–decided on Aaron Gordon’s three-point play with 1.1 seconds remaining–was another painful reminder.
“You don’t want to come down to these one-point games because crazy things happen,” coach Luke Walton said. “You have to take care of business before that.”
The Magic came in as the NBA’s lowest-scoring team, averaging just above 103 points per game. But the Kings immediately made the visitors feel comfortable by allowing them 33 first quarter points, which matched their best output in the opening quarter this season. Orlando didn’t have to up the tempo, they just took what the Kings gave them: 26 shot attempts, ample second chance opportunities, four made threes and five made free throws. Down 33-25 after a period, the Kings were already trending negatively.
With the threes falling, and the free throw opportunities swinging dramatically in Orlando’s favor, the Magic took their biggest lead of the night, 65-48 with a minute remaining before halftime. At that point the Kings not named Nemanja Bjelica started to play, constructing a 15-2 run ending the second quarter and starting the third that got them back into it.
Bjelica was keeping the Kings afloat at that point, scoring 25 of the team’s first 63 points. Bjelica would go on to put up 34 points and eight 3-pointers, both career bests, but his super efficient output wasn’t what consumed his thoughts after the game.
“We lost the game earlier, and we need to stop that,” Bjelica said. “We need to start the game like we finished the last five minutes.”
In the game’s final five minutes, Kings’ guard De’Aaron Fox turned on the jets and helped his club wipe out a 100-93 deficit. As the capper to his 31-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist night, the speedy guard got into the lane and converted a three-point play that gave the Kings a 112-111 lead with 15 seconds remaining. As a small consolation, Fox thoroughly outplayed Markelle Fultz in matchup of guards taken in the first five picks of the 2017 NBA Draft. Fultz finished with 16 points and two assists.
On the Magic’s final possession, Evan Fournier patiently dribbled down Fox, but didn’t gain much advantage, and seemed content to settle for an off-balance jump shot at the free throw line extended. Instead Fournier got the ball to Gordon in the lane, who flipped the ball in the basket as Cory Joseph fouled him for the three-point opportunity. The resulting free throw put the Magic up 114-112 with little time remaining.
The Kings felt a foul should have been called on the game’s final play in which a pass in bounds gave Harrison Barnes a four-foot shot opportunity that fell short. But whistles weren’t blowing in Sacramento’s direction on Monday: the Magic converted 25 of 30 free throw attempts to the home team’s 10 of 11.
The Kings fell to 15-25 with the loss, and it was eighth time this season they’ve lost by three points or less.
Marvin Bagley Jr. returned to the lineup after missing the previous ten games and had a strong game with 18 points, six rebounds and two blocks in 23 minutes. Buddy Hield added 16, but Barnes and Trevor Ariza combined to miss 11 of their 14 shots.
The Kings continue their homestand on Wednesday when the Dallas Mavericks come to town looking to break a four-game losing streak to Sacramento that dates back to last season.