By Morris Phillips
Buddy Hield coming off the bench? Yeah, that’s working quite nicely.
After shooting poorly over an extended period dating back to December which in part prompted coach Luke Walton to take his leading scorer out of the starting lineup, Hield put on a good face and took his demotion in stride.
But being a team player didn’t immediately perk up his game. That transformation came on Monday night in Minneapolis… in the fourth quarter with the Kings in a seemingly helpless place trailing by 19 points after a sleepy, defensive effort through three quarters.
Hield scored 20 points in the fourth quarter, part of his career-best 42-point night, as the Kings wiped out a 22-point deficit in the final 5:42 and shocked the Timberwolves in overtime, 133-129. The Kings’ comeback was so improbable, it hadn’t been accomplished previously in the next generation statistics era beginning in 1997. Over the final 2:49, the Kings wiped out a 17-point deficit to send the game into overtime, where they prevailed. Over the previous 24 seasons, and in well over 8,000 occasions, teams had trailed by 17 points with less than three minutes remaining in regulation or overtime, and lost each time.
Then the Kings came up with the comeback of comebacks on Monday.
“We should be able to play with a 15-point lead with a couple of minutes left. They made shots. We didn’t execute our defensive game plan. We didn’t get rebounds when we needed to. We didn’t make the needed plays,” said Wolves coach Ryan Saunders.
Over the final 5:42 of regulation, the Kings scored 33 points, in itself a once-in-a-generation accomplishment for offense in such a short period. Hield came up with four of the seven Kings’ 3-pointers in the final stretch, including a 29-foot bomb with 30 seconds remaining. Only one more three, from Nemanja Bjelica, came in overtime, as the Kings shot 18 of 40 from distance for the game.
But that was small bits compared to the Wolves, who made a franchise-record 23 (in 46 attempts) but still came up short. Minnesota lost for the 10th consecutive outing, which led to a locker room filled with disbelief after the game. Shabazz Napier, who missed a pair of critical free throws with 34 seconds remaining even invoked the memory of Kobe Bryant in relaying his disappointment in his and his team’s performance.
“The competitor he is, he would be upset with us, truly upset with us,” Napier said. “Today we did a dishonor to him , to the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, to the fans.”