by Charlie O. Mallonee
On Thursday night, the Sacramento Kings record fell under .500 for the first time since January 8th when they lost to the Boston Celtics 126-120. The Kings are now 33-34 on the season after this loss on the road. They are now 1-2 on the four-game road trip with one game to go in Philadelphia on Friday night
This was once again a battle of the tiers. There are three tiers in the NBA. Tier one is the upper one-third of the teams that are guaranteed a playoff spot and have a relatively realistic chance to go deep into the playoffs.
Two tier teams are the ones that are battling for the number seven or eight slots in the playoffs and may wind up in the draft lottery with very late selections. Tier three teams are tanking to get the best shot at one of the top three picks in the draft lottery in order to turn their team around as soon as possible.
Boston is a tier one team. The Kings have made the jump from tier three to tier two this season. That has been exciting for fans, but ultimately, it is going to be painful because each loss drops the Kings further out of playoff contention.
Why did the Kings lose?
- The first reason the Kings lost was the play of Kyrie Irving. Irving is a closer. He is a legitimate superstar. Irving posted a triple-double scoring 31 points, dishing out 12 assists and grabbing 10 rebounds. As they said in the classic movie Glengarry Glen Ross, “Coffee is for closers.” Kyrie can have the whole pot.
- The Kings also lost because they did not convert their opportunities at the charity stripe into points. Sacramento went to the free throw line 23 times but put only 13 shots through the hoop. A 56.5-percent free throw shooting percentage is just unacceptable for professional basketball players. This has been an on-going problem for the Kings this season, and it is a problem that the team must address in the off-season if they are to take their game to the next level.
Kings top performers
- Buddy Hield was the game’s leading scorer with 34 points. He hit 14-of-24 shots overall and went 6-for-10 from long distance. Mr. Hield also distributed seven assists while turning the ball over just one time.
- Willie Cauley-Stein recorded a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds. WCS added four assists and made zero turnovers.
- Marvin Bagley III returned to the court and scored 14 points in just over 19 minutes of playing time. It is reasonable to believe that MB35 was playing with a minutes restriction in place. After the game, Dave Joerger said it was unfair to expect too much from Bagley having to come back in a “playoff game”.
- De’Aaron Fox turned in another strong performance scoring 19 points while dishing out nine dimes and hauling in seven rebounds.
- Harrison Barnes put 20 points up on the board.
Boston top performers
- Kyrie – see point 1 on why the Kings lost.
- Jaylen Brown came off the bench to score 22 points. His play proved to be a real “back-breaker” versus the Kings.
- Marcus Morris posted a double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds.
Where the teams stand after the game
With the loss, the Kings remain in sole possession of ninth-place the NBA Western Conference, but they are now five games back of the eighth-place LA Clippers. The Kings have 15 games left to play in the regular season. The projection has been that they would need to win a minimum of 43 games to make the playoffs. That would mean going 10-5 in the final 15 contests.
The Celtics record improves to 42-27 on the season and Boston has a very secure hold on fifth-place in the Eastern Conference. They have a 6.5 game lead over sixth-place Brooklyn. Boston is chasing Philadelphia for fourth-place. The Sixers currently have a 1.5 game lead over the Celtics.
The Kings made the short flight to Philly and will play the very tough 76ers on Friday in the second game of a back-to-back set on the road. The tip-off is scheduled for 4:00 PM PDT.
Boston will host the scrappy Atlanta Hawks on Saturday afternoon.