Playing the second of a back-to-back and their fourth game in five nights, the Kings succumbed to Kobe Bryant’s 32-point performance and fell to the Lakers 98-95 at the Staples Center on Tuesday.
“We lost the game for two reasons -- 21 second-chance points by the Lakers and 13 missed free throws,” Kings coach Michael Malone told the media in Los Angeles.
The Kings had a three-point lead entering the fourth quarter but the Lakers (6-16), who entered the game allowing 110.9 points per night -- most in the NBA, held Sacramento (11-11) to 95 overall and 14 paltry points in the fourth quarter.
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“I missed a lot of free throws down the stretch,” Darren Collison told reporters. “We just couldn’t rebound the ball. It's a tough loss but we just have to do a better job on the rebounding part. We have to be able to knock down our free throws.”
Collison was 2-for-6 from the line in the fourth quarter perhaps his only blemish on a season high 26 point night that went along with his six assists and zero turnovers.
Sacramento missed 13 free throws -- uncharacteristic for a team shooting 78.5 percent from the free-throw line on the season. And their late execution on the road was lacking.
After a Jordan Hill layup gave the Lakers their first advantage of the fourth quarter, Collison’s reverse layup regained the lead for the Kings at 95-94 with 42.9 seconds to go. But Bryant made two free throws to make it 96-95 with 34.4 seconds left and the Kings never scored again.
Sacramento, a bottom five team in the league in 3-point shooting percentage, went a surprising 7-for-15 from downtown on the night, yet couldn’t convert from long range on two key offensive possessions.
Rudy Gay’s 3-point attempt at the 19.9-second mark didn’t go down and after Bryant made two more free throws to make it 98-95, Nik Stauskas’ 3-pointer from 25 feet was short with 2.5 seconds to go. Game over.
“We ran two plays late in the game,” said Malone. “The first one where we called a timeout, and got Rudy Gay the chance to catch on the right wing and make a play, with screening action on the weak side for Ben McLemore, who I think was open. But we’re gonna trust Rudy Gay to make plays.
“And that last play, you give (the Lakers) credit, they defended it well. It was a play with a lot of different options. The first look was for Nik Stauskas to come up, but if he didn’t have it, to have other screening action to get Ben McLemore and Darren Collison a look. So, the execution was just OK on that play. It needs to be a lot better. ”
“Execution is a big part of the game, especially down the stretch,” said Collison. “We were subpar as far as execution.”
Conversely, the Lakers stretch run included nine points from Bryant over the final 3:12 to seal the win.
“This loss really, really stings,” said Malone. “It's a bad loss. Not because of who we played, I would never disrespect the Lakers, but for us to have the lead and play as well as we did at times, just to give it all back, and not have the poise to handle the adversity down the stretch.”
“I thought in the fourth quarter, we wanted the ball, they had to have it -- big difference. I thought they out-physicalled us, pushed us away, and had a great sense of desperation almost, if you will, to come up with those rebounds and put-backs.”
It was the seventh consecutive game for the Kings without center DeMarcus Cousins, who is out with viral meningitis and the Kings are now 2-5 without the big man.
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“(Cousins) bails us out on offense,” Collison admitted. “He gives us another body that rebounds. He’s the best rebounder in the game, so we definitely miss him.
“We have other guys who can pretty much rebound the same way, so this is no excuse. We have guys who can step up and fill that void.”
THE GOOD: Notwithstanding a tough night at the charity stripe, going 2-for-8, Darren Collison was terrific, pouring in a season-high 26 points to go with six assists, all while not committing a single turnover.
THE BAD: The Kings allowed 14 offensive rebounds and 21 second-chance points to the Lakers.
THE TAKE: On a night where defensively, the Kings did enough to get the job done -- matching their average of 98 points allowed in wins this season -- Sacramento was done in by missed free throws, a lack of execution in crunch time, plus the devastating 21 second-chance points.
Sacramento has yet to mature and overcome the absence of Cousins on the road.
Cousins’ return is uncertain at this juncture, but the Kings have seven of their next eight games at Sleep Train Arena.