A week ago it looked like the Kings were going to fold up shop and send George Karl out the door without another win. But the fight is back. The Kings fell again on Monday night in Chicago by a final of 109-102, but they were in it until the final minutes.
“At the end of the game, we got a little tired and ran out of gas,” Karl said. “ Chicago was playing with that playoff intensity that they needed to win this game. Their defense picked up, they were far more disciplined with their offense and shots.”
Turnovers and late game execution have plagued the Kings all season long. This game had a similar look and feel of 15 or 20 of the Kings 43 losses on the season. DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo teamed up for 14 turnovers. The Bulls outscored the Kings 19-7 in the final 6:34.
“What held us was the way they were moving the ball,” Cousins said. “We just got stagnant and their defense took advantage of us. We weren’t able to make any plays down the stretch and with that momentum, they carried it throughout the fourth and sealed a win.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kings go cold late, fall to Bulls in Chicago]
The Kings haven’t had a killer instinct all season long. When the opposing defense tightens up late, the Kings have very little offensive base to rely on. The Bulls controlled the speed and pace of the game late and executed with strong pick-and-roll sets.
Despite the close score, there was no question which team was the veteran playoff team and which team formed in October with 10 new pieces.
“I thought Chicago turned up the heat,” George Karl told reporters after the game. “Our response wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good enough.”
It wasn’t good enough may be written on the headstone of the 2015-16 Sacramento Kings season.
THE BUTLER DID IT:
Caron Butler has sat on the bench twiddling his thumbs for most of the season. At 36-years-old, the veteran forward still believes that he has something to give other than sage advice, but Karl has handed him the dreaded DNP-CD in 56 games this season.
With the season decided and everyone expecting Karl to turn to younger players like Willie Cauley-Stein and Seth Curry for minutes, Butler has played in five of the last eight games. He brings an experience and basketball IQ that the Kings have been missing all season long.
“I’ve just been watching and evaluating the whole season knowing what we need consistently,” Butler added. “I just tried to provide some kind of spark coming off the bench. I was just ready and the guys responded.”
Butler scored 10 points and picked up three steals in 21 minutes of action. The Kings looked like a different team with him on the floor. He’s never out of position. He stays in front of his man and rotates on defense like a player with nearly 900 games of regular season NBA experience.
“That’s a guy who knows the business and you can’t do anything but respect him,” Cousins said of Butler.
The 14-year veteran wasn’t perfect in his time on the floor. He went 0-of-5 from behind the arc, but he made a noticeable difference in the game. No one takes a play off while Tuff Juice is on the floor, which is why the Kings inked him to a two-year deal in the offseason.
“We’re trying to help each other moving forward, not only for the rest of this season but the rest of your life,” Butler said. “Just competing and staying with it, being professional and doing your job. That’s what it’s all about. We’re obligated to go out there and perform at a high level for each other. Not if the playoffs don’t look good mathematically. Whatever the case may be, we’re still obligated to play for the respect of our peers and our teammates. We just need to leave it all out there and let the chips fall where they may.”
Why now? Why did Karl wait for nearly the entire season to play one of his most experienced players? And why is he doing it at the expense of younger players when the final fate of the season has already been decided?
The veteran coach has dodged that question at every turn. But on Monday in Chicago there was a very specific reason for Karl to call on no. 31.
“I know his family is here from Racine (WI),” Karl said. “We talked about playing him more minutes tonight because we wanted him to play in front of his family.”
Butler may come back for Year 15, be it with the Kings or someone else next season. But if not, it was a class move by Karl to give the former All-Star a few clicks in a meaningless contest. Maybe if he would have turned to Butler earlier in the season the Kings wouldn’t be in this spot.