Rudy Gay went for 39 points and DeMarcus Cousins added 29 points and collected 12 rebounds, but it still wasn’t enough for Sacramento to secure a road win in Orlando on Friday night.
“Probably our defense,” Kings coach George Karl told reporters after the Kings 119-114 loss to the Magic. “Defensively in the first half, giving up so many numbers, so many points.
“We dug a hole that was so big it was difficult to come back from, and we did a hell of a job fighting our way back and stuff like that.”
The Kings (21-39) allowed the Magic (20-43), who played without starting center Nikola Vucevic due to an ankle injury, to score 24 points above their 95 points per game average.
“I don’t think we were aggressive with our on-ball defense and it kind of got those guys going especially Victor (Oladipo) and (Elfrid) Payton,” DeMarcus Cousins told the Orlando media.
“We let them penetrate and they made plays with their penetration. They killed us early and once they got going it was pretty hard to stop.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kings' comeback falls short, edged by Magic]
Sacramento was victimized by six Magic players in double-digits led by Victor Oladipo, who scored 32 points and had 10 assists.
Payton tied a career-high of 12 assists while also scoring 10 points.
“Ben’s (McLemore) still what, a junior in college?” Karl said of the matchup with Oladipo. “The games I saw Victor (Oladipo) play on film, he was playing great. He was playing with a lot of confidence.
“We never got in control. Ben (McLemore), I think his defense affected his offense. And it’s just a situation (with) young players, just kind of move the pieces around and see who can finish the game, who can play well.”
In sharp contrast, after Gay and Cousins, the only other King in double figures was Omri Casspi, who scored 12 points off the bench.
Sacramento trailed by as many as 18 points in the third quarter but battled back to take the lead at three different junctures of the fourth quarter.
“We made a run,” Rudy Gay told the media in Orlando. “We played well and moved the ball around. Obviously we didn’t finish the way we wanted to.”
The Kings suffered from a lack of execution down the stretch.
With a one-point advantage at 106-105, with roughly two and half minutes remaining in the game, Casspi and Miller each had chances to extend the lead, but missed consecutive shots within three feet of the hoop.
“Andre (Miller) misses a layup he never misses, then Omri (Casspi) missed a tip-in,” Karl said.
However, the Kings weren’t done yet.
After being fouled on a 3-point attempt, Casspi drained three free throws enabling Sacramento to reclaim the lead from Orlando at 111-110.
However, after a 20-second timeout, Tobias Harris was left virtually wide open and made a 3-pointer with 28.9 seconds remaining in the game to give the lead back to the Magic at 113-111.
“We just lost him,” Karl told the media in Orlando. “We were trying to switch some things to zone up a little bit, and it seemed like Rudy (Gay) didn’t have a real good feel for what was going on a little bit.”
After a Cousins miss, Sacramento fouled Channing Frye with six seconds remaining.
Two Frye free throws extended the Magic lead to 115-111 but Gay countered with a 3-pointer to cut the Orlando lead to 115-114 with three seconds remaining in the game.
However, Harris sealed the deal going 4-for-4 from the free throw line and the Sacramento comeback was over with the Magic winning 119-114.
“It’s not a good loss, but I think it’s a hard-fought loss,” Karl told reporters. “It was a gutty comeback. I wanted to win that game so badly. It would have been great for our morale.
“That’s what the road is. The road’s a hard place. It’s an unfair place. It’s a place that you might have been the better team in the second half, but you don’t get rewarded because we missed two layups when we were up one.”
Sacramento demonstrated grit coming back from an 18-point deficit to take the lead on three different occasions in the fourth quarter.
Rudy Gay was almost unguardable and DeMarcus Cousins secured his 36th double-double of the season.
Jason Thompson surpassed Peja Stojakovic and is now the Kings leader in games played in the Sacramento era at 519.
The Kings porous defense allowing Orlando to shoot a season-high 57 percent from the floor including 13-for-24 from 3-point range.
Orlando outscored Sacramento 19-3 in fast break points and 52-42 in points in the paint.
Sacramento failed to execute on both ends of the floor during crunch time.
There are no shortcuts. The Kings remain a work in progress.
Sacramento must trust in the new system Karl is implementing and focus on the process.
Without that, the desired result of winning will prove even more elusive.