The Kings’ Willie Cauley-Stein forced Utah guard George Hill to shoot an airball in the closing seconds of overtime.
But the Kings didn’t contest Rudy Gobert’s outstretched hand. Gobert tipped in Hill’s miss at the buzzer to give the Jazz a 110-109 victory Sunday at Golden 1 Center.
The play initially was ruled basket interference by Gobert. But after a review, the call was overturned, resulting in the Kings’ fourth consecutive loss.
Cauley-Stein finished with 15 points, nine rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block. If not for Gobert’s tip-in, Cauley-Stein would have been the Kings’ player of the game for his late defense and two decisive free throws.
13.8 Willie Cauley-Stein’s scoring average in the last five games.
“He’s one of the best defensive bigs in the game,” Cauley-Stein said of Gobert. “Having to play over him and around him, that’s you learning how to play in the league. It was fun for me to play against him.”
Gobert was a monster around the basket, finishing with 16 points, 24 rebounds and three blocks. Gobert’s layup with 3.6 seconds to play in regulation forced overtime at 97-97. Utah trailed by 16 points in the second quarter before chipping away and outscoring the Kings 28-16 in the fourth quarter.
Defensively, Cauley-Stein drew his toughest matchup since DeMarcus Cousins was traded two weeks ago, and the second-year center battled inconsistency at the foul line.
After Gobert fouled him on a dunk attempt, Cauley-Stein made two free throws with 8.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Kings a 109-108 lead.
Cauley-Stein missed a free throw late in regulation and two attempts in overtime and finished 3 of 6.
Willie’s a fighter. His confidence is real high. He feels like he can play with any big in this league. He’s playing at a high level, not just for himself but for his teammates.
Darren Collison, Kings guard, on Willie Cauley-Stein
“It was a good test because I went from straight nervous to like straight assassin,” Cauley-Stein said of the late free throws. “Let me just make these two real quick, and I’d just missed the previous two. So it’s nice to get the next two down. It’s good for your confidence; it’s good for your team’s confidence. It’s just a good situation.”
Cauley-Stein has shown flashes of being an impact player. He scored a career-high 29 points against Denver on Feb. 23, the first game after the Cousins trade. But he scored only two points in his next game.
“After that first game, he was getting a lot of easy buckets, and for the next two or three, he started doing things like coming down and dribbling, getting the ball at the top of the key and trying to get to the basket,” guard Ty Lawson said. “I was like, ‘Just make it simple. You’re going to get easy layup opportunities right there. Just work on that, and we’ll expand later.’ He’s been playing well.”
In the five games since Cousins was dealt, Cauley-Stein has averaged 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds in 32.2 minutes per game. Playing well against a good team such as the Jazz will be valuable for Cauley-Stein’s development.
“Willie’s a fighter,” guard Darren Collison said. “His confidence is real high. He feels like he can play with any big in this league. He’s playing at a high level, not just for himself but for his teammates.
“He’s a promising talent, so I’m never worried about Willie when he goes against the the top-tier bigs. He feels like he’s better, and that’s the mentality he has to have.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger said the game was played with “playoff intensity.”
“This is where you find out where you are as a player and what you need to work on,” Joerger said. “That intensity of competition is a fantastic experience.”
Rodney Hood led Utah (39-24) with a season-high 28 points. Lawson had 19 points and Collison 18 for the Kings (25-37), who had seven players in double figures.