A drastic momentum swing was simply embarrassing for the Kings.
Sacramento held the Charlotte Hornets to 14 third-quarter points, the fewest by a Kings opponent in a quarter this season.
What followed was chaos. The Hornets scored 38 fourth-quarter points, the most by a Kings opponent in a quarter this season, and handed Sacramento a 127-122 overtime loss Monday night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
“It’s inexcusable,” Darren Collison said. “... It’s disheartening because it’s a chance to close a team out. We were playing really, really well in the third quarter, and we didn’t.”
The Kings led by 22 in the third quarter and 91-74 entering the fourth before collapsing. DeMarcus Cousins limped off the court with a stiff back and could only watch the final seconds of regulation as the Kings forced overtime on Rudy Gay’s tip-in at the buzzer.
But as been the case most of the season, the Kings could not contain an opposing guard – make that four opposing guards Monday – while being picked apart in the fourth quarter and overtime.
There’s always could’ve, would’ve, should’ve in these situations. We probably should have went to blitzing them a little bit more.
George Karl, Kings coach
“Man, it (stinks),” Gay said. “It’s a game I felt we should have had easily, and we gave it away. Plain and simple.”
The Hornets exploited the Kings’ strategy of switching pick-and-rolls. Sacramento’s big men ended up chasing Charlotte’s guards, and the Kings’ smaller players tried to keep the Hornets’ big men off balance.
Charlotte also converted 20 Sacramento turnovers into 26 points. The Hornets were the livelier team late in the game, and the Kings could not keep up.
George Karl: ‘could’ve, would’ve, should’ve’
Kings coach George Karl said he deserved some of the blame.
“There’s always could’ve, would’ve, should’ve in these situations,” Karl said. “We probably should have went to blitzing them a little bit more … . We let (Kemba Walker) get to his right hand. Jeremy Lin was just busting us so quick that the help couldn’t come.
“I’ll take responsibility for the fatigue. I probably should have substituted earlier and often. The pick-and-roll defense, I thought we were going to win the game with the switching. We probably should have changed it up.”’
Walker scored 25 of his game-high 39 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. He made 9 of 10 shots in the fourth quarter.
The Kings were coming off a victory over the Orlando Magic in which they allowed a season-low 91 points, and they appeared on their way to another solid defensive showing Monday. But their bad habits returned.
“I think we’re trying to establish an identity,” Collison said. “It’s just not a good feeling right now that we were able to go back and revert to our old ways, especially at the most important part of the game.”
At that crucial stage, Karl didn’t use shot blocker Willie Cauley-Stein. Omri Casspi started in the rookie’s place in the second half, and the Kings surged in the third quarter.
Walker’s layup gave the Hornets a 112-110 lead with 0.7 seconds to play in regulation. Karl was asked why Cauley-Stein wasn’t in the game at the time.
It’s a game I felt we should have had easily, and we gave it away. Plain and simple.
Rudy Gay, Kings forward
“Play a rookie that didn’t play in the second half,” Karl said. “That sounds good now, but starting Omri in the third quarter I thought gave us the great third quarter.”
Cousins was idle for the final 1:01 of regulation and overtime. He said his back began bothering him in the second half.
“I’m honestly not sure when it happened,” he said. “As the game went on, it got worse and worse. It started going to the lower part of my body, so I couldn’t really move. I tried to play through it.”
Cousins watched the finish with ice on his back.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” he said. “I wish I could be in there to help, but my body wouldn’t allow it.”
Cousins scored 30 points, Gay had 28 points, and Rajon Rondo scored 14 points and set a Sacramento-era record with 20 assists. He shared the old mark of 18 with Reggie Theus and Jason Williams. Phil Ford holds the franchise record with 22 for the Kansas City Kings on Feb. 21, 1979, against the Milwaukee Bucks.