Kings coach George Karl couldn’t believe what he’d just seen.
But with this Kings team, nothing is unbelievable.
The Kings nearly gave away another game with some of the same breakdowns that have haunted them this season, such as leaving an open three-point shooter.
Rudy Gay, however, saved the Kings from another night of explaining what happened in a loss with a 17-foot jumper with 0.6 seconds left to push the Kings to a 103-101 win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday night at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points and 17 rebounds for Sacramento. Gay added 24 points and nine rebounds.
The Kings pulled within one game of the Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Karl said he emphasized to the Kings before the game that playoff position could come down to a tiebreaker.
Sacramento improved to 2-0 against Utah this season, clinching the season series. The teams will play once more in the regular season.
Karl was pleased that the Kings are close to the Jazz near the midway point of the season. But to win Thursday, the Kings had to overcome Utah’s 6-0 spurt in the final 30 seconds. Gordon Hayward had a three-point play, and Sacramento left Joe Ingles open for a tying three-pointer with 4.1 seconds to play.
“Just flabbergasted,” Karl said. “Happy we won, and I think again it’s a process. You’re not going to be brilliant at closing out games in one month or 30 games. It’s going to take maybe a season.”
The Kings built an 18-point lead in the first half. Karl said he knew the Jazz would make a run but was disappointed by the Kings’ late breakdowns.
“We’ve got to mature, and we’ve to be smarter and more solid,” Karl said. “I think we’re moving in that direction. It’s just not there every game.”
Gay wasn’t the first option on the final play for the Kings. The ball was supposed to go to Cousins, but the Jazz was determined to make someone else beat them.
“Obviously, they doubled on Cuz,” Gay said. “I just got open, and I tried to get a good shot off.”
Cousins said the win was a reminder of what the Kings need to do to become a playoff team.
“The biggest thing is it showed we’re still not there,” Cousins said. “We’re still making the same mistakes, we’re still letting teams back in games, we’re still letting up in games defensively. We can’t be the team we want to be continuing to make these same mistakes.”
Utah nearly made the Kings pay for those mistakes, even as its injuries continue to mount.
The Jazz already was down two key players, forward Derrick Favors (back) and guard Alec Burks (ankle), Thursday. That doesn’t include guard Dante Exum, who has been out all season with a torn ACL.
Then Utah lost reserve Trevor Booker during the third quarter to concussion-like symptoms after he was accidentally hit in the face by Cousins.
The Jazz pulled within 101-98 with 29.2 seconds to play in the fourth quarter after a three-point play by Hayward.
The Kings (16-23) failed to make it a two-possession game when they got the ball back when Rajon Rondo missed a jumper and Ingles tied the score with a three-pointer with 4.1 seconds to play to set up Gay’s game winner.
Hayward led the Jazz (17-22) with 21 points.