An eerie silence inside Golden 1 Center was followed by a deafening roar as the Kings stormed back to take the NBA’s top team to overtime after losing rookie forward Marvin Bagley III to a frightening knee injury.
Bagley was helped off the floor and did not return, but the Kings came back strong, erasing a 17-point deficit before falling 141-140 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. In his postgame news conference, Kings coach Dave Joerger expressed concern for Bagley and a great deal of pride in his players, who rallied around each other in an inspired effort that drove the decibel level inside the arena to rare heights.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Joerger said. “We came back three separate times. We didn’t quit. We played like us. We made some mistakes, but we fly around and try to help each other as much as possible. (We) made some big shots and (stuck) together, and never quit. We are certainly thinking of Marvin as we go forward. That is definitely a cloud over our locker room.”
Eric Bledsoe put up 26 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds for the Bucks (47-14), who have the best record in the NBA. Malcolm Brogdon scored 25 points.
Buddy Hield scored 32 points despite making just 10 of 29 field-goal attempts for the Kings (31-30), who have proven in recent weeks they can compete with the best teams in the league. Bogdan Bogdanovic had a career-high 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Rookie Harry Giles III was sensational, coming off the bench to post 18 points and seven rebounds in 17 minutes. Harrison Barnes finished with 15 points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
Bagley had nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes before he went down with a knee injury late in the third quarter. The team announced that he suffered a sprained left knee and would undergo an MRI on Thursday. He missed 11 games after sustaining a bone bruise in the same knee in December.
Bagley, the No. 2 pick in last summer’s NBA Draft, was guarding Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo when he ran into a hard screen set by Brogdon. Bagley’s right knee collided with Brogdon’s knee, causing Bagley to fall awkwardly on his left leg.
Bagley immediately clutched his left knee and remained on the floor, writhing in pain as play continued for 10 seconds before the Kings could call a timeout when Brogdon scored with 19.3 seconds to play in the third period. A hush fell over the crowd as team medical staff and concerned teammates rushed to Bagley’s side.
After about 90 seconds, Bagley was helped to his feet. He limped off the floor with his arms draped over the shoulders of Giles and Kosta Koufos, putting minimal weight on his left leg as he was led to the locker room for further examination.
“You just tell him to keep your head up,” Koufos said. “He’s definitely an integral part of what we’re doing this year. He’s just a phenomenal player and a phenomenal person off the court, so you just want to be there as a teammate and try to help him. You have love for all of your teammates. We’re a brotherhood and we look out for one another, and you just want everybody to be healthy.”
Bagley, who had averaged 18.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in his previous 10 games, had his left leg immobilized with a knee brace after the game. He did not speak to the media before hobbling out of the locker room under his own power, but he did talk to teammates.
“He said he was good when he was walking back (to the locker room), so that takes a little edge off to know that he’s not in too much pain,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “Games like that, when one of your soldiers goes down, you just try to win it for him, so that’s what we tried to do.”
The Kings were down 95-78 late in the third quarter and still trailed by 13 when Bagley left the game. They staged a 20-4 run in the fourth quarter to take a 126-124 lead on a putback by Cauley-Stein. Bledsoe tied the game with 11.4 seconds remaining. The Kings had a chance to win, but Fox couldn’t get a shot off in the final seconds. Bledsoe, Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic made 3-pointers in overtime to help the Bucks escape with the victory.
“I think to win in this environment against a team that, tonight, those young guys battled all the way,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “... Just really impressed with their young players and with the job (Joerger) is doing. They have a hell of a future ahead of them.”
Over the past five games, the Kings have played four of the seven best teams in the NBA. They lost to the Denver Nuggets 120-118 and the Golden State Warriors 125-123 before beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 119-116 and, now, suffering a one-point loss to the Bucks. The Kings are two games behind the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers, who are tied for seventh in the Western Conference.
“We’re close,” Cauley-Stein said. “We’re in the race.”
The Kings will have a chance gain ground on the Clippers when they face each other Friday at Golden 1 Center. Then they will play host to the struggling New York Knicks and Boston Celtics before going on the road to play the Knicks, Washington Wizards, Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. When the Kings return from that road trip, they will have four more winnable games against the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.
“We’re right there,” Barnes said. “We have to continue to work hard, continue to push. We have an opportunity to have the schedule come back around to us, but it’s just a matter of not letting these close defeats kind of break our spirit.”
For now, the Kings will await word on Bagley’s injured knee, hoping the MRI doesn’t reveal more extensive damage.
“He’s 19 years old and he has a lot of basketball in front of him,” Hield said. “We have to be cautious with him. If he plays on Friday, that would be great, but if he doesn’t, we’ve got to go to war with whatever we’ve got.”