If the Kings end up missing the playoffs, there’s one aspect of their season they might look back on.
With their fast play and high-scoring ability, they’ve been able to jump out to some big leads. However, they’ve been just as likely to let those advantages get away.
The latest instance came Thursday night. Sacramento led by 17 in the second quarter, but the Boston Celtics scored 70 second-half points en route to a 126-120 victory Thursday night at TD Garden.
It’s been a rough trend for the Kings (33-34), especially since their recent slide began. After completing their season-long six-game home stand with a 5-1 mark Feb. 10, they’ve gone 3-8 in a tough stretch where all the losses except one came against teams expected to make the playoffs. In five of those setbacks, they surrendered double-digit leads.
“They went on a 14-0 run (in the third quarter) and they just had a lot of momentum going,” said Kings guard De’Aaron Fox, who added that the team has to learn how to tighten up with the lead.
The 17 points were the most they let slip since Feb. 13 in Denver. The Nuggets won 120-118 when All-Star center Nikola Jokic tipped in his own miss with 0.8 seconds left.
On Thursday, another All-Star did the most damage. Kyrie Irving, who didn’t play last week when the Celtics (42-27) beat the Kings at Golden 1 Center, had a triple-double. The guard scored 21 of his 31 points in the last three periods and had 12 assists and 10 rebounds.
“We had a big lead twice. Against a team like this, you can’t lose a lead twice,” said Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica, who started for the first time since Feb. 13. “I know we’re a young team, but we need to learn from these mistakes.”
Buddy Hield led the Kings with 34 points says he’s still confident the Kings can reach their goal.
“We’ve just got to close out, no excuses, no ifs, ands or buts. ... It sucks right now, but our spirits are still high and we still come out and compete every night.”
Marvin Bagley III, playing for the first time since Feb. 27, had 14 points and six rebounds in 19 minutes. While glad to be back in action, he, like his teammates, is frustrated with the inability to seal the deal.
“I hate having to say it over and over, but we’ve just got to figure how to close games out, especially games that we have big leads,” he said.
The Kings came into the game confident they could string together victories and continue their playoff push. Now those hopes are becoming more dim.
Sacramento is 4 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race. The Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs are five games ahead of the Kings. All play Friday except the Jazz, who beat the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night.
The Kings have 15 games left in their quest to reach the postseason for the first time since 2006. They complete a back-to-back against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday to close a four-game trip.
“Every night is important and it’s good development for us in a competitive situation to be in a playoff race,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said.
Being close won’t be enough. The Kings remain focused on finding a way to finish strong.
“You want to win all the games you can,” Fox said. “We don’t take moral victories.”