Did Ryan Hollins tip the final inbound pass of the night? He said he did, and it looked as if he did on at least one replay angle.
Was there some home cooking with the clock operator that allowed Courtney Lee to receive a lob pass and get off a reverse layup with 0.3 seconds to play? You might argue that, too.
What’s not up for debate is the Kings’ inability to put together a complete game lately.
The Kings failed to protect a 26-point lead and were stunned by Lee’s basket at the buzzer to lose 111-110 Thursday night at FedExForum.
There were too many breakdowns to recount in explaining how the Kings, who led by 26 points in the first half and 88-68 with 1:49 left in the third quarter that led to their third consecutive defeat.
It was just Tuesday night the Kings couldn’t hold a 24-point lead in a loss at Dallas, but apparently the lesson wasn’t learned. So the Grizzlies reminded the Kings it takes more than a good first quarter to win in the NBA.
“It had nothing with the tip-in (by Lee), it had nothing to do with the missed free throws,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “It had nothing to do with that last-minute segment. It had nothing to do with that. It had everything to do with the second, third and fourth quarter.”
The Grizzles were down 38-16 after the first quarter but scored 95 points over the final three, including 35 in the fourth when they went on a 19-3 run.
“We gave them life, we gave them momentum,” Cousins said. “We had adversity, we broke down, we broke plays. The only thing tonight showed was the difference between a good team and a bad team.”
The final breakdown came after Ben McLemore missed two free throws and the Grizzlies grabbed the rebound with 0.3 seconds remaining. After a timeout, Memphis center Marc Gasol set a back screen for Lee. Jason Thompson stayed with Gasol, leaving the basket area wide open.
Hollins argued he tipped the ball as Vince Carter threw the inbound pass, but the officials had the final say and the Kings (5-4) were left to sort through the mess.
“Whether or not it got tipped, we didn’t deserve to win that game,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “When you give up (and) blow a 26-point lead, you turn the ball over, you don’t get stops, and you allow them to shoot, I believe, 63 percent in the second half, it doesn’t come down to that last play. Not at all.”
Malone bemoaned the lost defensive identity of the team that seemed so intent on being able to stop opponents just a week ago.
The Grizzlies shot 50.6 percent (39 of 77) even though they started the game shooting 6 for 22.
The Kings allowed 24 points off 14 turnovers and had only 12 assists.
“We can’t continue to make the same mistakes,” Cousins said. “We can’t blame the refs. We can’t blame the clock man. It’s on us. We have to learn from our mistakes and we have to become a better team. We can’t keep putting ourselves in the same situation. We’re going to continue to get the same results.”
Again, containing opposing guards was a problem before Lee’s final shot. Mike Conley had 22 points and 11 assists to lead Memphis (8-1).
“They just made plays down the stretch, and it’s up to us to withstand the run” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “If we want to go far, we’ve got to be able to withstand those punches. You’re going to get hit, but you’ve got to be able to respond to the hits, respond to the runs and collectively find a way to still win the ballgame.”
Rudy Gay had 25 points for the Kings. Cousins had 22 points, 12 rebounds and his first technical foul of the season. Collison had 20 points and five assists.
Gay said he “couldn’t believe and I still can’t” believe how the game ended.
“That’s the difference between a battle-tested playoff team and us,” Gay said. “We have to get to that level. Hopefully, these are the teaching points, but we’re not there yet.”