The Kings almost let Tuesday night’s game get away.
The Kings will take that, even if it meant watching a hot Lou Williams miss a late 3-point attempt before the final buzzer to secure a 97-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center.
For the Kings it was their fourth straight win, matching the season-best winning streak of the season. It was their fifth victory in six games.
But the Kings nearly blew the game by allowing the Lakers to shoot 72.2 percent in the fourth quarter and giving up 19 points to Williams. He finished with 29 points.
The Kings led by 13 in the fourth quarter but could not put the Lakers away.
“Quick shots and turnovers down the stretch is only going to help them,” Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said. “And in our case tonight it gave them some momentum and we almost lost it. It was more luck than anything.”
The Kings held on because they had the only All-Star on the floor Cousins, who scored 16 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter, including making one of two free throws to give the Kings the lead with nine seconds to play.
The Kings were fortunate Williams, the Lakers’ leading scorer this season, couldn’t capitalize on Cousins’ missed free throw, his fourth missed free throw of the quarter.
After Cousins missed the second free throw, the Lakers elected not to use one of their two timeouts and let Williams try to score before the Kings could set their defense, but he could not connect on his last 3-point attempt of the game. He had made three of five before his final try.
“It was lousy basketball down the stretch, just lousy,” Cousins said. “I think we took a step back in that fourth quarter, got too comfortable, started making plays that aren’t in our character, quick shots, that’s not how we play. When we get leads like that we have to find a way to grind it out and make it harder for the opponent.”
Even with that, the Kings (24-32) felt good about leaving Staples Center with another win, continuing perhaps their best stretch of basketball this season.
That stretch has come when the Kings are at their weakest in terms of health.
Ty Lawson missed his third consecutive game (hamstring injury), joining Rudy Gay, Garrett Temple and Omri Casspi among the injured Kings.
Yet amid the health concerns, the team has found a resolve to win games because of a collective effort that seems to feature different Kings playing big supporting roles for Cousins.
With his 40 points, Cousins also had 12 rebounds and eight assists. Darren Collison had 13 points and eight assists and Ben McLemore scored 13 points.
Kings coach Dave Joerger said the “grit and determination” of the Kings allowed them to overcome their mistakes and Williams’ offense in the fourth. Joerger said those characteristics are becoming the personality of the team.
“You all the sudden have more tough playing guys around you,” Joerger said. “And it is not about ‘tough’ about fighting so much as it is about ‘tough’ (that) you know we are never going to give in, we are never going to give up. We are always going to be there in the end.”
And how did the Kings maintain the composure as the Lakers (19-38) rallied? That’s where it helps to have an All-Star.
“Just give the ball to DeMarcus,” Collison said. “You can’t get rattled at that point. He’s doing a good job at closing out.”
Collison also noted the Lakers didn’t double-team Cousins as much as Sacramento is used to seeing. Cousins made 13 of 24 shots and smiled when asked what he thinks when he sees so much single coverage.
The Kings finish their pre-All Star break schedule Wednesday at Golden State.
“This is actually a big win for us, believe it or not,” Collison said. “We didn’t lose focus. Normally in the past we wouldn’t come out with that same urgency after we win a few games. It’s good that we’ve got the streak going.”