No one but Skal Labissiere saw this coming.
The Kings’ second-year forward had made just 10 3-pointers all season, but he calmly sank one with 1.6 seconds remaining to give the Kings a 102-99 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday at Golden 1 Center.
That it was Labissiere court rising up for a game-winning 3-pointer caught teammates and New York Knicks by surprise after he caught the inbounds pass with 5.3 seconds left.
For a player whose biggest fault at times is being indecisive on the floor, Labissiere was anything but that in the final seconds.
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Bogdan Bogdanovic, who had given the Kings a 99-97 lead with 29 seconds to play, was ready for the ball. De’Aaron Fox was ready, too. Both have hit winning shots for the Kings this season.
Labissiere said his last game-winner was probably in high school.
“It’s one of the plays we run down the stretch,” Labissiere said. “Usually the ball ends up with either Fox or Bogi. It just so happened that I had it, read the play and decided to take the shot.”
There was no hesitation, either. There are times Labissiere looks tentative on the court, which leads to mistakes. Despite taking so few 3s in the past and not attempting one until his game-winner, he didn’t think twice about shooting.
“Once Fox went by and that option was taken away, and Bogi went by, I just faked the handoff and took a shot,” Labissiere said.
Teammates and coaches often ride Labissiere hard during games for mistakes and if the shot didn’t go, it would be cause for scorn. Bogdanovic was hot and Fox has come through in the clutch as recently as Thursday against Brooklyn, tying the game to force overtime.
Still, Labissiere had the audacity to take the shot. Why? Because he believes in himself and he didn’t spend time thinking about what to do.
“Just play with confidence,” Labissiere said. “When I’m hesitant the game becomes harder, so I just try to not even think about that. ... What happens, happens.”
Labissiere has had plenty of times not to be confident this season. He wasn’t in the rotation for long stretches and was sent down to the Reno Bighorns of the G League to get game experience. However, Labissiere is one of the most upbeat players on the team. His confidence never wavered and he believed would get more opportunities in the NBA.
Still, that doesn’t mean anyone expected him to take that shot.
That might be why Zach Randolph, who didn’t play Sunday, ran onto the court to celebrate, even though the Knicks hadn’t called a timeout, which earned him a technical foul.
“I just saw Z-Bo running on the court,” Labissiere said. “I told him he’s too old to be doing stuff like that, he’s been in the league too long. But it’s all love. That’s a brother of mine and I appreciate that.”
Even if the shot wasn’t what anyone expected, that Labissiere said he remembered how the Knicks defended the play earlier in the game and was ready to step up shows progress.
“He was decisive,” guard Garrett Temple said. “That’s the biggest thing with Skal. As long as he’s decisive offensively, he usually gets a good shot.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger said it was a “good read” by Labissiere and that he got to a good spot on the floor for the shot. From there, Labissiere shot over New York forward Kyle O’Quinn for the clincher.
“He was not the first option that play,” Joerger said. “But when you keep working on your execution and stuff like that, I think it gives you confidence.”
Clearly, Labissiere was confident, even if the looks on the faces of others were not.
Temple said once Labissiere didn’t give the ball to Bogdanovic, he knew Labissiere was going to shoot.
“He’s not afraid of taking contested 3s,” Temple said. “Obviously not even in the clutch.”
The only thing zanier than Labissiere’s game winner was that the Kings were even in a close game. They led 92-73 with 9:48 in the fourth quarter, when the Knicks rallied by making the game more physical.
Labissiere’s shot saved the Kings (20-44) the embarrassment of blowing such a big lead against the Knicks (24-40), who were without All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis for the rest of the season due to a knee injury.
Bogdanovic led the Kings with 22 points and seven assists. Labissiere scored 14 points.
Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Knicks with 24 points.