Rudy Gay coming up big late in a game reminded the Kings of what they once had, as well as what they need to develop.
The Kings often struggle to score, largely because most of this season veteran forward Zach Randolph was the only player who could generate his own offense in a pinch.
So for as well as the Kings played during most of their 98-85 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Monday at AT&T Center, when it mattered late, Sacramento didn't have that player who could make something happen on offense.
Randolph hasn't played since March 19, so a collection of youngsters were left to figure things out in the fourth quarter. Things went predictably bad for the Kings (26-55), as they were outscored 38-19 in the final period as the Spurs clinched a berth in the Western Conference playoffs.
Gay had 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, including eight in the final quarter.
"I'm just thinking that when I get out there (in the third quarter), I have to make something happen," Gay said. "Especially at times like that when you feel like, 'OK, maybe there's something I did wrong.' Just next time you go out there, make sure you're perfect and make something happen. The way I was growing up, you never have anything given to you, so you have to get it on your own."
Gay hasn't played in the postseason since 2012 and was injured when the Memphis Grizzlies made the playoffs in 2013. He also made no secret that it would be sweeter to clinch against his former team.
The Spurs struggled offensively most of the night, but were sparked in the second half by Gay.
Most of the Kings' roster did not play with Gay as a King, but one of his former teammates was not surprised by what he did.
"Rudy's been playing good the last few weeks," Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said. "I looked, he had six points and I looked again and he had 12. I said, 'What the hell just happened? This dude just had six points.' Then he got that and-1 and ... when Rudy gets going, everything goes in."
Gay was criticized by some media and fans during his four seasons in Sacramento for being an isolation player, but Gay's play Monday was a reminder there are times those skills are needed, especially when the team has a rough shooting night.
When things break down, it helps to have a go-to player on offense. The Kings are hopeful that's what one of their young players, or perhaps their first-round pick in this year's NBA draft, will become.
"We don't have that many players that you can give them the ball and something is going to happen when you are stagnant, when things don't flow as you expect," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. "We have LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Rudy. The rest of us, we need the ball movement, we need to create and feed off each other, and it's great when things are not going your way to have a guy you can rely on and create off the dribble, off the catch. (Rudy is) great for that and today he really provided that."
The reward for Gay is a return to the postseason, which didn't happen in Sacramento. The closest the Kings got to be a playoff contender was last season. The Kings were 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot in the West at the All-Star break, but Gay was injured, having torn his left Achilles' tendon in January 2017.
Gay opted out of deal that would have paid him $14.2 million to stay in Sacramento this season for a chance to get back to the playoffs. He signed a two-year deal worth $17 million with the Spurs in the offseason.
Gay did so for the opportunity to do what he did against the Kings on Monday. He said it felt "great" to be back in the playoffs.
"This is what the regular season is for, to get to where we are now," Gay said. "It's just a good feeling, something that I'm anxious for, something that I've been looking forward to for a long time. It'll be fun."
The Kings were shorthanded due to injuries and resting veterans in favor of playing younger and less-experienced players.
The Kings led by as many as 14 points and didn't give up the lead for the first time until there was 10:18 left to play. The Spurs (47-34) closed the game on a 23-8 run.
The Kings struggled to score after halftime, putting up just 35 points.
"They didn't make (any) mistakes in the last eight minutes of the game and that's winning time, especially in the fourth," Cauley-Stein said. "I was telling our guys the whole time, 'We've got to keep this cushion going ... because they're not going to make a mistake ... the Spurs don't make mistakes in the fourth quarter."
Cauley-Stein led the Kings with 25 points and 10 rebounds. De'Aaron Fox had 21 points and seven assists. Buddy Hield was the only other King to score in double figures with 17 points.
The trio accounted for 27 of the Kings' 35 second-half points.
Kings coach Dave Joerger said his team "earned (San Antonio's) respect" with how they played.
"We fought, we scrapped, we were not up there just soaking up minutes," Joerger said. "The guys went out there and competed and I'm as proud of these guys in a loss as I've ever been all season long."