When you’re the Sacramento Kings, you don’t go nitpicking wins. They don’t come around often enough. But I don’t play or coach or work for the Kings and I’m not a fan of the Kings, so I can nitpick all I want, and I have to say, for all good feels of beating the Blazers on the road in their season-opener on Wednesday, the fact that Luke Walton allowed Damian Lillard to get up a potential game-tying 3-pointer, rather that instructing his players to foul, as the final seconds ticked off, was absolutely inexcusable.
It never should’ve been that close. The Kings led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter. They led by five with 19 seconds to play. Only the Kings can nearly be derailed by throwing away an inbounds pass shortly after De’Aaron Fox had the ball stolen by his own shoe:
Still, after a pair of Harrison Barnes free throws, the Kings managed to emerge from their meltdown with a three-point lead and 8.8 seconds to play. All they had to do was foul. Force Portland to shoot two free throws. The one and only thing that could screw this thing up would be letting Damian Lillard — who we know has multiple game-tying/winning 3-pointers on his resume as probably the most clutch shooter to ever walk the earth — to attempt a potential game-tying shot.
What coach in their right mind would let that happen?
Luke Walton, that’s who.
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And we’re not talking about a bang-bang sequence in which you could understand Walton being cautious against fouling Lillard as he went into the act of shooting right off the catch. Lillard took the inbound pass about 90 feet from the basket and sauntered up the court with Moe Harkless just shadowing him. Harkless had all the time in the world to foul. Walton had all the time in the world to tell his team what to do during the free throws. Instead, watch as Lillard just walks right into the patented step-back that he has drilled over and over throughout his career.
Are you kidding me? You’re the Sacramento Kings. You have a preciously rare road win against a high-quality team in the palm of your hand, and you’re going to just allow Lillard the chance to upend all the work you did with a single shot that he makes in his sleep? This team can’t get out of its own way. That is losing basketball. Losing coaching. Plain and simple. Heck, Walton was even quoted after the game saying that Lillard is going to make that shot “most nights.”
You can’t make this stuff up. Walton knew Lillard, even if he was 0-fo- 8 from 3 at that point, was a good bet to make that shot, and he still let him shoot it. He was literally asking to lose that game for his team. He’s lucky he didn’t. But luck doesn’t last long. Not in Sacramento, at least. Back when Walton was coaching the Warriors to a 24-0 start while Steve Kerr couldn’t sit up straight, he had this kind of leeway. All he had to do was put a tie on and watch the Splash Brothers drown everyone. Now he has to actually coach, and not just because of this decision, the prospects of that working out for the Kings hasn’t looked good for a while.