A royal collapse.
The Los Angeles Clippers blew an 18-point lead with less than five minutes remaining as the Sacramento Kings stole a stunning victory, 98-97, on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
In what may go down as their worst loss of the season, the Clippers led 95-77 with less than five minutes remaining in the game before Sacramento went on a 21-2 run to complete the comeback.
"This is a bad loss," said Chris Paul after the game. "The worst one we've had in the regular season by far."
Los Angeles missed their final nine field goals of the game, including a three-pointer by Chris Paul at the buzzer.
"I caught it ready to shoot," said Paul of the final shot. "It felt good, I'll take that shot any day of the week."
The crushing loss moves the Clippers a full game behind the Utah Jazz (two in the loss column) for fourth place in the Western Conference playoff picture.
The Clippers were playing on the second day of the rare back-to-back day games after defeating the Jazz just 24 hours earlier to take over the tiebreaker in the event both teams finish with the same record.
"We knew this game was going to be a fight," said Clippers' head coach Doc Rivers. "Second day of a back-to-back, both 12:30pm starts, and the final game of 8 in 12. We knew it wasn't going to be easy."
The Jazz and Clippers are currently seeded fourth and fifth in the Western Conference, respectively, with both teams likely to meet in the first round of the NBA Playoffs next month.
Los Angeles was sleepwalking through the first half, clinging to a 44-42 lead at halftime. They dominated the third quarter, leading by 11 points going into the final frame.
As the Clippers bench extended the lead to 18 points, coach Doc Rivers stuck with his reserves, but the Kings never surrendered, finishing the game on a 21-2 run with center Willie Cauley-Stein putting in the tip-back with 1.2 seconds left in the game to give the Kings their first lead of the second half.
"I just remember taking off and seeing Ben [McLemore] had a lay-up and the only thing I'm thinking is, 'If this ball comes off, I've got to grab it and put it up,'" said Cauley-Stein of the final Kings' possession. "Thankfully, it just came right to my hands."
"The blame goes all around on this one," said a frustrated Rivers after the game. "Should I have inserted the starters earlier? Left the bench in? The blame goes all around."
Sunday's game was a tale of two teams headed in opposite directions as the Clippers continue to battle for home-court advantage after clinching their sixth consecutive playoff appearance on Saturday.
"These games should mean so much more to us than them," said Blake Griffin. "Nothing against them, but they're out of the playoff picture, and it looked the other way around in that fourth quarter."
Meanwhile, Sacramento is headed to the NBA Draft Lottery after trading away their All-Star center, DeMarcus Cousins, at the trade deadline. The Kings are currently 13th in the Western Conference and battling for a top-five draft pick.
Darren Collison scored 19 points to lead the Kings and Anthony Tolliver chipped in 15 points off the bench.
A year ago today, Kings' guard Buddy Hield scored 37 points at the nearby Honda Center to lead his Oklahoma Sooners to the Final Four. One year later, he scored 11 points in the final few minutes against fellow Sooners alum, Blake Griffin.
"I think they thought they had it in the bag," said Hield. "But we could start to see them collapse, I think they were shook. It ain't over until the fat lady sings."
Griffin finished with 17 points, six rebound and four assists for the Clippers. Chris Paul had 17 points and nine assists.
"We're pros," said Paul, of having to come into the game in the final minutes after sitting for so long. "We have to come back in there and close the game out."
Clippers' guard Jamal Crawford reached a career milestone in the game, surpassing 18,000 points in his 17-year NBA tenure.
Jordan was the most dominant player on the court for either team, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds, a double-double, his 35th of the season.
The Clippers face a tough test on Wednesday when the Washington Wizards head to Staples Center for a matchup of teams with nearly identical records.
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