OAKLAND — Dating back to 2014, when the Golden State Warriors hired Steve Kerr as head coach, the team has boasted a 14-3 record against the Sacramento Kings, winning by an average of 16.1 points per game.
In their first match-up of the 2018 season, however, Sacramento — the 11th-youngest team in the league — gave the Warriors — the league’s second-oldest roster — all they could handle. The fourth quarter alone would see four ties and three lead changes.
Taking things down to the final possession of the game against the youthful Sacramento roster, the Warriors would escape with a 117-116 victory against the Kings, but not without being pushed to their limit.
“They’ve got a nice team, they’re going to be really good in the future,” said Warriors forward Kevin Durant. “They made us work all night.”
The Warriors began by trying to get Klay Thompson into a rhythm by getting the four-time All-Star quick shots in the first quarter. Taking Golden State’s first three shots, Thompson would find his groove as he scored his first bucket of the night on a backdoor cut to the rim.
Thompson scored 12 of the Warriors 28 first-quarter points, which would generally be a very good sign for a Golden State. But, an aggressive Thompson — and his 31 points — wouldn’t be enough on his own to give the Warriors any breathing room.
On the other side of the ball, Golden State had given up 29 points to the Kings, allowing shooting guard Buddy Hield and forward Marvin Bagley to score nine and eight points, respectively.
Keeping pace with the Warriors, Sacramento — who runs with the second highest pace in the NBA this season — put up 35 more points in the second quarter. Golden State’s largest lead of the half would be five points, which would last for a total of 57 seconds before the Kings drew even.
Sacramento would pull ahead by 10 before Durant led an 8-2 run in the final 1:43 of the second quarter, during which Durant would score four points and dish out two of his eventual seven assists.
“Kevin was just amazing,” Kerr said. “There were so many plays that were dead in the water and he bailed us out.”
Opening the third quarter, now down by four, Golden State took all of three minutes and 20 seconds to convert a two-possession deficit into a two-point lead. Once again building a five point lead, the Warriors looked to be breaking the game open.
But just as the Kings did the quarter before, with 25 seconds left in the third, they had evened the game once again at 93. At the end of a frantic fourth quarter, a pair of De’Aaron Fox free throws put Sacramento up by one point with 26.4 seconds remaining in the game.
Out of the time out, the Warriors would elect to run what they thought would be their final offensive play through Durant, who had scored 17 of his game-high 44 points in the fourth, and went 16-of-17 at the free throw line, making up for a 13-of-26 night on the floor and a 2-for-8 night beyond the arc.
After missing a 14-foot jump shot, Warriors forward Andre Iguodala would secure an offensive rebound, shoveling off the extra possession to Thompson as he streaked across the lane.
Missing the layup, Thompson rebounded his own shot to tip the ball back in, giving Golden State a one-point advantage with 5.8 seconds left.
“Give a lot of credit to Andre for coming down with that [offensive] board,” Thompson said. “Basketball tends to favor the aggressor … luckily for me, the ball bounced our way.”
As Thompson — who shot 12-of-26 from the field and 5-for-12 from three — gave an electrified Oracle crowd a flex of his right arm, the Kings called timeout with one chance at a game-winning bucket in their grasp.
Out of the time out, the Warriors would defend Sacramento’s action perfectly as Hield missed a contested finger roll layup. Upon corralling the offensive rebound, Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein would wedge the ball between the backboard and the rim, forcing a jump ball with Durant at center court.
On the jump, Durant knocked the ball far into the back court as Hield sprinted towards it. As the buzzers sounded, the Warriors had looked to have narrowly escaped the King’s resilient effort, but Sacramento was not done just yet. After reviewing the final play, officials ruled that the Kings had called a timeout with 0.3 seconds remaining on the clock — by rule, enough time for a catch and shoot.
“I didn’t know exactly what they were reviewing at first,” Kerr said. “Glad it was only 0.3 left on the clock, though.”
On the ensuing inbound, the Warriors would knock away the the entry pass to Cauley-Stein, effectively ending the game and snuffing out the relentless effort by Sacramento and their young core, led by Hield who would finish with 28 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“It was different than what I’m used to,” Thompson said. “They’ve got a bright future and they’ve got a lot of great, young pieces. It’s good to see them playing the right way.”