Marcus Smart lofted up a floater as the clock ticked down, but after a couple bounces, the ball narrowly rimmed out as time expired, and the Celtics lost a thrilling showdown with the Sacramento Kings, 100-99. Six Celtics scored in double figures, led by 18 points from Jaylen Brown and 14 apiece from Kemba Walker and Daniel Theis, but it wasn’t quite enough to overcome a monstrous 35-point performance from Buddy Hield, and the Celtics suffered just their second loss of the young season.
As it tends to be with Sacramento, the tempo of the game was amped-up from the outset. The Kings have traditionally played at one of the most frenetic paces in basketball (though the absence of De’Aaron Fox has hurt them this year), and the transition-happy Celtics were happy to oblige. The two teams flew up and down the court, with the Celtics finding much of their early success attacking the basket — including a rare hot start from Walker, who converted on two drives in the opening minutes of the game.
Kemba finds a way through for ✌️ pic.twitter.com/JyhMOdkPbI— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 17, 2019
The thorn in Boston’s side, however, was the three-point ball. While the Celtics converted on just two of their first eight attempts from deep to open play (both by Brown), the Kings cashed in on four of their first seven, including a pair late in the quarter to open a 24-17 advantage and prompt a Brad Stevens timeout. The timeout did little to help: the Celtics went scoreless the ensuing three minutes of play, and the ended the quarter trailing by 12.
The two teams started the second quarter playing pretty much to a standstill, but for the second straight game, Brad Wanamaker provided a much-needed spark. He canned a smooth pull-up jumper early in the quarter, and with under eight minutes to play in the half, he swiped a Sacramento pass and drew a foul, hitting both free throws. Boston seemed to find some life thereafter, and a three-pointer from Semi Ojeleye cut the lead to four and forced a Sacramento timeout with 6:24 to play. The pace of the game slowed for much of the second quarter — arguably the most exciting development in the early part of the quarter was a tightly-contested baby race, which saw Maverick pull off a thrilling comeback after runaway leader Gemma was distracted by a ball on the racetrack.
The Celtics rejuvenation was short-lived, as Hield was there to provide the counter-punch. The 26-year-old was simply the best player on the floor in the first half, scoring a game-high 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, including a pair of momentum-killing threes. As the clock wound down on the first half, the game morphed into an improbable game of one-on-one between Hield and Semi Ojeleye, who tied for the team lead in scoring with eight points on perfect shooting from the field. Boston would enter the half trailing by four, 50-46.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Celtics found their offensive rhythm coming out of halftime, quickly erasing the Sacramento lead and claiming it for themselves with eight minutes to play in the quarter on a two-pointer from Brown. Playing across from Hield, the player he was so often compared to in contract extension negotiations, Brown continued his recent hot streak. He looked like one of Boston’s only consistent offensive options for much of the night, as a mid-quarter three-pointer pushed him to 16 points, second among all scorers at the time.
The other player to really lift the Celtics this afternoon was Daniel Theis, who looked fully healthy and active in his second game back from a brief absence. Theis converted on a pair of athletic and-ones in the game, and recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds in a game where Robert Williams III remained somewhat limited and Enes Kanter struggled with effectiveness. Alongside some customary second-half heroics from Walker, the Celtics entered the final frame leading by four, 75-71.
The continuous back-and-forth between the two teams carried on into the fourth quarter. Much like with the Warriors on Friday night, the Celtics struggled to fully put away the Kings down the stretch. Sacramento quickly erased Boston’s four-point advantage, and from there, the lead stayed within one possession for an agonizing eight straight minutes. With just under five minutes to play, Hield would restore the Kings’ lead with his sixth three, giving him 30 points on the game.
Finally, Jayson Tatum came to life. He’d struggled to find his shot through three quarters, but with just over four minutes to play, he connected on an and-one layup to put Boston ahead by two. He’d extend the lead to five shortly thereafter with a crucial corner three. The Kings would counter with a pair of Bogdanovic jumpers, and the Celtics would relinquish the lead yet again on a massive pull-up three-pointer from Hield with just under two minutes to play.
Tatum connected on a fadeaway mid-range jumper off a Stevens ATO with just under 1:30 to play, and as he had been all night, Hield was ready to counter with a jumper of his own. As the clock ticked under a minute, Theis would continue his big game with a huge dunk off a feed from Walker to push the Celtics ahead, 99-98. With 13 seconds left on the clock, Marcus Smart got tied up on Richaun Holmes, and the play went to review. The play was ruled a foul on Smart, and the Holmes went to the free throw line, converting on both to put the Kings ahead 100-99. Smart would attempt a floater to win the game, but it just rimmed out, and Boston’s win streak ended at 10 games.
Next up, the Western Conference road trip marches on, as the Celtics travel to Phoenix for the second end of their back-to-back, tomorrow at 9 PM EST on NBC Sports Boston.