Former University of Kentucky star Willie Cauley-Stein knew who to credit for his first game-winning basket.
“Basketball gods,” he said.
Cauley-Stein made a follow shot with 1.8 seconds left to cap the Sacramento Kings’ rally from an 18-point, fourth-quarter deficit for a 98-97 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
He had been called for an offensive foul against Chris Paul on the Kings’ previous possession.
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“That wasn’t a foul. I think he flopped,” Cauley-Stein said. “And then they gave it back to us. I end up getting my first game-winner. I think it was meant to be like that.”
With the Kings’ rally still one point shy at 97-96, Buddy Hield rebounded Jamal Crawford’s missed 3-pointer and fired a length-of-the-court pass to Ben McLemore, whose layup attempt over two Clippers was too hard, bouncing off the rim to Cauley-Stein, who put it back up and in.
“I just remember taking off and seeing Ben had dunk, layup, whatever, and then the only thing I’m thinking is if this ball comes off I’ve just got to grab it and put it up,” Cauley-Stein said, “and it just came right into my hands.”
Down 85-67 early in the fourth, the Kings rallied while Blake Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan were resting to pull within 94-85 on Hield’s 3-pointer with 3:22 left.
Hield later hit a pair of three-pointers nine seconds apart, the second after Griffin’s errant inbounds pass, pulling the Kings to 96-93 with 2:10 to play.
Griffin made one of two free throws with 1:57 left before the Kings cut it to 97-96 on Langston Galloway’s 3-pointer with 1:23 to play.
“We didn’t lose hope,” said Darren Collison, who led the Kings with 19 points. “I’ve been on a lot of winning teams, and the chemistry is not as good as on this team. People don’t know how hard it is to be in our shoes and come to work every single day. To be together still, and still have fun, says a lot about this team.”
Hield made his three late threes after making just two of eight shots.
“I just stayed confident, found a good rhythm and made a few,” Hield said. “It was fun seeing Willie’s shot go down and getting the win.”
The Kings snapped a four-game losing streak and won for only the third time in 15 games.
Jordan had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers, with Paul adding 17 points and nine assists. Griffin finished with 17 points.
The Clippers have lost 10 of their last 19 games, and fell a game behind Utah for fourth place in the Western Conference with nine games remaining in the regular season.
“They got it going, and you just try and hold on,” said Paul, who missed a 21-foot jumper at the buzzer. “It’s a bad loss, probably the worst one in the regular season in my career.”
Sacramento beat the Clippers for only the fourth time in their last 22 meetings.
Kings: Skal Labissiere drew the tough defensive assignment against Griffin and committed five fouls in 16 minutes before being taken out early in the third quarter. … Collison made his first eight shots before missing a 3-pointer with 4:28 left in the third quarter. … The Kings play four of their remaining nine games against teams currently above .500.
Clippers: Coming off a 17-point fourth quarter en route to a game-high 28 points in a victory over Utah on Saturday, Crawford went 0 for 5 in the first half against the Kings. … The Clippers played without J.J. Redick, who injured his right ankle when he stepped on a basketball in the game against Utah on Saturday.
The Clippers played the second game in a rare back-to-back, with both games with a 12:30 p.m. local start.
“This is one of those games when I saw two 12:30 games, I don’t want that,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But we couldn’t get it changed.”
Kings: The Kings play the Memphis Grizzlies at home Monday night in the second game of a back-to-back. Sacramento is 4-12 in such games this season.
Clippers: Are home Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards, who have not beaten the Clippers in Los Angeles in their last eight tries.