Last night became another glaring, though overblown, symbol of Hield’s reduced stature in Sacramento.
The Kings – trying to hang in the playoff race – trailed the Raptors by three points with 13.7 seconds left. Sacramento’s lineup:
Bjelica forced a difficult 3-point attempt and air-balled. Toronto went on to win, 118-113.
As Sacramento was intentionally fouling, a fan was clearly heard on the NBA Sports California telecast criticizing Kings coach Luke Walton.
Afterward, Walton defend his personnel choice:
Luke Walton on his decision to bench Buddy at the end of tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/u6WNoZxaZo
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) March 9, 2020
“We were scoring, we really were scoring on every play, we scored 39 points in the [fourth] quarter,” Walton said Sunday. “You score 39 in a close game, and you’re doing enough to win offensively. Buddy, I thought was playing a good game and we were going to get him back in there, and then Bogi (Bogdan Bogdanovic), he started really turning it on and then that group that was out there was really in a good rhythm. So, we stuck with them.”
“Multiple guys made good plays,” Walton added. “Fox stepped up, hit free throws, hit threes. Bogi hit some. Bjeli’s (Nemanja Bjelica) hit game winners for us before. So, we have faith in all our guys and I’ve said before that when a group is rolling, we’re going to stay with them. And you score 39 points in a quarter, then we’re most likely going to stay with that group.”
Walton is right: Sacramento’s offense was clicking without Hield. Bjelica has hit a game-winner before.
But this situation didn’t call for generally efficient offense. The Kings needed a 3-pointer, and Hield is their best 3-point shooter. That he won the 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend only drew more attention to his unused long-range ability.
Fox and Holmes were curious lineup inclusions over Hield. Fox struggles beyond the arc, though his passing could make something happen for a teammate. Holmes flat out doesn’t shoot 3-pointers, though his screening could free a teammate. Still, including two minus shooters over Hield made Sacramento far easier to defend.
That said, teams down three points late in the fourth quarter usually lose. It’s extremely hard to make a 3-pointer when the defense knows what’s coming. The Kings probably would have lost even if they played Hield.
Still, in part due a loud fan, this also turned into a memorable moment representative of larger concerns about the Sacramento-Hield dynamic.