Huerter, Mitchell admit Kings' mental mistakes costly vs. Hawks originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
On a night when the Kings and Atlanta Hawks each had four 20-point scorers, paying attention to the finer details of their respective game plans was the difference.
After winning their last three games by an average of 1.3 points, the Kings' luck finally ran out Wednesday night against the Hawks in a 120-117 loss at Golden 1 Center.
And it was all because of a lack of attention.
"We fouled too much late," Kings guard Kevin Huerter told reporters postgame. "I think a lot of mental mistakes at the end of the game there.
"We got a lead and just did not lock in good enough. They made more plays."
The Kings (20-17) led 117-113 with 1:16 left in the game, so all they had to do to seal the win was play solid defense. But the Hawks (18-20) went on a 7-0 run to steal the game.
Most notably, Hawks star Trae Young got a crucial layup and-one to tie the score after being switched onto Kings rookie Keegan Murray. Kings defensive ace Davion Mitchell pointed to that play as the turning point.
"You see Trae Young one-on-one on Keegan," Mitchell said. "Not a lot of people can guard Trae Young one-on-one, so we got to do a better job of just recognizing that and be in the paint so he can see bodies."
With the Kings leading 117-116 with 31.1 seconds left, Kings center Domantas Sabonis fouled Hawks guard Dejounte Murray to send him to the free-throw line. After Murray sank both shots to give Atlanta a one-point lead, Sacramento coach Mike Brown elected not to use a timeout and instead let his star guard, De'Aaron Fox, go to work.
Considering Fox had scored a career-high 22 points in the fourth quarter, en route to 37 points, against the Utah Jazz less than 24 hours before, it made sense for Brown to let his 25-year-old guard go to work.
However, things didn't end the same way.
As Fox tried to crossover Murray -- one of the NBA's best defensive guards -- the former's pocket was picked, and Murray made a layup through traffic.
Though Sacramento had multiple efforts at the rim after a timeout, no shots fell as Atlanta escaped with a three-point win and a two-game season series sweep.
Despite it being a tough loss, Mitchell believes these close games will be "good" for the Kings.
"I think we're learning how to win, doing winning plays and things like that you see in Utah and even the Denver game," Mitchell said. "Just making those winning plays, I think it slipped tonight, like I said, we got to protect the paint more.
"They had a really good game plan, and they got the win."
Brown added that while it was good to see his team fight back from an early deficit, the Kings must do a better job defending late in games.
"But like I said, trying to figure out how to sit down and guard is something that we have to do a better job of collectively," he said.
Overall, Huerter believes Fox and the Kings have done a "really good job" during crunch time of close games, regardless of Wednesday's result.
"De'Aaron's been really good for us down the stretch," Huerter said. "Like I said, they just made more plays ... they made the final punch."
Fox continued his torrid pace in the fourth quarter of games this season, scoring 11 points in the final frame alone, and his 25 total points led all scorers. He also added five rebounds and five assists in 36:59 minutes of action, and had an impressive dunk over Hawks center Onyeka Okongwu.
Huerter, forward Harrison Barnes and Sabonis scored 24, 22 and 20 points, respectively, for Sacramento. Sabonis also recorded his 15th consecutive double-double, with 14 rebounds and eight assists to go with his 20 points.
Even with Fox and Sabonis playing at All-Star levels, tough losses are bound to happen in the NBA. But if the Kings can hone in on their mistakes from close games like Wednesday and correct them, they should be in much better shape late in the season when teams vie for playoff positioning and every possession matters.