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Kings' self-inflicted mistakes open door for Dame's Bucks game-winner

Kings' self-inflicted mistakes open door for Dame's Bucks game-winner originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Damian Lillard’s unbelievable game-winning 30-foot buzzer-beater stole the show Sunday night, but make no mistake: The Kings beat themselves as much as Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks did.

The Kings faltered in clutch moments down the stretch of their 143-142 overtime loss at Fiserv Forum, after initially appearing poised to storm back for a win after coach Mike Brown's fourth-quarter ejection.

After Lillard missed a 3-point attempt with 29 seconds left in OT and Milwaukee down four, Sacramento gained possession of the ball. Bucks guard Pat Connaughton then committed two consecutive take fouls that sent Malik Monk to the line for two free-throw attempts that could all but seal a Kings victory.

What followed, however, was the stuff of Sacramento nightmares, as Monk missed both free-throw attempts before Bucks center Brook Lopez drilled a 3-pointer that cut the Kings' lead to one with 11 seconds left.

Still, the Kings appeared in the driver’s seat, with 2022-23 NBA Clutch Player of the Year De'Aaron Fox going to the line for two free-throw tries that would, at the minimum, put the Kings in position to either win or force a second OT.

Instead, Fox — typically Sacramento's infallible rock in these situations — uncharacteristically missed one of the two shots, opening the door for an ending that seemed unfathomable just seconds before. The Bucks inbounded the ball under their own basket with five seconds left, and Lillard did the improbable, sending the Kings on their way to Tuesday’s road-trip-capping game in Phoenix in anguish.

"A few defensive lapses," Monk told reporters. "I think you got to force [Lillard] inside the 3-point line, especially when the game [is] on the line, because he's known for doing that, hitting big shots like that. Then I think [Kevin Huerter] left [Pat] Connaughton to give up that three. Just defensive lapses that we had that would have won us the game."

Lost in the Kings' collapse was a scintillating performance by once-benched guard Huerter, who started and eclipsed the 20-point mark for the first time since Nov. 28. He finished with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting in 39 minutes and dropped in six 3-pointers, including a clutch deep shot that should have given Sacramento the lead for good in OT.

Fox recorded his 14th game with at least 30 points this season, finishing with 32, including a clutch bucket at the end of regulation to force OT.

Domantas Sabonis rebounded from a missed opportunity in Sacramento's previous game in Philadelphia to put on a passing clinic in Milwaukee that led to the All-NBA big man's 10th triple-double of the season. Sabonis finished with 21 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds in a team-high 45 minutes, shooting an incredibly efficient 9 of 10 from the field.

The Kings (23-16) were on the verge of securing their signature win of the season, against bonafide NBA championship contenders in the Bucks (28-12), but they fumbled it away in soul-crushing fashion. They’ll have to recover from this gut punch to keep pace in the Western Conference, where they’ve now fallen to sixth place.