Luke Walton’s players were already defending their coach Friday with questions over his job security gaining steam.
And that was before Sunday night’s disaster. The Kings led 123-115 over the Hornets with 1:13 left following a dunk by Harrison Barnes, but couldn’t close out the victory, losing 127-126 to the Hornets behind PJ Washington’s career-high 42 points. Malik Monk converted a three-point play with 1.4 seconds remaining to complete the comeback.
Monk finished with 21 points to help Charlotte come back despite playing without leading scorer Gordon Hayward, who sat out with a hand injury.
“Come to an end of a game, that’s where we have to step up and put teams out and we didn’t do it,” Walton said. “Give Charlotte credit. They hit 3s and made every free throw down the stretch. That’s a painful loss for our guys. We didn’t finish it out.”
The collapse against the Hornets came two games after the Kings were blown out by the Knicks, allowing New York to score a season-high 140 points. Walton was so frustrated that he was caught karate-chopping a clipboard as the team went to time out.
Walton’s fall from sought-after coach to rock bottom is nearly complete now. Filling in for Steve Kerr who had a serious back ailment, Walton led the 2015-’16 Warriors to a 24-0 start and 39-4 record overall before Kerr’s return to the sideline.
Walton was hired as Lakers coach after that season. He proceeded to go 98-148 in his three seasons in Los Angeles before being fired. Now is his second season in Sacramento, Walton has a 44-62 mark.
The Kings have talent on the roster, most notably with De’Aaron Fox and rookie standout Tyrese Haliburton.
“I think it’s on us who are on the court,” Fox told the Sacramento Bee on Friday. “We have to be able to go out there and execute the game plan and there are times where there are just too many lapses.
“I don’t think that has anything to do with coaching. Like, effort or giving up offensive rebounds? We’re going back to middle-school stuff to practice boxing out? There’s nothing that Luke or (player development coach) Rico (Hines) can do about that. That as to be us.”
On Sunday, LaMelo Ball added 24 points and a career-best 12 assists for the Hornets, who trailed the entire fourth quarter before Monk’s game-winning play. The Kings missed five free throws over the final 69 seconds and lost for the 10th time in 11 games.
“As far as pressure from the front office, no,” Walton told the paper on Friday. “I feel very connected with them and very locked in as far as where we’re at and where we’re trying to go as a group, and they’ve been very supportive.”
— With AP