Sunday Musings: The importance of the final three minutes of the fourth quarter

Floating in and out of the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, the 15-21 Sacramento Kings have had their fair share of troubles in the closing minutes of games this season. With little to no room for error in a season where the playoffs are actually in reach, the Kings need to finish games strong.

In a postgame interview following the loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, Darren Collison expressed his raw emotion and concerns of the team’s late game decisions.

“We need to understand how important the last three minutes are to us,” Collison said. “How important execution is to us, how important taking a good shot is to us and how important it is to get our next teammate open.”

Unlike seasons past, the Kings have been competitive in almost every game this season. With minimal blowout losses and more competitive games, Sacramento has been dealt with more late game management decisions this season than many of past seasons combined.

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“Were not going to be able to win games by ourselves or by playing hero ball,” said Collison. “I can’t do it, nobody else can do it, Cuz, Rudy, we got to understand that we need each other. We definitely have an All-Star on our team, so we have to find ways to create to get him open. We have to give ourselves up to get that person open and execute. I think too many times we lose focus in the last three minutes as far as execution and it just hurts us in the long run.”

Although the Kings have an almost guaranteed All-Star in DeMarcus Cousins, the last three minutes of the game are not solely reliant on him. Sitting at a stand still with the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth playoff spot 36 games into the season with more room to improve is a plus for Sacramento.

A shift in late game antics would be more beneficial now rather than for these mishaps to happen come late March or early April when the playoff race tightens up.

“This is something that we need to talk about,” said Collison. “If we’re trying to make the playoffs this is some things that we have to learn from, we were going to be able to make a run we got beat teams like the Clippers down the stretch. They’re not going to beat themselves, we got to beat them by executing in the last three minutes of the game.”

The good news is that the race for the eighth playoff spot is very close and with not even a half of a season behind them, the Kings have more than enough time to improve on their late game mishaps. Collison made it clear that it is neither Cousins nor coach Joerger who is to blame for the late game decisions. It’s more of a focus on shot selection.

“It’s the plays where we can control what shot selections (referring to other shots),” Collison said. “If we have the three, yea ok, but if we want to bring it out and run a play to execute really well and to get a better shot, that’s the plays I’m taking about. Its frustrating because when you look at the Clippers they run one or two plays that are the same down the stretch and they did it with execution. That’s something were going to have to learn from.”

With the rigorous NBA schedule being what it is, which includes back-to-backs, road trips, etc.; practice time is key to NBA success.

“We got to get better in practice, Coach is putting us in a position to succeed, we got to focus in practice and have the willingness to execute that play even if we have to do it 100 times,” Collison said. “I think we lose focus and don’t see the importance of how practice can carry over into the games.”

Collison also compared his time with the Clippers to how the Kings run their plays in practice.

“I’ve been with the Clippers, I’ve been around Doc and they run their plays over and over and over and over until they get it right,” said Collison. “So now when the game comes and it’s the last three minutes, Doc is going to pull out his money plays and those guys have a sense on where to go.”

With another close game lost, the Kings will continue its seven game home stand on Sunday against the Golden State Warriors.

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Manny Vieites
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