On a night that featured a number of thrilling finishes in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Bahamian Chavano “Buddy” Hield and the Sacramento Kings made sure that they weren’t going to be left out.
With Hield receiving significant attention due to clutch ability that he has already proven he possesses, it was his teammate Nemanja Bjelica, of Serbia, who came through in the waning seconds, drilling a game-winning three-point shot against the Houston Rockets on the road on Monday. Just moments before, Rockets’ guard Russell Westbrook hit a driving lay-up in which he darted past Hield on his way to the basket and then was seen proclaiming to teammates that this one was over. It certainly was for them.
Bjelica received an out-of-bounds pass from Cory Joseph with one second remaining in regulation, and about five feet behind the three-point line, he let it fly and it went in, giving the Kings a thrilling and dramatic 119-118 win at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. It ended a stretch of 10 straight home wins for the Rockets over the Kings.
Hield and the rest of the Kings were thrilled to see Bjelica make such a huge play, celebrating immensely with him afterwards. Hield was one of the most visible, jumping for joy afterwards, and crowding Bjelica with the rest of his teammates.
“You saw when he made the shot how everyone loves him,” Hield said. “He’s one of the best teammates on the team so everybody is happy for his success. It was a great shot – thank God for the win.”
Both had respectable performances on the night – Bjelica pouring in 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting including 3-for-7 from downtown, and Hield scoring a side-high 26 on 10-for-19 shooting including 6-for-13 from distance. He has been averaging 26 points per game over their last eight games, including a career-high 41 with a career-high 11 three-pointers against the Boston Celtics on November 25. Hield has scored 20-plus points in eight straight games which is the longest stretch of his career and the longest for a Kings’ player since former star player DeMarcus Cousins scored 20 or more in 10 straight games from December 12, 2016 to January 18, 2017.
Hield and the Kings have crawled out of an early season slump and are now just a game behind fellow Bahamian DeAndre Ayton and the Phoenix Suns, and the Oklahoma City Thunder, for the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference of the NBA. The Kings (10-13) play the Thunder (11-12) at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California, this evening. They will then host the New York Knicks on Friday before going on another four-game road trip, and will then end the year with four out of five at home. The Kings have missed the playoffs in 13 straight seasons – the longest drought in the NBA.
As for the game on Monday, Hield’s sharp shooting helped to keep the Kings in contention throughout. They went up by eight early in the game, but the Rockets battled back to take a double-digit lead in the second quarter, and eventually led 64-59 at the half. Hield and the Kings kept the pressure on, and pulled ahead by one at the end of the third quarter, 94-93. It became a battle of will power and determination down the stretch which featured a number of clutch baskets. Hield had just buried a three-point shot to tie the game with 8.4 seconds left. That set up Westbrook’s driving lay-up and then Bjelica ended it. His high-arcing three-point shot was the final nail in the coffin for the Rockets who dropped to fifth in the west at 15-8.
Hield added four rebounds, three assists and two steals for the Kings on Monday. Harrison Barnes had 19 points and eight rebounds and Bjelica was their next highest scorer with 17. All five starters scored in double figures for the Kings as Richaun Holmes and Joseph added 16 and 14 points respectively. Bogdan Bogdanovic came off the bench to score 13.
Westbrook paced the Rockets with a game-high 34 points on 13-for-17 shooting and added eight assists and three rebounds. His backcourt mate James Harden, both former league Most Valuable Players, added 27 points and 10 assists. They also had five starters in double figures as Clint Capela scored 13 and pulled down 17 rebounds, Daniel House Jr. added 11, and P.J. Tucker scored 10 and had 19 rebounds. Ben McLemore and Gary Clark came off the bench to score 12 and 11 respectively.
The Rockets out-rebounded the Kings, 51-37, but the Rockets committed 19 turnovers to just 10 for the Kings and the Kings shot better from distance, 20-for-45 compared to just 17-for-50 for the Rockets.
Individually, Hield is third in the league in three-pointers made with 89, behind Harden with 107 and just one behind Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham who has 90. Hield is on pace to break last year’s total of 278 three-pointers which was a Kings’ franchise record for him and the seventh-most prolific performance from downtown in the history of the league.
Hield, the 6’ 4” 220-pound starting two-guard of the Kings, is averaging a career-high 21.4 points per game to go along with 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. He is shooting 42.3 percent from the floor and 37.2 percent from distance. He is the Kings’ leading scorer and is tied for 24th in the league in that department. He is averaging a career-high 34.3 minutes per game.