CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers against the Sacramento Kings in a best-of-seven series would be a classic — for all the wrong reasons.
On a Wednesday night when it was a shame someone had to win, the Kings emerged with a 97-94 victory.
The approximate 7,000 fans who actually showed up — paid attendance was announced as 12,331 — got to see a game for the (dark) ages.
When it was (finally) over, the Kings (12-20) had improved their road record to 2-13 against the hapless Cavs (7-26), who are now 3-11 when they have home-court disadvantage.
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Cleveland’s record also fell to 2-9 in games decided by four points or less, an indication the players may not be the only ones coming up short in crunch time.
“We can’t take a play off,” said coach Byron Scott, who had Shaun Livingston, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, Luke Walton and Tristan Thompson on the floor to start the fourth quarter. “We can’t take a quarter off. We can’t take a half a quarter off. We just can’t do that.”
Try as it might, Cleveland did not completely secure defeat until the bitter end, as Sacramento’s Aaron Brooks missed the second of two free throws with 2.0 seconds left.
The Cavs out of timeouts, Kyrie Irving, who committed all three of his turnovers in the final 3:50, drew iron on a 60-foot heave. The only conclusion more fitting in this game would have been for the shot to go in, because it came after the buzzer and wouldn’t have counted.
“They competed,” Scott said of his players. “They played hard. The only problem is I don’t think we played hard enough, long enough.”
Cleveland led 90-89 when Irving (22 points, five rebounds, six assists) hit two free throws with 1:12 left, but Sacramento’s John Salmons, who had seven points, five fouls and three turnovers in 32 minutes, answered with a 3-pointer from the corner.
Irving then slipped in the key and threw the ball away with 38.1 seconds to go, a mistake from which the Cavs never recovered.
Brooks followed by blowing by the Cleveland point guard for the second time in the final minutes to put the Kings up 94-90 with 18.2 ticks on the clock.
A short Irving jumper made it a two-point game with 12.3 seconds left, with Jimmer Fredette hitting two free throws for the Kings and Waiters scoring off a rebound with 3.2 ticks on the clock to set up the game-ending sequence.
A talented power forward named (Jason) Thompson led the Kings with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while 6-foot-11, 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins, who has been suspended twice by the league this season and once by the Kings, had 18 points, 16 boards and six assists.
Cousins’ numbers across the board could have been substantially bigger, but in keeping with the overall caliber of decision-making in this game, the Kings often went minutes without letting their 22-year-old center touch the ball.
As it was, the bigger and stronger Kings still outscored the Anderson Varejao-less Cavs 52-36 in the paint.
“It doesn’t help when you don’t have Andy,” Scott said. “Most of the teams we’ve played who are physical, he’s the one equalizer down there.”
On the offensive end, the Cavs shot .391 from the field (34-for-87) and went 5-for-21 from long range.
Coming off the bench for the first time in his career — and not totally happy about it — Waiters had a stretch where he shot the ball every time he touched it.
The rookie had 20 points, but they weren’t a pretty 20. He was 3-for-10 from the field at one point, got most of his eight field goals (in 19 attempts) on layups and continued his season-long trend of taking lame-brain jumpers with a ton of time on the shot clock.
“I’m just here to do whatever the team needs me to do,” the disgruntled 21-year-old said. “That’s what it was tonight. Coach made a change and I just have to go out there and play.”
Fellow No. 4 overall draft pick Tristan Thompson, who did manage 13 rebounds, was an even-worse 4-for-12 from the field, with all his misses coming within 6 feet of the basket.
C.J. Miles, who started in place of Waiters, had 12 points — all in the first half — on 4-for-13 shooting and, as is so often the case, did absolutely nothing else.
That was in sharp contrast to Luke Walton, who was so good, bad and ugly he went, on more than one occasion, from being the best player on the court to the worst in a matter of seconds.
Walton blocked a shot, took a couple charges and threw a bounce pass between his legs, but he also attempted seven shots and made just two of them.
In many ways, though, the 10th-year pro was ideal for a game between two bad teams that are perfect match for one another.
“It’s just a learning process,” Irving said. “(The Kings) did a great job of executing in the fourth quarter and got stops when they needed to.”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or email@example.com.