Kings edge Celtics, 116-111

By Jason Anderson
The Sacramento Bee/TNS

Most of the excitement in the months leading up to the 2017 NBA Draft centered on Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, the top two picks from an impressive class of college freshmen. If the NBA’s collective brain trust could do it all over again, Jayson Tatum and De’Aaron Fox would generate a lot more attention.

Tatum and Fox took center stage in the fourth quarter Wednesday night as the Kings battled the Boston Celtics in a game that came down to the final seconds. In the end, Fox was the one who emerged with the win, leading the Kings to a 116-111 victory at Golden 1 Center.

Fox finished with 26 points and 11 assists for the Kings (10-11), who have won five of their past six games. He had 13 points in the fourth quarter, delivering another clutch performance for the Kings.

“He was huge in that fourth quarter again,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “Every time we needed a big time bucket, he created something for us.”

Harrison Barnes had 24 points, six assists and five rebounds for Sacramento. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton came off the bench to score a career-high 21 points. Buddy Hield added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Tatum nearly produced a triple-double with 27 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the Celtics (11-8), who were on the second night of a back-to-back following a hard-fought win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday. Jaylen Brown had 21 points. Tristan Thompson had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

The Kings staged a 9-0 run late in the second quarter to carry a 52-51 lead into the halftime break. The Celtics outscored the Kings 15-2 to take a 74-63 lead on a 3-pointer by Brown with 5:30 to play in the third, but the Kings responded with a 10-0 run to get within 1 on a basket by Hield.

Haliburton was sensational in the third. He scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, came up with two big steals and scored a put-back basket at the buzzer.

“He’s one of those players who kind of just feels what the team needs whether it’s playmaking, whether it’s a big steal or whether it’s a big 3-point shot,” Walton said.

The Celtics were clinging to an 82-81 lead going into the fourth quarter after Tatum was held scoreless in the third. Tatum made some big baskets to put Boston up 96-91 with just under six minutes to play, but that’s when Fox took control, scoring 11 points over the final 5:11 to help the Kings come back to win.

Nemanja Bjelica sits again

Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica was cleared to return after missing a couple of games due to back spasms, but he does not appear to be in Walton’s immediate plans.

Bjelica has not appeared in a game since Jan. 9. His 11-game absence was first described as a coach’s decision and then attributed to personal reasons before he began to experience back spasms last week. League sources told The Sacramento Bee the Kings have explored trade possibilities involving Bjelica and will continue to work through their options leading up to the March 25 trade deadline.

Walton said the coaching staff still believes in Bjelica, but for now he is likely to stick with the group that has contributed to the Kings’ recent success.

“Like I’ve said the whole time, I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Belly and he’s going to help us win some games, but right now we’re in good rhythm, so we’ll see where we go,” Walton said.

Point guard problems

Celtics coach Brad Stevens started Jeff Teague at point guard and asked Tatum to handle some of the point-guard duties after Kemba Walker (knee), Marcus Smart (calf) and Payton Pritchard (MCL) were all ruled out due to injuries.

Walker was held out after logging 31 minutes against the Warriors on Tuesday as part of his recovery from a left knee injury that caused him to miss the start of the season. He is averaging 15.0 points, 4.3 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

Smart is expected to be sidelined two to three weeks after suffering a torn left calf in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He is averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 assists.

Pritchard, a rookie from Oregon, has been a nice surprise, averaging 7.7 points in 20.9 minutes per game while shooting 42.5% from 3-point range.