Even before the ball had been tipped off Monday night, the Sacramento Kings were given a delay-of-game warning.
Turns out it was a sign of things to come.
The Kings made the Utah Jazz wait particularly long for their 16th win of the season — a victory that moved them out of last place in the West for the first time all year — by extending the game with 10 fouls over the final three and a half minutes.
“You know what,” Jazz coach Ty Corbin told reporters after the 106-99 win, “I thought you guys would go home by now it lasted so long.”
The Jazz led by 14 with 3:39 remaining in the game, when Corbin subbed in rookie center Rudy Gobert for Enes Kanter.
Kings coach Mike Malone quickly sicced his players on Gobert, a 45 percent foul shooter. Gobert hit just one of his four attempts before Kanter found himself back in the game.
But that didn’t stop the Kings.
“I’m always going [to foul to slow the game down], whether it’s young guys, old guys, middle-aged guys,” Malone said. “I’m going to do everything I can to extend the game and give us a chance to win. They were having their way with us, but we always try to identify certain guys from the other team that may be poor free-throw shooters. … It slows the game down, it stops the clock, and it gives us extra possessions. We went from being completely out of the game to making it interesting.”
Sacramento next targeted Jeremy Evans, a 73 percent foul shooter, who missed four of seven from the stripe in the fourth. Backup point guard John Lucas III, meanwhile, hit on half of his four attempts.
“Just make free throws” was all rookie point guard Trey Burke could think as he watched from the bench. “I’m thinking what can I do to help the team right now. I’m just trying to continue to encourage guys. I didn’t know if he was going to put me back in the game.”
In total, the Jazz converted on just 12 of their 25 free throws in the fourth quarter, letting the Kings get to within five with 31 seconds to go.
“We fed into it,” Corbin said. “We’ve got to make free throws. It worked for them so they continued to do it. I told the guys, ‘You can’t take anything for granted in this league and when there’s time on the clock, you’ve got to take care of your business.’”
“It’s a strategy that teams use. I guess sometimes you’ve just got to use it,” said Utah forward Derrick Favors, one of three Jazz big men to finish with a double-double. “It probably [does bother players]. The guys on the court are probably ready to get the game over with too. But we’ve got to understand they’re trying to do something and just be focused and hit free throws.”
The late push by the Kings nearly erased what had been a dominant second-half performance by the Jazz.
After heading into the locker room at halftime tied at 50, the Jazz bullied the Kings early in the second half, pushing the lead to as much as 20 at one point.
“We came out with a lot more sense of urgency,” Corbin said.
Jazz forward Marvin Williams scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Evans notched 14 and 10. Favors finished with 17 and 12.
Sacramento, meanwhile, was playing its fifth game in seven nights and was missing DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, its top two scorers, to start the game. Early in the second half, point guard Isaiah Thomas, the team’s third scoring option, left with a stomach illness and did not return.
Sacramento was led by 19 points and 11 rebounds from center Jason Thompson and a 17-point, 15-rebound night from forward Derrick Williams.
The victory pushed the Jazz to a 16-29 record on the year.
“These are the nights you just want to weather the storm,” Corbin said.