LOS ANGELES (AFP) - One day after clinching an National Basketball Association (NBA) post-season berth, the Los Angeles Clippers looked anything but ready for the play-offs in a shocking 97-98 loss to the Sacramento Kings.
Willie Cauley-Stein scored on a put-back basket with 1.8sec remaining to lift the Kings to their victory over a Clippers team that led by 18 points in the fourth quarter.
"They started tripping each other, and we were able to see them collapse," Kings rookie Buddy Hield said. "When a team collapses, you know they're in distress. It's easy to catch them slipping."
"I would have thought (the game was over), too, if I was in that situation," he added. "But it ain't over till the fat lady sings."
Darren Collison led the Kings with 19 points. Hield, who hit two clutch three-pointers, and Anthony Tolliver each had 15 points. Georgios Papagiannis added 12 points.
DeAndre Jordan collected 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Clippers, and point guard Chris Paul had 17 points and nine assists. Blake Griffin added 17 points and six rebounds, but the Clippers were unable to pull into a tie with the Utah Jazz for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
Instead, the Clippers are a game behind the Jazz, who have played two fewer games.
"We took our foot off the gas," Griffin said. "It started early in the fourth quarter. They were getting shots they wanted, offensive rebounds and they were getting three-pointers. I didn't think we had the right spirit."
The Kings cut the Clippers' lead to 96-93 with 2min 13sec left after back-to-back three-pointers by Hield, who stole an errant pass by Griffin before sinking the second three.
"That's what you don't want to do," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of putting his starters back in.
"I think it was four or five minutes (left) when Chris and Blake came in. We had a nine-point lead. But mentally, I think that's really hard... It's easy to ask guys to stay ready, but they're looking at that (18-point) lead and think they're not going back in."
After Griffin made one of two free throws, Sacramento's Langston Galloway nailed a three-pointer to pull the Kings within 97-96 with 1min 26sec remaining.
Cauley-Stein scored the game-winner after Ben McLemore missed his running shot.
"I just remember taking off and seeing Ben had a layup and the only thing I'm thinking is 'If this ball comes off, I've just got to grab it and put it up,' and it just came right to my hands," Cauley-Stein said.