SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Perhaps the 76ers suffered from the looking-past-their-opponent blues. Maybe they lacked focus because of all the sudden national attention they are receiving.
Whatever the reason, the Sixers were flat Thursday night. And they paid for it in a 109-108 loss to the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center.
“The first half stunk,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown, who was noticeably upset. “And we didn’t execute anything down the stretch. We didn’t deserve to win.”
Rookie guard De’Aaron Fox made the game-winning basket over Robert Covington with 14.1 seconds left. The Sixers still had an opportunity to win the game. But Joel Embiid misfired on a last-second jumper.
The Kings (3-8) scored the final seven points of the game. Embiid had his shot blocked twice by Willie Cauley Stein before missing at the buzzer during that stretch.
The loss dropped the Sixers to 6-5 and snapped their five-game winning streak. They also fell one victory short of matching their best start through 11 games since 2012-13, when they went 7-4.
It’s surprising that it didn’t happen.
The Kings are regarded as the weakest opponent on the Sixers’ five-game road trip. This matchup was supposed to be nothing more than a dress rehearsal for Saturday’s showdown against the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
“We let one go” Brown said. “We have to find ways to not let this happen. That’s on me. We will go back and continue to look at it. But that one was one stings.”
The Sixers were sluggish and struggled to find their offensive groove.
Embiid finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, but was far from his dominating self. The center made 7 of 20 shots after missing Tuesday’s game against the Utah Jazz to rest his surgically repaired left knee. He looked rusty at times.
Ben Simmons barely played in the third quarter after picking up his fourth foul. But he scored seven of his 18 points in the fourth. Simmons also finished the game with six assists and a season-low two rebounds.
Covington scored 18 of his 24 points in the first half. The small forward finished with six three-pointers. The Sixers made 15 of 37 as a unit.
The Kings took a 93-91 lead after Justin Jackson hit a pair of foul shots with 7:29 remaining. Then Fox extended their lead to three points after splitting a pair of foul shots on the Kings’ next possession.
But Simmons looked like he was going to take over the game. He scored three straight baskets and then found Embiid for a basket to give the Sixers a 99-98 lead. Dario Saric followed that up with a three to give them a four-point cushion with 4:10 left.
But Garrett Temple’s three-pointer pulled the Kings within one point, 108-107, with 50 seconds left. Then Willie Cauley-Stein blocked Embid’s shot on the ensuing possession. The Kings were awarded the ball with 25.1 seconds left after it went out of bounds off a Sixers player.
Then Fox hit the game-winning jumper and Embiid misfired on his last-second attempt.
The Sixers had been one of the hottest stories in professional sports during this road trip. ESPN is following them on the West Coast. Other national media outlets were at Wednesday’s practice and Thursday’s game.
Zach Randolph paced the Kings with 20 points. Fox had 11 points and seven assists. Six of his points came in the fourth quarter. Cauley-Stein had 15 points and two blocks. Meanwhile, Justin Jackson scored 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter.
The Kings shot 50 percent in the first half.