MILWAUKEE — John Salmons tried and failed to come up with just how the Milwaukee Bucks could come up with such a poor effort against the Sacramento Kings with the playoffs still seemingly within reach.
“It’s a shame,” he said. “That’s all I’ll say, it’s a shame.”
Marcus Thornton scored 27 points, Beno Udrih added 25 and the Kings beat Milwaukee, 97-90, on Wednesday night to damage the Bucks’ fading playoff hopes. Milwaukee (28-42) fell three games behind Indiana for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference with 12 left to play after the Pacers won earlier in the night.
“We just didn’t have the type of intensity and focus you’d like to see and understanding the enormity of the game, we were kind of passive,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “It hurts for sure.”
Sacramento has won two of three on this five-game road trip and rebounded from an ugly 40-point loss to Chicago on Monday night, the Kings’ worst in more than two years. Kings coach Paul Westphal said he challenged his young team after the blowout to the Bulls.
“I think they heard me in the second half. We really did crank up our defense,” the coach said. “We got some really good performances from our backcourt, but mostly it was our defense and our rebounding in the second half that won it for us. It was first class.”
Milwaukee’s Carlos Delfino scored 30 points for the second consecutive game to again match his career high, but had 22 of them in the first half.
The Kings, who are expected to get Tyreke Evans back for Friday’s game at Indiana, got contributions from all over, including 13 points from DeMarcus Cousins and 11 points and 12 rebounds for Samuel Dalembert to snap Milwaukee’s two-game winning streak.
“Mixing Tyreke in there gives us a very strong backcourt rotation,” Westphal said. “The way Beno and Marcus are playing, it shows we have a chance to have a really, really good backcourt.”
Andrew Bogut scored 15 points, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute had 11 and rookie Larry Sanders added 10 despite back spasms for Milwaukee, but the Bucks’ schedule gets much harder from here.
They play at New York on Friday and have a home game with Chicago on Saturday.
Salmons, who started 1-for-9, hit a trey that gave Milwaukee a 79-78 lead early in the fourth quarter, but finished 3-of-14 for the game as Milwaukee faded away.
“That’s a shame, too,” Salmons said. “I didn’t feel in rhythm from the beginning for whatever reason.”
Jason Thompson answered with a big one-handed slam, Thornton had a dunk of his own and Thompson added a layup as Sacramento went ahead 86-81 with 5:44 to play.
The Bucks, the worst-shooting, lowest-scoring team in the NBA, went cold at the wrong time, missing six of their final seven shots and committing three turnovers in the final 3:20.
Delfino hit a 3 that cut the Kings’ lead to 92-90 with 1:11 left, but after a miss by Udrih, Bogut was called for an offensive foul when Milwaukee had a chance to tie.
Thornton missed a jumper, but Thompson grabbed the offensive rebound and Udrih was fouled with 18 seconds left and Sacramento hit five of their last six free throws to end it.
“We aren’t going to just quit on the season,” Thompson said. “We want to finish strong.”
Thornton, acquired from New Orleans with cash in exchange for Carl Landry this year, continued his run of strong performances, scoring in double figures for the 14th time in the last 15 games.
Sacramento began the trip with a 32-point win at Minnesota before losing by 40 at Chicago.
They rebounded in a big way against Milwaukee and should be even better when they get back Evans, the reigning NBA rookie of the year who has missed the last 19 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
“It will be great to have him back,” Udrih said. “It will be interesting to see how coach is going to divide up the minutes.”