On Monday night against the Knicks at home, with about 4:30 left in the game, Immanuel Quickly drove to the basket after a Julius Randle screen that caused Domantas Sabonis to switch onto the guard. With Quickly having turned the corner for the basket to attempt a layup, Sabonis defended him fairly cleanly aside from the hand he’d placed on the shooter’s back. Though the hand was merely there without affecting the shot, it was done directly in front of the referee, who blew the whistle.
Sabonis was quick to protest, and quite fervently enough to draw a technical foul, which then resulted in a second after Sabonis stormed up to the official to call BS, making light contact with him. The big man was ejected from the game, and as punishment for the contact made with official Joshua Tiven—which was not likely intentional, but definitely visible—he was suspended for the following game against the Nuggets.
Not too many possessions prior to that, Sabonis was being ridden by Randle’s defense, who looked to commit a few fouls before one was actually called. After the whistle blew there, Sabonis was demonstrative with his thanks, almost sarcastically so as he put his hands together in sincere gratitude.
There were moments in the game against the Knicks where it felt like the officiating was blind to Sacramento’s credible complaints. In truth, that seems to be an everyday reality for the Kings, even in an overwhelming amount of games since the trades of last month.
Before the break, there were moments, particularly in games against talented teams, like Brooklyn and Chicago, where it felt as if very little calls were going the way of the Kings, namely Sabonis.
After the break, that still seemed to be the case. Making matters worse, and perhaps more frustratingly obvious, a more energetic and aggressive De’Aaron Fox has not gotten many calls either. There have been far too many moments where it is astonishing that officials can claim to see no contact as Fox is miraculously getting shots up in the face of multiple opponents down in the paint.
Following the loss to Dallas last weekend, Alvin Gentry was left at a loss in regards to the officiating of Fox’s drives to the cup.
“I think as much as De’Aaron Fox [drove] the ball to the basket, and as much as he’s in the paint — I’m a little bit miffed with how he shoots six free throws,” coach said.
In the pregame show before the Knicks game on Monday, Mark Jones made his suspicion known that Sacramento has probably made their fair share of complaints regarding the officiating as directed at the Kings when the topic came up regarding the Mavericks game.
“There’s a video portal that each of the thirty teams have with the league office. You can submit video to that portal for evaluation of calls that you think as a team should go your way,” Jones explained.
“I’m guessing that the Sacramento Kings have already made several submissions of De’Aaron Fox video to try and bring it to the league’s attention that this is a little bit of an issue right now,” he added. “It’s never too late to get some turnover in that aspect.”
An agreeable suggestion, yes, but Matt Barnes raised an excellent point in response, calling attention to the commonality of there being a lack of respect for losing teams that won’t change until the team begins changing.
“The only way to really change the way the league looks at you, the way the refs may look at you, is to start winning games because obviously there’s been a lot of blown calls and no-calls for the Kings,” Barnes articulated on the broadcast.
Without taking away from the fact the Kings would have reason to be cranky at the officiating, it is true that the perception of the Kings, while improved, is not altogether among the league’s highest.
When listening to the players, it feels like that is their attitude and understanding of the situation. They recognize that if they play better, they’ll be in a better position to win games and therefore improve their standing among the officials.
That’s the source of the frustration.
After the matchup with the Knicks, Sabonis said that such observable aggravation from him that forced the ejection is uncommon, noting it was the first time he’d been booted from a game. However, he made it clear as to why he was irritated.
“Frustrating game,” he said curtly to start. “We kept getting these leads, playing the right way, and then we just can’t come out in the second half and sustain it and it gets frustrating, especially when you’re fighting for a position.”
The Kings could not have played better in that first quarter against New York, winning it 33-17. They were forcing fouls, disrupting the Knicks game plan and rotation, and making the most of their possessions.
In the following three quarters, though, the Knicks surpassed thirty points in each one, outscoring Sacramento in the third 44-24. Julius Randle, who as Gentry noted after the game is shooting closer to 30% this season from deep, was absolutely on fire as New York shot 61% as a team from three in the second half. The Knicks, in fact, ended up beating the Kings at both fast break points (24-15) and points in the paint (54-50).
It was a complete collapse on the home court, another spoiled opportunity in the face of so much promise, and it was that very reason, as it was happening, that caused Sabonis’ emphatic outcry. And the uproar spoke for the whole locker room.
Justin Holiday, who has been Sabonis’ teammate for the past three seasons, expressed the mutual feeling of the team.
“I think how the whole game was going obviously adds up to — especially with someone like Domantas. Domantas usually isn’t gonna be that upset, but I think how everything was going, how everybody was feeling, I think he pretty much just put a clear picture of how we all felt,” Holiday said with a smirk.
Since the Sabonis trade, the Sacramento Kings have looked like a different team, a better one, yet in twelve games since the move, the team is 4-8 as the window for a play-in spot is closing.
As Sabonis’ words following his ejection alluded to, this team has a tremendous ability to gain big leads, and against pretty good teams, but there is some sort of deficiency—whether it be discipline, focus, or something else—that prevents them from coming out in the second half and continuing to do what they need to do, to play fast and simple.
It’s not the officiating that has the team bothered, it’s the fact that they are on the cusp of being a good team. They are well aware that the officiating wouldn’t be a problem if they were winning games.
This past week, as Gentry was reflecting on the missed opportunities and lack of execution against the Knicks, he commented on the fact that they “never have the practice time.”
“I do believe that if this team would have been together at training camp, things would be much different,” Gentry expressed.
The same attitude is felt from the players.
“I made a comment to one of the coaches,” Justin Holiday recounted at practice this week. “I was like, ‘I wish we were here all year, because by this point I think we’d be a really, really good team.'”
Despite the disappointment, the remaining fourteen games aren’t for nothing. As interim head coach, Gentry has made it known his goal to establish a culture of constantly competing.
“The things for us is that — some kind of a way, we have to establish a culture here, and that culture has to be that every night we compete,” he said after the Nuggets loss on Wednesday, adding that “the fans here … will accept this team here if they know that we’re playing hard and competing every night.”
While the Kings look to establish that culture and to command respect from the league, the team is making it clear this is part of a process and is in no way giving up.
“We’re still not quitting,” Donte DiVincenzo said at practice on Tuesday. “I think that’s the outlook of this team — is we’re not going to quit, we’re gonna keep fighting ’til the last minute of the last game of the season and see where we stand.”
As this team continues to battle in order to get better, they know what they’re capable of getting to, what their potential is. Things like too many no-calls, while maybe having an effect on some game outcomes, is not an excuse for not winning. Rather, not winning is the excuse for not getting calls.