It was the last game before the all-star break, in a well-fought effort that ultimately fell short, when DeMar DeRozan unloaded on this Sacramento Kings team for a 38-point night.
Sacramento kept that game close practically the whole way, losing by just seven, but the Kings had no answer for DeRozan as their defense was spread thin, allowing the Bulls too many good looks.
It seemed to be an illustration of how the Bulls were the better, more confident team. The Kings shot well in that game, but Chicago never let them get out ahead of them beyond the first quarter, matching buckets and getting key stops the whole way through.
Coming into Monday night’s contest, with Chicago in town, the question was how might this Kings team, who are out of play-in tournament contention, play in the rematch against one of the best teams in the NBA?
If, prior to the game, someone would have said the Kings defense and confidence would have resulted in a win over the Bulls, the response could have easily been confusion.
Had this theoretical nobody watched the last few games? This was a team clearly in the middle of working on things, trying to maintain leads, trying to close out games, but hopelessly coming up short. Allowing 30-plus point quarters, giving way to opponent runs, and caving to poor possessions seemed to be the formula of Sacramento’s second half performances.
However, what that befuddled disbelief missed was the fact that there could have been something different about this Kings starting lineup to take note of.
Justin Holiday was ruled out for this game due to illness after leaving Saturday’s game against the Jazz early, and Donte DiVincenzo was given the start.
With that starting role, DiVincenzo had his best game as a Sacramento King, scoring 15 points on 4 of 9 shooting, including 3 of 5 from deep, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 deflections, and a steal.
Not only did his energy and activity have him all over the floor all night, he was playing engaged defense, doing a “great job” on that end, according to Alvin Gentry.
“If you think about it, that’s about as good a job as you’re going to do on DeRozan,” Gentry said of the team defense that DiVincenzo, along with Mitchell and others, spearheaded.
And the focused effort had residual effects.
“We had to have pressure on the ball, so when you have [Davion Mitchell] and Donte [DiVincenzo] in the game, I think we can really pick up the pressure and stuff like that,” Gentry observed. “It’s hard to ask Fox to guard the best player on the team and get 30 for us and have 11 assists, and so being able to play Donte and . . . Davion where Fox doesn’t have to guard and run through 20 screens every possession I think is really important.”
DiVincenzo also had a great shooting night, not only hitting his shots, but as Gentry said, utilizing excellent judgement regarding shot selection, seemingly content to let the good looks come to him. Often trigger-happy with the deep ball in his short time with the Kings, DiVincenzo set a solid tone for his stroke, passing up an early three to utilize a screen in order to achieve a good mid-range look.
Many of the initial reactions to the game took to marveling at the movement and energy, wondering whether DiVincenzo single-handedly infected this team with the buzz of a 1970s pill-popper. However, as Gentry noted, all of the Kings players “had that energy” in the win against the Bulls, and it is undeniable that stints of such cohesive activity have been visible at several moments in the stretch since the trade deadline.
In truth, though, there really was something that felt new about this performance where Sacramento actually preserved their lead against a very talented team — something not seen before, something that tied everything together.
“Confidence is a hell of a thing,” DiVincenzo remarked after Monday’s game. “I think we came out tonight and played with a lot of confidence. Even if we missed two, three shots in a row . . . we had confidence, and that’s contagious. I think so.”
“We have an amazing group,” he continued. “And when we don’t get down on each other and we play with that confidence . . . good things happen for us.”
In the previous two games, DiVincenzo played arguably his two worst games for the Kings. In the matchups against Denver and Utah, DiVincenzo combined for 1 of 9 from the field, including 1 of six from three, just 3 boards, and no steals on the defensive end. Not only was he a non-factor, but it was obvious.
To come into Monday’s game after two poor performances and to simply play may sound like any NBA player’s job, and it is, but DiVincenzo did exactly that, leading with his demeanor and putting all his focus into the task at hand without any inhibition. Everything else followed.
The opportunity arose, and needless to say he capitalized on it.
Last week, DiVincenzo made note of the team’s intent with the final handful of games, saying each guy in the locker room wants to “start building habits everyday,” and after last night’s win, he made note of a characteristic that any NBA team should want to become habitual.
“I think tonight we did a good job in the huddle . . . that energy was positive . . . we just had to settle down a little bit, then you could feel that energy changing toward us at the end,” he said. “When you come together during those hard times, it shows a lot.”
It is hard to imagine that the manner in which DiVincenzo handled himself with the sudden jolt of having a big opportunity following a poor stretch of play didn’t have an effect on how other guys carried themselves.
Opportunities for enhanced roles and minutes also presented themselves to Davion Mitchell and Chimezie Metu, both of whom played fantastic games against Chicago, doing what each do best following their own stretches of inconsistency as less-experienced players. Most importantly, they, like DiVincenzo, both played with the confidence of players who were aware that they did not need to do anything more than was expected of them, and the result was a pair of marvelous performances that contributed to a great win.
Still working his way back from his ankle injury, trying to settle into a new team, and fighting past a few bad games, Donte DiVincenzo demonstrated how the habit of remaining confident and positive—rather than feeling pressed to do more than he’s capable of—will reap positive results. And in the end, the Kings as a whole maintained an air of positivity and preserved their lead until the final whistle—something that feels completely new for this team—and it’s no wonder that DiVincenzo was playing a key role the whole time.
The question of whether he stays in the starting lineup remains unclear for now. Gentry has said in the past that he likes DiVincenzo off the bench, and Justin Holiday is still a talented two-way player who finds ways to be impactful even as he hasn’t really found his shot since coming to Sacramento. But either way, that confidence fans saw reverberate throughout the team is a feature component of DiVincenzo’s game, and it should be a major ingredient for the team going forward as the Kings try to bring it all together and establish an identity going into next season.