Missed Free Throws and Defensive Breakdowns Cause Kings to Start 0-2

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Mike Brown of the Sacramento Kings talks with his player Davion Mitchell #15 against the LA Clippers at the end of the third quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 22, 2022 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Keegan Murray looked impressive in his NBA debut, but Sacramento beat themselves against a Clippers team that was lacking Kawhi Leonard and John Wall, losing 109-111.

While they didn’t foul a ton (both team committed 21) or turn the ball over a bunch (Sac won the turnover battle 12-13), the primary reasons for the loss can be chopped up to defensive breakdowns and poor free throw shooting. 

“I thought tonight we competed a little closer to 48 minutes than we did the other night,” coach Mike Brown said postgame in spite of the tough defeat at home. 

At first, Sacramento appeared to be protecting the middle as Domantas Sabonis played decently on the inside with good team help to prevent easy scores in the middle. And the Kings were up 55-52 at the half.

But by the third and fourth quarters, LA was getting whatever they wanted inside.

The Kings’ defense began to completely fall apart as the seams were pushed to the limit throughout the game before finally bursting. After leading the points in the paint battle in the first half 14-12, Sacramento ended up losing it in the end 46-40 with some of the worst defense one can see in the second half.

For a good stretch of the closing minutes, though, the Kings shored it up, securing some stops as Sac finished the final 6:30 of play on a 20-10 run, but the bleeding of the defensive horror show and the missed free throws was too much through the first three-quarters of the second half of the game.

Sure the Kings made it close, losing by just 2 points, but that adds to the sting of the cruel fact that they shot 15 of 26 from the free throw line. Notably, Fox and Sabonis both shot 3 of 6 each, and Barnes hit just 4 of 7 from the line, including missing one of his attempts with just over a minute left to play.

While it wasn’t as nearly as big of an issue as it was on opening night, the Kings failed to secure a key defensive rebound after they forced Paul George to take a tough shot that he missed with just about 15 seconds left. But after a batted offensive board, the Clippers had the ball and essentially the game

George finished with 40 points on 16 of 31 shooting, grabbing 6 rebounds and distributing 6 assists in addition to that.

The Kings saw an even better performance from De’Aaron Fox as he posted 36 points, including shooting 3 of 5 from three, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and just 3 turnovers compared to the 8 he had in the previous game. He also continued looking determined on defense, never giving up on plays, and it was his aggression on the other end that opened up for every spurt of scoring for the Kings.

The rookie Murray also played pretty well despite some defensive mistakes early on, scoring 19 points on 7 of 10 from the field (3 of 6 from beyond the arc) grabbed 5 rebounds, and had two blocks, including a clutch send away on a two-on-one disadvantage in transition with about 1:15 to play.

When it was all said and done, the defensive collapse and the consistent struggles from the free throw line made the Kings start 0-2 this season. 

Free throw shooting: talk about shooting yourself in the foot

This one is simple.

There was no excuse that this team was shooting 67% from the line in the preseason, so there is absolutely no reason this team should have shot 57.7% as a team from the free throw line.

Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray were the exceptions, combining for 5 of 6 from the stripe.

On the other hand, Fox, Sabonis, Barnes, and Malik Monk went a combined 10 of 20 from the free throw line, letting half of their opportunities for free points slip through their fingers.

The Kings got three technical free throws, two of which came from excessive delay of game penalties on the Clippers, yet Sacramento only converted one of those.

LA won by 2 points. A free throw shooting game such as this (15 of 26!) is exactly the kind of thing that gets a team on the losing end of close contests.

It’s easily their most glaring weakness now that the defending without fouling thing took a small step forward in this game.

Murray’s debut

The biggest bright spot—along with Fox and even Huerter’s performances—was Keegan Murray’s debut. He entered the game early in the first quarter and knocked down his two looks from deep and his two attempts from the free throw line.

The defensive side of the ball did not come to him as smoothly. Early in the second quarter, Murray seemed to have a hiccup on the defensive end, leaving a wide open lane for Nicolas Batum to cut and score. It was one of several miscommunications on that end of the floor and resulted in a quick timeout from Mike Brown, who went straight to his rookie.

By the end of the game, Murray had taken some steps in improving his defense. While it wasn’t an example of correcting the problem of defensive assignments, Murray got some redemption in the 4th quarter with that clutch block that, again, occurred on a 2-on-1 disadvantage in transition.

As many had already suspected at this point, the kid can play. The lights came on in his first game and he was great.

His ability to remain calm and efficient is huge, and what he does from three can be a huge difference maker. He’s just so smooth; watch him function with Sabonis to get an open look.

Murray is definitely putting himself in the conversation as either the third or fourth best player on this Kings team.

It’s kind of amazing.

He was asked postgame by James Ham about this knack for consistently being good, regardless of the level of competition.

“I just think the level of competition, the higher you go up, the more simple you have to try and make the game,” Murray responded. “It’s something that, when you get on this stage, some people tend to do too much… I try to make the game as simple as possible.”

Is Harrison Barnes a starter?

It’s asked time and time again: When will Keegan Murray be a starter?

Most say it’s a matter of time with the outlook that he will be the starting 4 instead of KZ Okpala.

While Okpala didn’t wow, he was immensely more useful in this second game. He played pretty good defense on Paul George, who made 2 out of 3 tough shots when guarded by Okpala in the first quarter (3 of 5 overall in the period). 

Obviously, George ended up with 40 points, but Okpala had some nice moments—moments you’d expect from him on that end—including backpedalling with nice control to draw an offensive foul on PG and a great defensive stand and close out on George in the fourth quarter that was originally called a foul but over turned. And he only committed one personal foul.

Okpala also hit 1 of his 2 three-point attempts.

He did have some moments where he lost sight of spacing and clogged up the middle, both in the half court and in transition. But overall, he didn’t give fans a reason to start wishing that he gets pulled from the starting lineup.

In fact, if anyone’s questioning one of the starters after this loss, it’s definitely Harrison Barnes.

The 30 year-old vet shot 2 of 10 from the field for 8 points. As noted, he also made just 4 of a team-high 7 free throw attempts. In the final period alone, he went 0 for 5 from the floor.

He had some nice cuts, but many of his misses came from the inside, with some looking forced and uncharacteristic, and the 39% three-point shooter last season missed all of his attempts from three.

Defensively, he continued to look subpar. As noted in the preview of this weekend, Barnes’  defense was something to watch. In this first contest of the back-to-back, he looked poor on that end, though not as bad as the Blazers game. He did a solid job against Marcus Morris Sr. early on, but he becomes a liability against better talent. It’s obvious how hard it is to guard Paul George, but Harrison Barnes made him look like superman at one point as HB looked slow to react.

Maybe piling on him for the defensive end isn’t entirely fair after this game, but following such a bad offensive performance, it’s not clear what Barnes was providing on the floor. 

Murray—not Barnes—closed out the first half. Barnes joined in to close the fourth, but looked bad.

It’s as simple as that.

After the game, Fox expressed that he has and his team have to “make it easier for him,” but nevertheless, it appears HB has a lot to work on with another game slated for tonight.

Not great by any means, but a good game for Sabonis

Sabonis missed a lot of good looks at point blank range on Saturday night, mostly in the first half. In those first two quarters, he was 2 of 6 inside. Overall he, shot 4 of 12 from the field.

But he did finish with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, as well as a pair of both steals and blocks. Not to mention he posted a +7, the best plus/minus of Sacramento’s players.

If he hits a few more of his looks inside, it could have been a game changer. No doubt.

At the same time, the Kings were stopping the Clippers from the inside early on because of Sabonis’ defensive positioning. He’s not a rim protector or a revered athlete on that end, but Sabonis usually puts himself in the right spot.

Inside, Domas was able to use his body to defend Ivica Zubac, displayed some active hands and vertical length to deny passes, and some nice trailing defense to block a driving Luke Kennard.

Again, the Kings probably win this game if Sabonis doesn’t miss two gimmies near the basket, but still, on both ends of the floor, he looked better than opening night and was far more effective.

Monk and Mitchell’s head-shakers

As a team, the Kings shot 14 of 35 from beyond the arc, good for 40% from that range. Fox, Huerter, and Murray combined for 11 made threes on 19 attempts.

However, like Barnes, Malik Monk and Davion Mitchell continued to struggle from the three-point line. The three of them combined for 0 of 7 from three point range.

Domantas Sabonis also went 0 of 3 from deep, including an ugly airball, but two of them were decent looks (one was as the shot clock expired). But any three-point production from the passing big is just extra sweet icing on the cake. It’s not vital that he make those, or even take them, really.

On the other hand, Barnes, Monk, and Mitchell do.

There was a subsection already dedicated to Barnes above, so the focus shifts to just Monk and Mitchell.

Not only were the two poor from beyond the arc. Neither had a good game. In fact, they had two of the worst performances of the Kings players that saw the floor.

Monk not only missed his pair of three’s and his technical free throw, he had what looked like a Buddy blunder, falling forward as he made a bad pass that ended up as a turnover.

And besides his two misses, Mitchell, himself, had some bad moments defensively as well. Though he continued defending with his chest and provided some great ball pressure, he had a moment where he got lost in the fog, allowing Paul George—who the second-year guard stuck with fairly decently despite the height difference—to get an easy backdoor cut for an alley-oop.

Both Monk and Mitchell have had pretty bad games to start the year. It is imperative that they begin to get it going so that the second unit can be productive. In fact, if the Kings are going to have any luck when Fox is resting, these two need to step it up.

Richaun Holmes

This game could have been won. A number of things, had they gone right—from defensive consistency to free throw shooting—could have changed the outcome of the game. Throw in a few players who were non-factors.

As mentioned, Barnes didn’t have a good game, and both Monk and Mitchell have been absent. Equally as deserving of some questions is Richaun Holmes, who has looked invisible.

He had a couple offensive rebounds, including a put back, but he has not looked great defensively as the second center on Mike Brown’s team.

Against the Clippers, Holmes had miscommunications, fouled by defending with his hands, and even got caught flat footed.

It’s early, and he missed some time in training camp due to his stomach illness, but he needs to start turning things around for himself soon.

Going forward

The Kings finish their weekend back-to-back this evening along the San Francisco Bay at the Chase Center. Sacramento lost all 4 contests against the Warriors last season, and have dropped 6 of their last seven against that team.

Mike Brown and other members of Sacramento’s coaching staff will receive their championship rings in what should be a nice moment pregame. But the ensuing game will be a well-fought one with Sacramento losing their first two and with Golden State coming off a tough loss against Denver where their bench looked beyond disappointing.

No matter how you choose to cut it, this will be another good game to watch, albeit a challenge of significant difficulty for the Kings.

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