It wasn’t pretty in the big picture, but the bottom line is that the Sacramento Kings showed up in the end and held on to defeat the Pistons 137-129 on the home floor to get their 6th straight win.
Like the win against San Antonio, the Kings waited until later to take control of the contest, this time finishing the final five or so minutes on an 18-5 run.
Giving credit where it’s due, Detroit was cooking—some might even call it overachieving—scoring 70 points at half time, splitting Sacramento’s defense so many times, and shooting over 50% from three.
Fifth overall selection in the draft Jaden Ivey had an impressive 24-point game, including a perfect 4 of 4 from deep, and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 points. And Detroit’s bench really showed up with four double-figure performances from the reserves, including Alec Burks’ 16 points as well as rookie Jalen Duren’s 12 points and 8 rebounds (5 on the offensive side).
While the Pistons had seven double-digit scorers, most of whom came off the bench, the Kings got 112 of their 137 points from their starters. By no surprise, De’Aaron Fox led with 33 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists while helping seal up the win. Harrison Barnes had a consistent performance with 27 points and 9 boards, and Domantas Sabonis had another versatile box score, scoring 15 with 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Huerter got hot in the end, scoring 13 in the fourth to finish with 24 in the game.
Sacramento looked like they were in control to start the game. Sabonis was absolutely man-handling Marvin Bagley down in the post, seemingly more so than he did to Nic Claxton a few games ago, as the Kings got off to a 8-2 start. But then three’s began to fall for Detroit, Jalen Duren came in for Bagley as a way stronger presence inside, and the Pistons were getting in the paint. In the final four and a half minutes, the Pistons converted 8 of their last 9, but Sac was up 38-33 at the end of one.
The Pistons kept rolling into the second quarter, getting scores near the bucket, some more offensive rebounds, and some more three-pointers. As alluded to, most of their push was coming from the bench unit while the Kings bench had a rough time matching it. Sacramento managed 30, which was mostly due to Fox’s 15 points, but Detroit put up 37 points in the second to lead 70-68 at the half.
In the first half, the Kings seemed over aggressive at times with things going their opponent’s way, but they were far more patient in the third period. Harrison Barnes led that trend, and his 6 of 6 from the free throw line that quarter helps explain why. But the Kings defense was still spotty far too often as the Pistons got 6 second chance points off 3 offensive boards, 7 free throw attempts after just 6 in the first half, and continued hitting their three’s in the quarter. So it was tied at 107 going into the fourth.
In the fourth, the Pistons were up by 5 points in the first seven minutes of the period. They’d hit 3 of 5 from three, were 5 of 5 from the charity stripe, and continued disrupting the Kings on the glass. As Malik Monk got his second technical and was ejected, it sort of felt like the home crowd was ready to explode, and they did just that in the final five minutes as the Kings pieced together a few stops for a change while also seeing some nice play from Fox and Huerter to finish the game on an 18-5 run to win it.
It wasn’t pretty, though.
“Teams in this business, if you give them an opportunity to get rhythm, it can be a long, long night,” head coach Mike Brown admitted to the media after the game. “And we got lucky down the stretch to get this win. It’s not always about the wins and losses, it’s about playing the right way and approaching the game the right way, and we as a group, starting with me, somehow, some way, have to do a better job with it.”
This one had it’s problems—mostly on the defensive side of the ball—but the bottom line is that the Kings held on at home. It’s generally safe to say a win is a win, but when you’re finishing up a nice seven-game stretch in California against a bottom dweller and ahead of a tough three games in four nights over the holiday week, that’s sort of all one needs to know. It was definitely a win where a sigh of relief was the form of celebration.
“A few steps back defensively”
Yes, the Kings won, but for the most part—excluding the final four or five minutes—they looked poor defensively.
“I didn’t like our approach… and I didn’t like how we responded… after they hit a couple of shots,” Mike Brown said after the game.
There were moments, as there have been over the last couple of weeks, where it looks great, undeniably showing the strides Mike Brown’s group have made. But when you allow your opponent to score 127 points that cannot be taken as a good defensive performance in any way.
Sure, it was an anomaly that Detroit shot over 50% from beyond the arc—they did come back to earth in the final minutes, going 0 for 3—but it must have been a headache for Sac’s coaching staff that they were able to split up the Kings defense to score inside or generate a good look from three.
There were moments where maybe the weak side help was a little over ambitious, or where the help left too good of a look from three, but add in the fact that throughout the game there were instances where the Pistons had a free backside cut, a second chance score, or a wide open lane, and it paints the picture of a very rocky defensive performance.
The ease with which Detroit could get inside was a big reason they could shoot so well from the outside; they simply had too many wide open looks. Check out this dismal display where the defense is stuck in pow-wow mode in the paint and nobody follows the shooter to the wing.
And of course, there were some really poor instances of transition defense for a team that has shown a lot of progress in that department. At various points, Detroit was able to get a score at the rim or even find an open three in transition.
The Kings won the game, but the defense was a little more out of sorts than anticipated against this Detroit team. Ultimately, coach Brown noted that this was a game where the team “took a few steps back defensively.”
Coming together to close out games
For whatever one wants to say about the defense, it is nevertheless coming along; the progress is undeniable though not yet sufficient.
Something the Kings did—and that they continue to do—is close out the game. That is, bear down in the closing stretch to make some defensive stops, get good looks, and, for good measure, create second chance opportunities.
In the final five minutes of the game, again, the Kings finished on an 18-5 run. Their ability to come out on the winning side of things was a direct result of the fact that they secured a total of 7 stops in that closing timeframe.
It started with a nice team stop from the Kings; everyone stayed with their assignment, and as the shot clock expired, Kevin Knox was forced to put up a three that he missed. The Kings did not score on the other end despite the second chance opportunity, but Bogdanovic committed a turnover as Sabonis provided nice help that led to a Huerter interception, which preceded one of those rapid coast-to-coast scores for Fox, which cut Detroit’s lead to 3.
Sacramento forced another stop as Burks missed a three that was well defended by Keegan Murray, and then Huerter nailed the game-tying three on a second scoring opportunity created by Domas.
Jaden Ivey looked like De’Aaron Fox in a Pistons uniform, going from half court to the rim in a flash, resulting in two free throws, one of which he missed. Then, open at the top, Huerter missed a three, but then Sabonis grabbed yet another offensive board, dished it back to Huerter, who found Barnes at the basket for an easy dunk, putting his team up 126-125.
Against some nice Harrison Barnes defense, Ivey drove downhill, tip-toed along the baseline, and hit a turnaround shot in the paint to get the lead back. On the other end, the Kings topped that with an even more beautiful finish. Kevin Huerter got into the lane and completed a gorgeous reverse layup through three Detroit defenders.
Ivey tried to get to the rim again, but Sabonis manned up on him, did not foul the athletic guard, and got a steal as Ivey struggled to retain possession.
On the offensive end, the Kings’ three best players came together for a beautiful score. Fox brought it up slow and then sprinted from half court, drawing Domas’ defender to come that way, so the point guard dished it to Sabonis at the top of the paint, and because the weakside defender slid in to prevent a wide open lane, the big man was able to find Huerter in the corner, who hit it, giving the Kings a 4-point lead.
From there Detroit tried the foul game after they were awarded three free throws on a bogus foul call, but it was all but over.
Yes, this team did not play a great game overall, but they came together and found a way to win the game, which is something that is becoming a strength of this team after years and years of never being able to do that.
Still, as Mike Brown mentioned, the team has got to be able to “get stops, and not just in the last four minutes.”
Detroit’s bench was a massive difference maker. Compared to the Kings’ 25 bench points, they scored 55. Much of the energy from the Pistons in this game was generated by their bench, but the same could not be said of Sacramento’s.
Jalen Duren stood out with 12 points and 8 boards, 5 of which were on the offensive glass. The game was different after he replaced Bagley early on. Alec Burks had 16, Kevin Knox socred 11 on 3 of 5 shooting from three, and old friend Cory Joseph added 12 on 2 of 3 from deep.
By contrast, as coach Brown said, the Kings’ second unit “looked a little tired.”
Davion Mitchell was the best player off the bench for the Kings, and mostly for the nightly defensive pressure he provides. Other than that, the second-year guard had 5 points and 3 assists.
Malik Monk, who’s been the leader of this second unit, had a down night—notably in the aftermath of a dental procedure—scoring 8 points with 3 assists and 2 steals. He did accumulate two technical fouls—which are always avoidable, especially his second one where he bumped Killian Hayes after the refs missed an offensive foul call on Monk—thus getting him ejected, but the dental matter had nothing to do with that.
Trey Lyles played a stretch of ten minutes between the first and second. He went 1 of 4 from deep for 3 points and no rebounds.
Chimezie Metu had a nice moment where his effort running the floor resulted in a put back cleanup score in transition, but Metu was not exceptional. Energy plays are his specialty as he boosted the energy of a frenetic bench unit, but there was little in the way of that. And adding to the subpar game, Metu was easily beat twice by Bogdanovic, who moves about as well as a water buffalo (yes, that’s a wing beating a big, but the wing’s specialty is not athleticism, and the big’s supposed defensive strength is some versatility).
And Terence Davis saw a little over three minutes of action. It seemed he came in because of some shooting struggles; when he first entered, Huerter was just 1 of 6 from deep. In his small chunk of time, TD went 1 of 3 from the field, hitting a three, but that was it.
This game illuminates the importance of this second unit. While it’s great to know the starters can take on most of the load in these instances, the drop off in overall production on Sunday seemed tied to the fact the bench—which averaged 42.8 points per game before this one—scored just 25 while providing little in the way of energy.
To be fair, by getting ejected, Monk produced the spark in the crowd that facilitated the late-game run, which was vital in retrospect, but the bench unit clearly had an off game that allowed Detroit to be able to at least get a whiff of a potential road victory.
Harrison Barnes looks great, isn’t going anywhere
Coach Mike Brown began his postgame presser commending the 30 year-old.
It’s pretty clear: Harrison Barnes is fine.
The veteran forward was a steady and consistent force for a Kings team that was playing up-and-down throughout.
Over the last few games, it’s hard to count how many times a note is written down that says something to the effect of “Barnes gets inside.” On Sunday, he generated 14 paint points, got to the line 11 times (hitting 10), and got two of his three assists with the paint in mind (one on a drive and dump off to Sabonis, the other a feed to Murray inside).
As noted, when the Kings were more patient in the second half, Barnes was a major reason why, going 6 of 6 from the free throw line.
It’s more than apparent that he looks to be doing what he needs to do—supplementing the scoring as he did in the previous two games, and stepping up when needed as he did against Detroit—and as James Ham reported earlier on Sunday, the Kings are not exploring any trades.
It was yet another nice game for the vet, and in his last six, he’s shooting 42.1% from deep while averaging 16.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.2 steals per contest.
A nod to the home court
“If we’re on the road, we probably don’t even win that game (against Detroit), especially with the way that we were defensively,” De’Aaron Fox observed after the game.
He’s undoubtedly correct.
Credit should be given to the home crowd, who collectively stayed in it, giving the Kings the lift they needed to carry through down the stretch.
After failing to establish a home court advantage for so many years, this Kings team has won their last six games at home after starting out 0-3 at The Golden 1 Center.
Regardless of how it looked, this was a good win in the context of what lies ahead.
Sacramento will head out to Memphis to start a really tough three-game stretch in four nights throughout Thanksgiving week.
Fortunately, luck can be found on the Kings’ opponent’s injury report because the Grizzlies will be without star talent Ja Morant and likely without Desmond Bane, who scored 31 when these two teams played in October.
Morant injured his ankle this past Friday and is listed as week-to-week, and Bane hurt his big toe on November 11 which was listed as a two to three week recovery (Bane will have had 11 days of rest come game time on Tuesday).
But traveling to another arena—especially that of a well-rounded group—is never easy. Though with Atlanta and then Boston waiting, it will be huge if they can secure the win in Memphis.