In the first of a cruel three-game road trip, the Sacramento Kings came out on top of Ja Morant and the Grizzlies, 113-109, winning their seventh straight.
It was one where runs were exchanged and where both teams committed an atrocious 18 turnovers, but Mike Brown’s team came out ahead in points off of them 26-23 as well as in second chance scores (15-11) despite losing on the offensive glass (9-13). Also key was the fact the Kings shot a better percentage from the charity stripe (74.1%) compared to Memphis (63.3%).
Morant was listed as week-to-week, but he stepped up to the challenge of the NBA’s hottest team. He put up 34 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals, but hit just 9 of 15 from the free throw line. And Jaren Jackson Jr., who’s acclimating back into full time play, was dominant for large stretches, scoring 22 points and posting 5 blocks.
But Sacramento was able to come out with a win because their five best players showed up. De’Aaron Fox scored 32 points—his sixth of the season with 30 or more—in addition to 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Domantas Sabonis only scored 9, but he had 13 rebounds, 8 assists, and a nice game defensively for his standards. Kevin Huerter added 18 with 6 rebounds, and Malik Monk provided 14 points and 4 assists off the bench. But it was Harrison Barnes again who had another terrific game, scoring 26 points (8 of 8 from the free throw line) with 4 rebounds.
The Kings got off to a good start in the first few minutes, getting some stops and good offensive looks. Morant then got to the line a few times, initiating an 11-0 Grizzlies run. Then Fox got to the line for three and hit one of his beautiful step backs to beckon a Memphis timeout as the Kings turned it into a 13-5 run with the help of Harrison Barnes’ 9 points. Sacramento’s defense did not close out the quarter very well, especially in the paint (14 Memphis paint points) and in transition (5 fast break points in the period), and their opponent, behind Jaren Jackson, was up 31-28 at the end of one.
Memphis got a few inside scores against some more poor defense with Metu manning the 5 against a very tall and long team, and Mike Brown called a quick timeout. Out of it, Metu got a wide open dunk on a roll a few minutes later, and Taylor Jenkins returned the favor with a timeout. Jackson kept bringing the pain inside—getting 15 first half points—while the Kings began turning it over, amassing 4 in the second. But Memphis did as well, committing 6, and Sacramento went on a 25-13 run to get the lead, getting some good three’s off of paint touches, including a pair from Huerter. Sac led 64-59 at the half as Fox, Huerter, and Barnes were all in double figures.
Out of halftime, the Grizzlies got 4 quick points, including a poorly defended dunk in transition, which sparked a coach Brown timeout. Memphis kept up their trend of getting offensive rebounds, but failing to compile second chance points. However, the Kings, while giving up some scores, saw some instances of solid transition defense. Overall, the D got some stops, steals, and blocks, particularly in the final six minutes of the third, while getting points off those turnovers. At the end of a third quarter where Fox scored 13 points, the Kings led 88-76.
Jackson was a bit of an issue to start the fourth, getting an early score on Metu and drawing fouls. The Kings got a few scores and had Sabonis re-enter the game, but the Grizzlies cut it to single digits again. The Kings got it back up again, but the Grizzlies were beginning to bear down and their home crowd was eager to start cheering, but turnovers (4 in the period) continued to plague the Grizzlies. Morant, however, got it going as the Kings themselves got very sloppy (8 fourth quarter turnovers), a few unforced ones with under two to play which helped Memphis get on a 16-5 Grizzlies run and cut the lead to 3.
In the final minute or so, it was the foul show. With about 65 seconds left, Barnes got to the line and hit both before Morant got to the stripe, going 1 of 2. Barnes then made a heads up sell to get a foul called on Memphis, which put them over the limit and him at the line; he hit both. Then Adams went to the line, hitting only one. After some good keep-away, Fox turned it over and Morant cut it to 3 again with 23 ticks remaining. But then 13 came off the clock as Barnes and the Kings played clean keep-away, and Domas was sent to the line, hitting 1 and making it a 4-point lead. And of course, Morant ripped up floor, hit a layup and one, converting the three-point play. Monk was then fouled with 4 seconds left, hitting both at the stripe, making it 111-108. Memphis called a timeout.
After the Jenkins timeout, Morant was awarded three free throws on a three-point attempt which Fox fouled him on. Luckily for Sacramento—up three—Memphis’ star missed the first. Following his conversion of the second, he intentionally missed the third and committed a violation on the rebound. Unable to force a turnover, the Grizzlies fouled Fox, who hit both, and the Kings came out victorious to the score of 113-109.
Barnes is icing on the cake (a.k.a. the league’s best offense)
Everyone around the league is really starting to see how good Sacramento’s offense is. Aside from leading in some key statistics—including offensive rating and points per game—the last four games or so have featured the four-man combination of Fox, Sabonis, Huerter, and Barnes.
It was the same Tuesday night.
Obviously, Fox had another 30-plus point night, Sabonis was at the center of it, and Huerter was able to make valuable contributions. But again, Barnes had his seventh good game in a row.
It’s no wonder the Kings have won seven straight while getting seven great performances from their third-highest paid player.
He was great again, nailing 4 out of 8 from deep, being active on the boards, and getting to the line 8 times, all of which he hit.
Time and again, his ability and instinct to get inside and attack has been a difference maker for this Kings team. Having been around the block more than anyone else in the rotation, those veteran decisions are vital.
And his presence as a vet was felt in those final minutes when the Kings were trying to play keep away. There were moments where he had to dribble the ball past half court or put up with two or three defenders trying to force a steal, and he maintained his steady self.
Fox, Sabonis, and Huerter are awesome—the three of them are making appeals to be all-stars—but right now, Barnes is doing a ton of stuff to help this offense sit at the top of the NBA.
Not at all perfect, but some good defensive moments
The Kings had some dismal moments on the defensive end, typically because they struggled to matchup against Jaren Jackson Jr.
Fortunately, he was limited to 27 minutes of play. And for the most part, the Kings had a lot of good defensive moments.
Ultimately, the Kings defense can pat themselves on the back for a good portion of Memphis’ 18 turnovers as they were able to flip those into 26 total points.
In the early first quarter, Sacramento was playing some good defense even if their opponent got a bucket. It was visible. And they did get some stops, including in transition. Huerter looked good early, and Domas got off to a good start.
Really, Domas was perhaps most impressive on the defensive end out of all of his areas of impact. Of course, that’s hard to conclude when he was imperative on the glass and he had some beautiful assists. Still, viewers could see it.
And then zooming back out to the team, in the final stretch of the third quarter—which was an excellent period defensively as the Grizzlies scored just 17 points—the Kings were stringing together stops and forced turnovers. With a little over six minutes to play, Huerter had a great block. Sabonis helped get a transition stop a little later, a Lyles block, and then came back-to-back steals. And Davion Mitchell topped it off with another steal while also drawing a charging foul, which he seems to do once a game.
Coach Mike Brown said that third was their “best defensive quarter of the year.”
In the final period, Sabonis continued his nice defense down the closing stretch. He helped secure stops on the glass while also protecting the paint in a few instances, with another great effort against a driving Morant.
It was not a pretty game overall, but defensively, there were a lot of positives to take away, especially from Sacramento’s center.
Despite lack of paint protection, Metu again played adequately
Metu got beat by Jaren Jackson Jr. a fair amount of times; he’s clearly not a huge presence, and never has been.
Mike Brown tried to use Metu in combination with others—usually Trey Lyles—to try and stop Jackson, but in his limited time, he was getting what he wanted, especially when Sabonis was resting.
But Metu has continued doing the things classified as strengths. All surrounding his athleticism, the big man had some excellent energy slams, a few high-effort instances on the glass, and a moment of his ability to run the floor.
By the end of it, Metu went 5 for 7 from the field for 10 points and 3 rebounds in ten and a half minutes of play.
He continues contributing what strengths he provides, and there was an effort—albeit, a not very successful one—to scheme up a defense of Jackson.
Brown trusts Metu. If he continues to add some help off the bench and if he can improve defensively, he may have the backup center role for the remainder of the year.
However, one can’t deny a more complete (and true) center would probably be better. Still, in relation to keeping Barnes, the idea is chemistry, so along those lines, that may add to Metu’s security in that role.
One down, two to go.
After this big win, Sacramento headed to Atlanta for a back-to-back against the 10-7 Hawks on Wednesday night.
Over their last six games, they’ve been alternating between wins and losses from night to night. They’ll be coming off of a loss in Cleveland Monday night.
Trae Young and Dejounte Murray are a formidable backcourt duo, but the Hawks are a bit down offensively after finishing second in offensive rating a season ago. For one, John Collins is down in every stat, but the team is struggling to make three-pointers, hitting only 32% of them as a team. DeAndre Hunter and rookie AJ Griffin are the only one’s shooting above 36% on more than 2 attempts per game. Last season—with a guy named Kevin Huerter—the Hawks were second in three-point percentage.
But still, this is a good team that is near the top in field goals made per game, and it will be on a road back-to-back.
Plus, look at Morant in this game; he came out to play when he could have rested another night. Teams see the Kings as an opponent worth bringing it for.
Following the win, the tough three-game stretch will not let up.