After some second quarter resilience, the Sacramento Kings took a 104-122 beating in Boston as the Celtics torched them in the second half, showing fans what an established championship contender looks like.
The Kings found themselves down after committing a load of turnovers, but their bench injected a shot of energy in the next quarter, which helped secure a close game at the half. However, Jayson Tatum created separation for his team in the third period as the ball avoided the bottom of the net for the Kings, especially from range.
“Even if we didn’t make shots, I still feel like we could have played better,” coach Brown admitted after the loss.
Domantas Sabonis was of course the centerpiece of this team, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. De’Aaron Fox scored 20 points and Davion Mitchell added 13 off the bench. Overall, though, the offense only hit 41.4% of their looks from the field and just 25.0% from beyond the arc.
Tatum lead all scores with 30 points along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists while Jaylen Brown threw on 25 points himself. Derrick White and Al Horford combined for 29 points on 6 total three’s made. And Payton Pritchard offered valuable minutes off the bench in the second half, scoring 9 on two three-pointers.
To start the game, Sacramento went on a 0 for 8 streak towards the midway point of the period, and after a turnover—which was a missed foul call that resulted in a technical foul each for both Mike Brown and Fox, the latter of whom, as Matt Barnes noted on the broadcast, does not typically show that kind of emotion—Brown called timeout. Harrison Barnes got to the line, but the Kings turned it over again, something they did a total of 10 times in the first. Plus, three-point struggles took full hold as they only hit 20% compared to Boston’s 50% from that range. They trailed 22-36 after one.
Fox and the second unit went on an 8-0 run early in the second quarter with some energetic play on both ends of the floor; included in the group was KZ Okpala. The Celtics got some more good looks from beyond the arc, but Sacramento pieced together some more stops (they only gave up 8 paint points after allowing 16 in the first), did not turn it over (only 2), and got to the basket (26 points in the paint, 8 of 8 on free throw attempts). Davion Mitchell and that bench unit were an invaluable jolt, and the Kings won the period 40-28, down just 2 points at halftime.
Boston came out of the half a half-step slower as the Kings mustered only a 6-0 run, but the Celtics flipped it around with the help of Tatum as they countered with a 10-5 run to regain the lead at the midway point of the period. Sacramento got a boost when Marcus Smart committed a flagrant foul on a Fox three, which resulted in 3 points and carved the path for eventual 6-point lead, but the offense was certainly colder. The Celtics closed the last four minutes on an 16-0 run—12-0 when Sabonis left the floor—leading the Kings by 10.
Into the final period the Celtics extended it to a 37-6 run, which gave them a 25-point lead with four and a half to go. At that point, the benches were emptied and garbage time commenced.
Attribute it to the road trip or to the day after Thanksgiving, but Mike Brown’s team struggled to maintain equal balance on both sides of the ball despite a few great stretches of play. Turnovers made it impossible to defend in the first quarter, and no offensive rhythm replicated similar results in the second half.
The Kings did not look like the top-scoring offense in this one.
By contrast to the 16.5 points per game and 49.6% clip from deep he had going into the game, it’s never a good sign when Kevin Huerter goes 2 of 10 from the field, including 0 of 6 from three. He did not score his first field goal until about the four-minute mark of the third, which incidentally was the last field goal for the Kings in that period as Boston charge forth on their back-breaking run.
With that, Keegan Murray continued his slump as he went just 1 of 8 from the field with that lone make being a three-pointer in garbage time, long after the game was essentially over. It appeared they tried to get him involved early—which seemed to work for him in the game against Golden State a little less than two weeks ago—with 3 early three-point attempts (4 total field goal attempts).
Malik Monk scored just 9, with all of them coming in the first half. Overall, he shot 4 of 12 from the field and 1 of 6 from deep.
After a pretty good start for Harrison Barnes through two and a half quarters of play that saw him go 4 of 8 from the field with 4 of 4 made at the free throw line as well as 5 rebounds and an assists. He was continuing his trend of attacking the inside, but by the end, he disappeared with the rest of the offense.
Even De’Aaron Fox, despite his 20 points, had some trouble knocking down some shots. He went 6 of 17 (35.6%) with a little better success from three-point range relative to the rest of the team, hitting 3 of 9.
Sacramento averaged 19 turnovers a game on this road trip. They were the reason for the loss against Atlanta and they got the Kings off to a dismal start to the game against Boston.
Granted, of the 18 total turnovers on Friday night, 10 came in the first quarter, but the thought still emerges: How tired was this team?
This was their most arduous task of the season thus far, hands down. The Kings did have a road trip that included three games on the east coast at the end of October going into November, but those three were stretched out over the course of six nights with no back-to-backs. This was three games in four nights. Not to mention a holiday was squeezed in between.
It’s also worth mentioning that, as of this moment, the combined winning percentage of the opponents faced on the first trip (.339) is nowhere close to that of the more recent three (.660).
Overall, from a simple eye test, the Kings were not as sharp as they have been. They pulled it together in Memphis, but their mistakes got the best of them on Wednesday as they could not capitalize on a mediocre performance from the Hawks, plus a true off night against the Celtics offensively.
It’s hard to say at this point, but Monday’s return home against Phoenix may be a better indicator of how much the Kings’ legs and bodies were feeling it on this three-game trip.
While the trip was tough, it was rather short. For reference, next month, Sacramento will go around the midwest and east coast for six games in ten nights. And then between late January and early February, there will be a seven-gamer in twelve nights.
The next three out of four are in Sacramento with the lone roadie being in LA, so the Kings will look to get back on track in terms of their degree of sharpness.
A note on Chimezie Metu and the backup 5 in general
Chimezie Metu is a fascinating member of this team as the reserve center.
In one light he’s sort of perfect. What makes the second unit so impactful is, arguably, it’s energy. Whether it’s Malik Monk coming in with an aggressive intent to score and facilitate or Davion Mitchell coming in to provide a defensive boost, the team thrives from their ability to pick up the liveliness. In that context, Metu’s ideal as he can play above the rim, throws down boisterous dunks, and can run the floor.
However, when looking at it another way, he fails to check many of the other boxes. That became evident on Friday night as it has at other points.
In the final two minutes of the third quarter, Boston scored 12 of their 16 unanswered to end the period with Metu on the floor. The main reason for this was not his defense, but more so his offense. Metu, as slightly alluded to, succeeds when he can slip unnoticed on the baseline to get an alley-oop or to have the ball dumped off to him. He will set screens, be a roll man, and shoot open looks from deep, but the point is he does not even begin to provide what Sabonis can provide.
Really, to be fair, who can?
In terms of being the backup to him, though, one would expect he’d be able to do it to some extent, but in those final couple of minutes of the third, the Kings struggled offensively because they could not get the kinds of paint touches one gets when Sabonis is out there, the ones that set the table for good shots. Also, one can’t lose sight of how many lanes Domas clears for his teammates (see here).
In Sacramento’s final third period possessions, Monk shot a three with no paint touch occurring, then next Barnes had the right idea to attack, but dribbled right at two defenders for a miss. That was followed by a turnover, Fox then missed a three without much offensive movement, and Terence Davis couldn’t hit a deep ball in the final seconds.
Meanwhile, the whole time, Boston was converting their shots, bolstering the momentum they had completely stolen away.
Defense and offense often go hand in hand; balance is required for good play. This second half was the perfect example of how offensive woes can lead to a defense unable to stop the bleeding.
This was not Metu’s fault; really, what Metu’s provided has been one of the bigger positive surprises of the season so far. However, the issue of when Sabonis leaves the floor is not one with an all-purpose remedy.
While Metu does some good things as the backup 5, one has to wonder if a more complete backup could have helped.
Davion Mitchell’s jolt
The impact of the second unit in the second quarter prevented this game from getting out of hand early.
While Malik Monk has usually lead that charge and did, in fact, put up 5 in the first quarter, it was Davion Mitchell this time.
As noted, the second unit always packs Mitchell’s defensive punch. He’s always setting or resetting the tone for that end of the floor, extracting further intensity from the play of his teammates. Coach Mike Brown has commended the second-year guard on multiple occasions for it. He did more of that, including a beautiful block when defending Malcolm Brogdon and another drawn charge, which seems like a nightly thing.
But it was more than another typical day at the office for Mitchell as he also scored 10 first half points, hitting a three in the second to finish with 13.
Mitchell was decisive and executed, particularly when finishing at the rim, which he did a few times in dazzling fashion. It would have been great to see some more second half production, but the same can be said of practically all of his teammates.
It was him and Monk attacking the paint, which was the key to all the good stretches of play.
This is only his third double-digit scoring game of the season and his first in over two weeks.
Mitchell’s impact defensively is undeniable, so if he can build off of this and begin scoring more than the 6.2 points he averages, then this second unit will be all the more deadly.
Some productive minutes from Okpala
As Boston was working their way to a 36-point first quarter, Mike Brown gave KZ Okpala an opportunity for some minutes. Not only could Sacramento use a defensive boost, but it seemed they might also be able to benefit from some fresh legs.
In 21 minutes of play, Okpala scored 7 points, including one of his two looks from three, and grabbed 4 rebounds. Additionally, he showed a useful defensive presence, coming up with a blocked Brogdon layup, a steal, and providing some good coverage on Jayson Tatum.
Though he did commit 4 personal fouls, he was a considerable help defensively as a body to put on some of Boston’s talent.
“Tonight, I thought we needed to go back to him because Tatum and Brown were kind of having their way,” coach Brown noted postgame.
Obviously, Tatum ended with 30 points, and it’s not like Okpala was locking him down or anything, but if the young player can enter the floor to offer a new and dynamic look to opposing stars while also impacting in other ways—as he did—then KZ Okpala could potentially earn more consistent time.
Honestly, Kings fans would clearly be in a better position not needing to see Okpala, but the fact he showed he can stay ready—which seems to be a trait for guys like him, Trey Lyles, and Metu—means he’ll have opportunities to come in and be a hero, similar to what Mike Brown got out of Terence Davis against the Nets.
In other words, it’s probably nice to know that, after losing out on the time he had initially had (remember, he began the year as a starter), Okpala can stay prepared for any given moment to fill in certain blanks.
Following this 1-2 road trip, the Kings head back home to take on another tough opponent in the Phoenix Suns.
Monty Williams’ squad is near the top of the Western Conference standings and continue to be one of the better teams in the league. They rank in the top-five of both offensive and defensive ratings.
It should be another exhilarating test for this Sacramento team as they try to bounce back on their home floor.