Other than when Buddy Hield touched the ball, the fans at The Golden 1 Center were unleashing a ceaseless roar as the Kings beat up on the visiting Pacers 137-114.
In a matchup that was consumed by high-paced speed, Sacramento played what could have been their best defensive game of the season, dominating Indiana in fast break scores 31-8 to contain one of the better fast break teams in the NBA.
The Pacers got some good performances from Bennedict Mathurin, who scored 22 on 10 of 11 from the free throw line, and Jalen Smith, who had a great third quarter, but left the game with a mouth contusion. Buddy Hield was off to a nice start in the first half, but finished with only 17 points, and Tyrese Haliburton managed only 9 points with his 10 assists and committed 2 turnovers, which were his first over his last four games.
But the Kings had a litany of excellent performances—seven guys in double figures—that coalesced to stick a fork in this one before the midway point of the fourth quarter. Domantas Sabonis filled up the stat sheet against his former team, scoring 11 with 10 rebounds and 7 assists, and Harrison Barnes was aggressive with 10 free throw attempts, finishing with 22 points and 5 rebounds. And the bench was led by Malik Monk’s 20 points and 6 assists, plus Terence Davis’ 15 and Davion Mitchell’s masterful defense and 8 points.
The Kings brought about everything anyone could ask for in this one to gain a victory in one of the most highly anticipated games of this young season.
The pace was high from the start as Indiana put in the effort to try and create quick offense and Sacramento had some aggressive moments in transition. Sabonis was off to a great start, pushing the ball in transition and distributing to help get Barnes off to a great start. The Kings shot just under 50%, lead the fast break points battle 14-0, and also played some nice defense, as Indy turned it over 6 times. They closed it out on a 14-6 run and lead the Pacers 33-20 at the end of one.
As expected, the pace did not let up in the second, but shots for the Kings did not go in at the same rate. Still they maintained a lead hovering around 10 points as the back-and-forth charges from end to end continued. The Pacers’ shooting percentages remained pretty low, especially from three where they shot just 23.8% from. De’Aaron Fox got on the scoreboard from the free throw line before making his first field goal with about three and a half to play; he added another 5 points to close out the period. And at halftime, Sac lead 62-48.
The defense continued early the third quarter as it seemed Mike Brown only tightened things within his group at the break. With some stops and more energy, the Kings began to stretch out there lead, getting it up to 25 points with under nine in the period. But then the Pacers began trending upward from beyond the arc with the help of Jalen Smith, plus the Kings turned it over 5 times and their opponent scored 11 points off of them. Smith left the game around the four-minute mark after getting clocked in the face when defending a Malik Monk layup. After Indiana shrunk it, Sacramento expanded the lead back out with the help of Terence Davis and 15 free throw attempts, going up 106-83 headed into the fourth.
Sacramento got the lead to 30 points at one point, continuing much of their good play. The Kings kept pushing on the glass; in one sequence, Barnes came to the floor to secure the loose ball he’d poked away, which gave Davis a dunk on the other end before Monk came up with a steal and flipped a lob to Davis, who took the roof off the building. With fans chanting “Light the Beam,” Sac was up 126-94 around the seven minute mark when coach Brown emptied the bench for some garbage time. It was a rout.
This was the best defensive performance for the Kings all year.
For one, they did a good job of limiting the Pacers—who averaged 17.9 fastbreak points coming into this one—to just 8 fast break points, winning that battle 31-8. There were a few instances of some nice transition defense.
Moreover, the guys looked great out on the string together. Here, Metu, Mitchell, and Okpala converged near the rim to squeeze out a stop.
In fact, there were plenty of examples of some really superb team stops. It was clear the team was cooking on the defensive end, forcing their opponents into some bad shots and continuing some nice close outs.
In the collective effort, some instances of individual excellence emerged as well.
Chimezie Metu on one occasion provided some nice help in the paint, yet with his effort to help, he still managed to get off a great contest and came away with a block. At another time, Metu displayed some great positional paint defense.
Metu’s paint defense was reminiscent of Sabonis’. The starting 5 has never been viewed as a defensive talent given his level of athleticism and lack of rim-protecting ability. Yet for Mike Brown, he’s proving to be his ideal example of a paint defender. He continued to show it Wednesday, proving there are ways other than blocks to protect inside.
A game after he was made an example of on the floor, Terence Davis displayed some excellent help down low when he got himself in position in front of the restricted area to end up with a blocked shot.
Monk also had two big steals, Keegan Murray looked better on that end, Fox kept up his intensity, Barnes had some steals as well, and Huerter continued his improvement.
However, of all the Kings, it’s no surprise that Davion Mitchell was the best representative for this defensive performance as he, again, continued setting the tone.
He was just terrific from start to finish. Speaking of the finish, Mitchell had two defensive moments which essentially sealed this rout of a victory. At one point in the fourth, he drew an offensive foul as he seems to always do. And more notably, after a Sac turnover, Mitchell hustled back to the other end for a block that sent the stadium into a frenzy.
From Mitchell, Fox, and Sabonis down to Davis, Metu, and Okpala, Sacramento’s defense was ridiculously good against Indiana. The best illustration might come from the moment when—because their defensive domination had a full grip on the Pacers—Haliburton made a bone-headed cross-court pass that ended as a TD steal.
“I thought tonight was probably our most complete defensive game,” coach Mike Brown applauded postgame. “Our guys did a great job with their responsibilities on the defensive end of the floor, and I thought the communication was pretty good.”
58 bench points
This was a matchup that not only consisted of some homecomings and Sabonis’ first opportunity to play Indiana, it was also a showdown between two of the highest scoring benches in the league.
Sacramento’s narrowly had the edge, scoring 58 to their opponent’s 56 bench points.
Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, Terence Davis, Chimezie Metu, and KZ Okpala were all phenomenal for Mike Brown on Wednesday night.
As noted, Mitchell was awesome defensively as he usually is, but in a game where the whole team played well on that end, extra props have to be sent the second-year guard’s way. It was his block in transition midway through the fourth that essentially tied the knot on this blowout win.
In addition to his defense, Mitchell kept up the pace, hit a pair of three pointers (he’s now hit 4 of his last 7 from deep over the last three games), and dropped a couple of assists.
According to coach Brown, Monk furthered his early bid for Sixth Man of the Year. In his last four, Monk has posted 20 or more points three times, including Wednesday. He continued his ability to provide an all-gas sudden impact in multiple facets of the game posting a line of 20 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 memorable steals.
Also having a hell of a game was Terence Davis, particularly in the second half where he scored 9 with 2 assists as well as a steal and a block each. Overall on the night he scored 15, hitting 3 of 8 from deep and feeding into the bench’s energy as he is prone to do. He also was great defensively. Thinking back to the Brooklyn game on TNT, TD just has to have his hands all over a blowout win.
While it could have been anticipated given the speed and pace in this one, Chimezie Metu also provided some valuable time off the bench. With Sabonis venturing towards foul trouble, Sacramento’s de factor backup center played about 17 minutes with 8 points, 8 rebounds, and a block. He continued offering some energy slams, but most importantly, he had 3 offensive rebounds, all in the first half.
Metu has found ways to be impactful this year, and Wednesday was a good example of that. His coach commended him postgame, making note of the fact opponents have to prepare for two very different centers.
With Trey Lyles out again with illness, Okpala provided a nice presence in the second unit. Not only was he making himself known defensively (see his block), he was involved on the glass with 4 boards, including one on the offensive end. He also hit a three.
Okpala in the starting five never really seemed like it was going to pan out, but in this sort of bench role, he’s looked great over the last couple since getting minutes in Boston last week. He’s yet another Kings player who has demonstrated he can stay ready.
De’Aaron Fox was better, not exceptional
De’Aaron Fox did not get on the scoreboard until he hit his second of two free throws in the second quarter. A bit later, his first field goal fell from his spot.
It was sort of wild that with all the running in this one—which came from the very start—Fox did not hop on the carousel right away.
He did score 8 in that second period before coming out for a much better second half where he scored 11 with 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Despite the slow start, he did a nice job of converting from his spot, pushing the ball from end to end, and having some killer-like moments. Those didn’t come in large bunches, but they were there, which is not something that was as apparent in his previous three games.
As he has all year, Fox also continued his effective defensive play, contributing to the team performance.
On the night, he finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Sabonis and Barnes
It seemed like everyone contributed in this one, but enough can’t be said about Domantas Sabonis and Harrison Barnes.
Defensively speaking, in the second period, Sabonis was called for a foul on a contest where he did a pretty solid job of staying straight up. There was a little bit of downward motion to his hands, but only because Haliburton’s knee was coming up high at him. Coach Brown challenged it, and it happened to be overturned. More than anything, it was nice to see such excellent defense rewarded.
It grows more and more clear with every game that Sabonis is the backbone of this team. Fox has shown he can score, that he can ice games, but the Kings are competing in every game primarily because of Sabonis.
It was yet another fantastic game for the big man as he continues to stand out in terms of a potential all-star selection.
Similarly, Harrison Barnes and his ability to attack and get to the free throw line was absolutely imperative in this contest. Coming into this one, it was known the Pacers give up some of the most free throw attempts to their opponents, so getting to the line was a key to this one, and HB got their 10 times, hitting 9 of them.
One more note on Barnes is he continued to use his veteran awareness to help his team. At one point in the third period, Domas had a mismatch with Haliburton guarding him. Huerter had the ball and was looking his way, but never sent it down that way, probably because there was not a clear path to send a pass. Seeing all of this from the opposite side, Barnes came to the free throw line so Huerter could send it his way where he then found Sabonis for a score.
Sabonis and Barnes were simply great.
Keegan Murray another positive game
It seemed that in the loss to Phoenix, the rookie had taken advantage of the return home to muster a game that looked like it was getting him moving in the right direction again. Murray did the same against the Pacers.
Keegan Murray finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. He was good on the glass with 2 offensive rebounds, played some good defense, showed some off-ball awareness, and had a couple of three’s fall in this one.
However, he did hit just 2 of 9 (22.2%) from three and had his second 3-turnover game in a row.
Turnovers like bad passes, dribbling into nowhere, and travels could reasonably be seen as opportunities for lessons learned. And for any shooter, struggles come and go, though it is notable that Murray has seen nothing but an upward progression in his three-point shot over the last three years and a slump like this does leave behind the question of whether he can overcome it.
While his three-point shot works its way back, there was another effort to get him involved early. His confidence hasn’t gone anywhere and it only looked more resilient in this one.
It wasn’t a great game, but it was one of his better ones in recent memory. It’ll be important to string together a third positive performance this weekend.
The Kings hit the road for a Saturday matinee, which will be the first of a back-to-back. It won’t be much of a trip as they stay in California to travel south to Los Angeles for one against the Clippers.
The Clippers are currently 13-10 on the year. While they are one of the bottom teams offensively speaking, Ty Lue’s team is unsurprisingly among the top defensively, ranking third in defensive rating.
These two teams faced off earlier this year in a contest LA won, but looking back, the Clippers shot exceptionally well and the Kings shot themselves in the foot with a horrible night from the charity stripe.
Sacramento will be looking to get them back.