In the first of a weekend back-to-back, the Sacramento Kings traveled south to Los Angeles to absolutely lay into a shorthanded Clippers team, winning 123-96 on the back of another great defensive performance.
It was to the Kings’ extreme advantage that Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Luke Kennard, and Norman Powell were all out for this one. Those four guys on average combine for 56.1 points per game for Tyronn Lue this season.
That still doesn’t take away from the defensive showcase.
“The last few games, we’ve gotten a little better on that end of the floor, and so to continue to see our growth defensively is fun,” Mike Brown gushed after the win.
Nor does it diminish the variety of nice performances for coach Brown’s team.
After all, seven different guys were in double figures. Domantas Sabonis was a force from the start, finishing the game with 24 points on 10 of 11 from the field with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Malik Monk was right there with him in this one in terms of impact, scoring 13 on 3 of 5 from deep. Getting over “a bug that’s going around,” De’Aaron Fox scored 14 with 6 rebounds and 4 assists, playing a key part late in the third and early in the fourth to maintain the wide margin. And Keegan Murray looked like he could be getting back on track with a 23-point game, 12 of which came in what could prove a valuable stretch late in the contest.
It was all Kings in this game as they committed just 9 turnovers for 11 points compared to LA’s 17 for 23 points. That turnover differential came even as Sacramento was zinging the ball around, assisting 31 of their 46 made field goals (.674 assist-percentage). They also dominated in the paint (62-44) and held their opponent to 35.5% shooting.
Both teams were showing their defensive skills at the very start of the game, but Sacramento’s offense began to create some space as a result, scoring 14 points off of 6 LA turnovers. They were also shooting a higher percentage, getting out in transition, and riding Sabonis’ hot start, which included hitting 2 of 2 from three. The big man scored 15 in the first with 5 assists, and as soon as he got some rest, Monk picked it up, hitting a couple of three’s in the final couple of minutes. The Kings lead 38-24 after one.
Sacramento’s defense kept up their level of play, using it to stretch out the lead further to score 11 unanswered to start the second. It certainly helped that the Clippers were shooting below 30% from the field; a lot of credit goes to the Kings, but LA’s offense was missing three important players as well as missing some easy looks at the rim. Nevertheless, Sac was doing what they were supposed to be doing. They lead 60-38 at the half, holding LA to 14 second quarter points and just 28.6% shooting in the half.
Los Angeles came out and scored 5 unanswered points before the Kings got back in the same groove and followed it up with a 14-2 run. Sabonis continued his good work as the team defense and effort on the glass looked excellent. As younger guys came off the bench for LA, they picked up their pace and level of play, but Sacramento was able to maintain their 20-plus point lead, up 90-69 going into the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Clippers again got off to a quick 5-0 run and cut the lead to 16 points, which initiated a Mike Brown timeout. The Kings then came out for 17-2 unanswered points with the starters back out there. With just under seven minutes, garbage time officially ensued with the benches emptied. In the end Sacramento held their opponent to less than 100 points to get the road victory as Kings fans in the arena erupted into a “Light the Beam” chant.
Sabonis and Monk
Domantas Sabonis was a menace for the Clippers to deal with in this one. He got off to a perfect start from the field, scoring 15 points with some excellent post moves that were either charged with his strength or some finesse. Even more of a splash was the fact the big man knocked down his two looks from three, both of which were just handed to him by the opposing defense. And of course he was facilitating as the center of the offense, posting 5 first quarter assists.
When Sabonis went to the bench for some rest around the one and a half minute mark, Malik Monk picked up where he left off, hitting a couple big three-pointers, including one where he was absolutely feeling it.
Ultimately, Malik Monk did not have the most astounding of statistical lines compared to what he’s been showing this season, but there is something to be said about the point Kayte Christensen was making on the broadcast that Monk is the key to maintaining balance and the correct level of play when Sabonis is off the floor.
And it makes a ton of sense, too, considering Sabonis is the centerpiece of the offense and the starters while Monk is the uplifting stick of dynamite for the bench unit.
The dynamic between the two—how they make up for the other’s absence and how they perform together—is one of the big reasons why this team is succeeding.
Sabonis’ size, facilitation, vision, and ability to handle for a big is already a difficult task for the defense, so when Monk comes in with his foot flattening the gas pedal, it provides additional pressure that comes at them in a good way. And through it all, the team’s performance stays high.
This game elucidated that.
Another game for the defense
The Kings just pieced together two excellent defensive performances in a row. That’s huge.
Again, they were terrific at racking up some stops—sometimes through forcing a bad shot, sometimes through forcing turnovers—with the use of some excellent rotations and help defense. They were also terrific in transition on multiple occasions, and showed a widespread ability to close out on shots.
And even into garbage time, the team defense showed some positive moments (credit here to Trey Lyles and KZ Okpala).
Furthermore, the weak side help defense has been great. Over the last couple of weeks, Kevin Huerter is accumulating more and more steals that look like a defensive back grabbing an interception in football. It might be an improved area for not just Huerter, but the whole team.
On one instance, Keegan Murray was playing some nice on-ball defense near the baseline and Sabonis came out to help, closing off any path for the ball handler. Instead the opposition attempted to send a pass through the mass of bodies only for it to end up in Huerter’s hands.
In another moment, when Sabonis was venturing out to help De’Aaron Fox guard a driver, Murray came out from the corner and put himself in excellent position to come out with a weak side interception of his own.
On the note of Fox—who, as he has all year, has made his defensive presence known—Mike Brown credited him for having “set the tone.”
Overall, the defense looked awesome yet again.
The Kings assisted 31 of their 46 made field goals in their win over the Clippers. In spite of all that movement, they only committed 9 turnovers.
That was a key to winning this one—avoiding stagnancy—and Sacramento executed unbelievably well in that department.
Mike Brown’s guys looked adamant at staying active. At various points, the player movement was excellent. Movement could open things in the half court or send a shockwave down your bench in transition.
Ball movement was also huge as it always is. Such was the case when some extra passes got Fox a good look from three for his first field goal of the game. And even as the Huerter-Sabonis two-man game is already highly effective, adding an extra pass can make it lethal.
And as always, the actual threading of the needle was outstanding. Here, Malik Monk places this pass perfectly to get Metu an opportunity to score down low, and here, with defenders collapsing, Sabonis gets the ball to Murray as he cuts along the baseline.
From ball and player movement to the execution, Sacramento’s flow and energy helped activate this lopsided win.
Can’t say enough about rebounding
The defense and the activity was great, but equally great was the rebounding.
Yes, LA out-rebounded Sac, but the Kings displayed some great team moments on the boards that often secured defensive stops. Watch Okpala come down with this one after a nice defensive stance.
Chimezie Metu lead the team with 8 rebounds. After a three-offensive rebound game against Indiana, a pair of them also came from the offensive glass, including this great effort where he fought his way out from being beneath the net and got his arm up to snag it.
De’Aaron Fox was great on the boards in this one, coming down with 6 of them. One of them was securing a nice defensive stop by getting up in the air and forcefully grabbing the board despite two bigger opponents competing for it as well. Earlier in the game, Fox got as high as he could battling for one against Ivica Zubac; he may not have grabbed it, but he prevented the center from doing so, which lead to a Kings rebound anyway.
However, the guy deserving the most credit on the glass was Keegan Murray, who had 7. Even in the times he didn’t grab it, his effort level was off the charts. Murray was excellent at getting into positioning down low to grab a board as well as at putting himself in the right spot to grab a little longer of a rebound.
Like defense, rebounding is often a team effort, and the team really showed up.
Rhythm for the rookie?
Heading into this game, it appeared things were slowly getting back on track for the rookie. It was more of that trend in this one.
Obviously, just looking at his line, he had a much better performance. On 8 of 15 from the field and 3 of 8 from deep, he scored 23 points along with some excellent efforts on the glass and on the defensive end.
While he was undeniably aggressive and decisive, from the eye test of watching the first three quarters-plus of the game it may have been a little bit hard to imagine he’d finish with that statistical line.
Ahead of the last nine minutes or so, Murray had 11 points on 4 of 9 from the field and 0 of 4 from deep.
It was that last stretch of the game that could prove massive in the long run. Not only did it allow the rookie to finish on 4 of 6 from the field, including 3 of 4 from three range, but it could have allowed him a prolonged in-game opportunity to establish a rhythm and regain his deep shot.
Could he have done it?
Fans won’t have to wait long to find out with the second of a back-to-back coming right up.
“He is a confident young man and he wants to do so well that he wants to put too much pressure on him, and others do, too,” Murray’s head coach said of him after the game. “But he can shoot, he can play, he’s getting better every time he steps on the floor, and so to see him let loose and hit a couple of three’s like that — and attack the rim, finish, and get fouled — was really, really good for his confidence.”
Okpala showing his value
Trey Lyles has missed the last two games with illness, and in that time, KZ Okpala was able to make a positive impact in his absence.
With Lyles dressed for this one, Okpala continued playing a rotational role, which he’s had since the game in Boston last week.
How long Okpala actually gets these nightly minutes is uncertain. The rotation definitely can’t widen and Lyles should be back in game shape after another game and/or practice time.
Still, Okpala has displayed he’s an excellent piece off that bench. Much like Lyles and Metu, Okpala has shown his ability to stay ready in order to earn his time.
To his credit, he was great in this one and his defensive prowess could be called upon in instances where it’s necessary. Watch him play defense here the whole way through against Terance Mann, and watch him casually poke a steal away when passing by the ball handler.
Okpala is an excellent option that could dangle in and out of the rotation based on matchups and other factors. He definitely knows how to stay ready for it.
The Kings now head home for the second of the back-to-back, another matinee Sunday afternoon against the Bulls.
Chicago is coming off a loss in San Francisco to the Warriors. Their game in Sacramento will be the third of their three-game west coast swing. Before the loss to Golden State, they lost in Phoenix, so the Kings will try to hand them the goose egg for their roadie.
The Bulls are down to 9-13 on the season as Zach LaVine works to get his numbers up to form. An all-star the previous two seasons, LaVine is scoring just 20.9 per game on 40.9% from the field and 35.2% from beyond the arc. For reference, in the last two years combined, he averaged 25.8 points on 49.1% shooting and 40.4% from three.
It’s no wonder that an offense that was in the top half of the league last year is currently in the bottom ten.
While the Bulls have their own issues on the season so far, Sacramento will have the acute burden of having to gear up after a quick turnaround out of LA ahead of an ominous six-game road trip.