In the first of a tough six-game road trip, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, and the Bucks proved too much for the visiting Kings, who lost 113-126.
Sacramento needed to keep up the pace, get the ball moving, and get to the line, but the Bucks dictated the contest for the most part. The Kings lost the paint points battle (48-56) and were dominated in free throw attempts (16-24), offensive rebounds (8-17), and assists (19-34).
Domantas Sabonis played another terrific game with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists as the only player who could facilitate and arguably the most aggressive inside. Also aggressive was Harrison Barnes, who got to the line seven times on top of a 20-point game. Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray added 13 and 15 points respectively with three made three-pointers each.
However, Milwaukee really brought their best in this one. Anteokounmpo and Holiday’s combined 66 points was a heavy barrage that wore down the Kings defense. Brook Lopez added 17 points and 9 rebounds, 6 of which were on the offensive end. And Khris Middleton had 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The Kings got off to a great start from three-point range; the first field goal of the game was a De’Aaron Fox three, Murray hit one, and Barnes hit two. Sac was off to a 16-10 lead, but on a heel turn, Milwaukee went on a 8-0 run to gain the lead. There wasn’t much defense to talk about as both offenses traded scores and shot well over 50% from the field. The un-guardable Giannis and his 12 first period points, however, helped the Bucks close the quarter far better to gain a five-point lead.
After a defensive breakdown where Malik Monk failed to provide inside help as the low man, Mike Brown called a timeout and got his team in a slightly better tune. Monk provided a burst of scoring with the second unit playing well, but Giannis and Holiday helped maintain their team’s lead. Meanwhile,Sacramento’s defense was filled with “almost’s” where a tough made shot or a foul would ruin a potential stop. Though hanging in there, the Kings were down 61-68 after the second while amassing just 11 assists and only 20 paint points as well as losing the free throw attempts battle (5-16).
Milwaukee came out of the half on a 10-5 run to extend their lead to 12 points, which triggered a Sacramento timeout. Out of it, the Kings got some stops while Fox and others attacked the inside with more heart before Holiday continued to score in his own right to preserve the lead at 5 points before stretching it back out some more. But Sabonis had something to say about that, staying aggressive inside, getting to the line, and scoring 9 points in the third, which helped win the quarter paint points battle (16-12) and get the score to 94-97.
Early in the final period, Sacramento continued to get paint paints, keeping the score within striking distance, but their defense kept coming up with “almost’s” against Giannis and the Bucks, preventing any lead change. Antetokounmpo’s presence made things difficult for the Kings defense, so any miss on the offensive end spelled trouble, and the Bucks got a 10-point lead with five remaining. From there, one of the top teams in the NBA mopped up the closing minutes, coming away with the victory.
The Kings may have hung with the Bucks, but with the way this team has played lately on both ends of the floor, that was the baseline expectation. For the most part, aside from a few performances, the Kings as a team failed to put together a complete game necessary to beat a team like this. And Fox’s 5 of 16 night for 15 points really stands out as his team begins their road trip 0-1.
How Fox can lose out on all-star honors
It’s games like this that actively tarnish De’Aaron Fox’s chances of being an all-star.
It felt reminiscent of the loss to the Suns a week ago where Devin Booker put up 44 points, but Fox only managed only 11 points on 4 of 12 from the field.
On Wednesday night, as Giannis scored 35 and Jrue Holiday accrued 31, Fox went 5 of 16 for 15 points.
There were moments where Fox was aggressive and attacking inside. In fact, there were stretches where he did a really nice job of that in the third quarter, where he scored 7 of his 15 points, but it wasn’t enough.
While he did get to his spots from time to time—with mixed results—he was, for the most part, not as willful as he needed to be against this opponent. The first field goal of the entire game was a Fox three, but he missed his next five in the game, finishing 1 of 6 with an air ball, plus a deep two-point attempt that was likely meant to be a three.
Worst of all, for a guy who was instinctually closing games earlier in the year, Fox went 0 of 4 in the final quarter with only one of those shot attempts being eligible for the characterization of aggressive. Though he did have 2 made free throws, he tried for that aforementioned deep two and tried a three about a minute later. And he finished his night with a missed fadeaway mid-range.
Overall, he looked like the player with the least urgency.
Maybe one wants to take away a silver lining from this one to say the Kings hung with the Bucks better in this game than they did against the Celtics two weeks ago, which is a good sign. That isn’t wrong, but in taking that viewpoint, it only further illuminates Fox’s subpar game as being a sizable contributing factor to the loss.
As for the player himself, this cannot become a norm. Perhaps he’s still feeling the effects of the bug that was ailing him or soreness, but it really seemed he was getting over that during the weekend back-to-back and his Mike Brown noted there’s nothing ailing the point guard that he knows of. Whether it’s related to that or something else, or whatever the case is, it’s these kinds of games that can force him out of an all-star selection.
Nobody can be an all-star if there’s the appearance he’s checking out of games while opposing stars go off and while his star teammate continues playing valiantly.
Fox isn’t necessarily in danger of blowing his all-star chances any time soon, but he has got to get things back on track on this trip.
The Bucks controlled much of this game because the Kings couldn’t
Playing a high level of basketball this season, the Kings had a chance to win this one from the beginning. But they would have to dictate the tempo and flow of the game. If Sacramento could get to the rim, get to the line, push it in the open floor, and distribute the ball around then they could have found a way to win.
But they didn’t. The more physical Bucks held the Kings to 48 paint points, had more free throw attempts, and dominated the glass.
“What’s disappointing for me is this is one of the first times I felt we played a game and our opponent dictated from the beginning of the game how the night was gonna go,” coach Mike Brown concluded after the loss.
Coming into this one, Milwaukee averaged 11.4 offensive rebounds for 14.7 second chance points, but they went above and beyond to grab 17 on the offensive glass and score 25 points of second chance opportunities. And that was against a Kings team that allows some of the lowest numbers in those departments. As coach Brown noted, the rebounding fundamentals were poor in this one.
Not only did that help the Bucks score a surplus of points, but it disrupted any prolonged chance for the Kings to form the kind of pace they succeed in.
As noted, there were so many “almost’s” on defense where the Kings nearly came away with a stop, but some sort of tough made basket would be made, a foul whistle would be blown, or Milwaukee would gain a second chance.
Thus Sacramento managed to amass only 19 assists, 18 of which came before mop-up time ensued in the final ninety seconds or so. So with that, and the mere 16 free throw attempts and 48 paint points, the Kings were bound to lose.
And with the 66 combined points from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday, it was clear the Bucks brought an excellent performance Wednesday night.
Monk’s tale of two halves
In the midst of playing some phenomenal basketball, Malik Monk kind of disappeared in the second half of this game.
In half number-one, Mike Brown’s sudden impact player off the bench was his usual self. The assists weren’t there—credit to Milwaukee’s defense—but Monk was hooking it up for himself, scoring 14 points, 9 of which came in the second period.
Out of the gate Monk attacked inside and hit a mid-range jumper. And in the second quarter, he was lighting it up with jump shots of all kinds, but the volume of his presence getting inside did not increase.
In the second half, though, Monk went 1 of 8 from the field for 2 points and his lone assist of the night.
A lot of credit goes to the Bucks for not letting Monk dig into his bag of tricks in this contest. Ultimately, the Sixth Man of the Year Candidate did not have his best game.
Monk will look to bounce back in Cleveland Friday night, and it will be important to as the leader of this bench unit.
Nods to Sabonis and Barnes
For any critiques about the lack of aggression or urgency to attack, two guys are free of those complaints.
One is Domantas Sabonis, who had another monster game. He remained aggressive, executing in the paint as he always does and getting to the line, which was imperative given Milwaukee’s defense did such a good job limiting the amount of open cutters for the Kings.
Domas continued to be the back bone of this team, but his tremendous effort could not ultimately yield a victory.
Also deserving of some credit is Harrison Barnes, who led the team with seven free throw attempts. Barnes hit two early three’s but remained vigilant throughout the game when it came to looking for opportunities to attack the basket. For the vet, it resulted either in a score, a trip to the line, or an assist, such as the one that found Sabonis for a three-pointer.
Sabonis and Barnes had some nice nights, particularly in terms of the key point of attacking the basket.
Murray’s three looked smooth
Keegan Murray had a nice game, scoring 15 points on 6 of 10 from the field with 4 rebounds, a steal, and two blocks. And notably, he went 3 of 6 from beyond the arc.
All three were shot decisively and looked about as smooth as they did in October.
Over the last couple of games, it was growing apparent that the rookie was reestablishing his rhythm and that his production would rise along with it. Wednesday’s game showed continued progress.
Murray has been constantly great on the glass as a rookie, has made tremendous defensive strides, and is now regaining that range that he showed at the very start of the season.
Making this step on the road, where he doesn’t play as well compared to at home, was also a very encouraging sign for what he may be able to provide later in this trip.
With one down on this six-game road trip, the Kings head to Cleveland for a Friday night showdown against the Cavs.
The Cavaliers visited Sacramento over four weeks ago and it became the first of a seven-game winning streak for the Kings, who played well on both sides of the ball.
On their own home floor and with last month’s loss in mind, this Cavs team should be sure to bring it against Sacramento as Mike Brown makes his first visit to Cleveland as the Kings head coach. Plus, Friday night’s game will be the first of a back-to-back for them, so the urgency to play well and win will be high for J.B. Bickerstaff’s squad.
When Cleveland lost to Sac, it was their second loss in a row and it was another lock in the chain of what ended up being five straight losses. Since that streak ended, they’ve returned to playing excellent basketball, going 8-3 in that time.
It’s a tough road trip, and after a tough task in game one, game two of it won’t get any easier for the Kings.