Kings Overcome Road Back-to-Back and the Officials to Beat Raptors

TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 14: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings drives against Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors during the first half of their basketball game at the Scotiabank Arena on December 14, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

In the face of some painfully inconsistent officiating on the second of a road back-to-back, the Kings went to Toronto and fought their way to a great road win with the help of a more sprightly De’Aaron Fox.

It was a tough game as the Raptors scored 68 in the paint and committed just 7 turnovers. However, the Kings were able to tie things together with some improved facilitation compared to the rest of the trip (29 assists) and a faster pace (31 fast break points).

Fred VanVleet lead all scorers with 39 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists. Scottie Barnes had a great second half to put up 27 points, 7 rebounds, and 10 assists while Pascal Siakam, after getting off to a great start, finished with just 19 points.

In his second game back, Fox posted a double-double with 27 points and 10 assists in addition to 6 rebounds. With him, Domantas Sabonis had his sixth double-double in a row with 21 points, 20 rebounds, and 7 assists. Terence Davis—who started in replacement of Kevin Huerter, who was out with ankle soreness—put up 19 against his old team, Harrison Barnes added 12 points and 8 rebounds, and Keegan Murray added 10 points.

Off the bat, Fox was looking like himself and the pace of the game was high with both teams were running up and down the floor. The Kings were 5 of 9 from three-point range with Terence Davis hitting 3 of 4 in the first seven minutes, the majority of which came in transition, but VanVleet got into double figures early. Sacramento kept pushing the ball whenever they could, but they spoiled potential good looks with turnovers, including a travel and an offensive foul on a Davis dunk attempt. Fox and the Kings bench were also unhappy with the officiating as the Raptors had 8 attempts at the free throw line while Sac had none on top of losing the turnover battle (5-0, 0-8 in points off). They trailed 23-31 after one.

Toronto had closed the first on a 7-0 run, and they extended it to a 15-0 run early in the second as the Kings defense looked shoddy and the turnovers continued with Sabonis resting. The lead was at 16 early in the period. With the big man out there, though, Malik Monk and Fox earned their team’s first free throw attempts of the game, but more importantly, they were getting stops and generating good looks as they went on a 7-0 run themselves. Fox and Monk kept pushing it, shrinking the deficit and evening up the free throw attempts. The Raptors were still getting points inside, but Sac’s D got a lot of stops, which was absolutely crucial for making it a 59-62 game at the half.

Early in the second half, the officials were not making friends with the Kings bench; they assessed a bogus one to Fox then did not blow the whistle in Fox’s favor on the other end before blowing it for VanVleet. That set Mike Brown off like a grenade as he exploded on the officials, getting ejected. Despite that statement, Toronto went on a bit of a run, but Sacramento kept their foot on the gas, pushing the ball to stay in the game. The Raptors, though, held Sac to 0 free throw attempts in the period, kept finding ways to the rim, and lead by 6 points after three.

Both offenses were trading punches in the final period. The three ball returned to the Kings as they hit all of their first four attempts from that range, which, along with the generation of some terrific looks, helped them get the lead a few minutes in. In the final two or three minutes, Sacramento got some stops and Fox was closing the game out despite the lack of calls, which were feeling more absurd with blood literally trickling down the point guard’s face. 

The Raptors stayed in it until the end though. With five seconds remaining, Fox went just 1 of 2 at the line to make it a 3-point game, and Toronto could not tie it as the Kings took the hard-fought road victory. 

This was a gritty and well deserved win for the Kings, and they knew it.

De’Aaron Fox’s return to form

Sacramento’s star point guard looked immediately more vibrant in this one compared to the game the night before in Philadelphia. De’Aaron Fox proved in Toronto that he was feeling pretty good.

In the second quarter, Fox was an absolute stud, getting to the rim, to the line, and setting up teammates for good looks. Midway through the quarter, there were two straight possessions where he used his speed and handles to get in the paint, attract defenders, and find Sabonis. He almost singlehandedly clawed the Kings back into the free throw battle after having zero attempts in the first quarter, though Malik Monk gets some credit there as well.

Fox finished the first half 5 of 11 from the floor for 17 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. He was also off to a great start from deep, hitting 3 of 4 three-pointers. 

Likewise, his fourth quarter was terrific as he played a leading role in closing this game out by getting inside, finding his spots, drawing defenders and hooking up teammates, setting the tone defensively, and finishing marvelously.

When Fox is feeling himself like he did in this game, the Kings are taken to the next level.

No whistles, Mike Brown’s ejection

Sacramento wasn’t that great at getting to the line in the first and third quarters, but the Kings were making it apparent that the officials were not doing them any favors.

Near the end of the first, viewers on TV could see Fox talking to officials after three or four Raptors converged on him with some contact. He made it clear that he felt he was being fouled. 

In the second, Sac forced the issue, getting to the line 10 times, but the tension was still lurking. Late in the period, Fox drove to the rim and got a floater off with contact from the defender behind him. The official blew the whistle, but coach Brown was already on edge, ready to explode as viewers could see.

At the start of the second half, the animosity piqued, and for good reason. NBA official Brent Haskill whistled Fox for a foul on the defensive end that was simply a poor call that fell right into the hands of the theatrical performance by the offensive player. Directly off of that, Fox drove into the paint to no avail and again felt he didn’t get a call, which sharpened the ire of the bench. In the Raptors’ second possession following that, Fred VanVleet drove with little control, crashing into Terence Davis and getting a beneficial whistle.

After the whistle, a little time unfurled and then, out of nowhere, Mike Brown unloaded on the officials, Haskill in particular. Fox was T’d up and Brown got two, getting thrown out of the game.

It was a tenacious showing of having his guys’ backs and the refs made it easy to do that.

It would also be fair to say it was insanely clever. His eruption did not immediately follow the whistle, it came a solid moment or two later after Fox had been talking sternly with the officials. Then, out of nowhere and as the broadcast cut to him, his lips could be read and he charged forward as if he was seeing nothing but red.

Simply put—after some frustrating run-in’s with NBA officials this season—the ejection was emphatic to say the least, and being so perfectly timed, it is sure to catch some eyes.

Of course, whether it has any effect on commanding respect remains to be seen. The officiating did not improve as the game continued. In the fourth quarter, Fox once again pleaded to them to cut him at least one break and he had a stream of blood flowing down from his brow where he’d been cut.

It was ridiculous that the pleading had to go on as Fox, like a boxer, went to the bench at every break to get vaseline rubbed onto the gash.

Good for Mike Brown, and what the hell, the adversity probably made the win all the more sweeter.

The backup 5

As noted the other day, ahead of the 76ers game, the Kings were reported to have interest in Nerlens Noel, who is available in Detroit and could be a reasonable option for the backup center role.

Fans know all too well by now that Richaun Holmes did not hold down that position despite the high hopes for how that would work out. And fans also are aware that Chimezie Metu, in stepping into the role, has been adequate for good stretches, but as is evident in the previous two games, he still lacks the necessary skillset and size to be the nightly backup 5 for a playoff team.

In this Raptors game, Metu came in at his usual juncture with about two minutes left in the first quarter and left the game just past the ten minute mark in the second. He did not re-enter the game after that.

A reason for that could have something to do with the fact that, in that roughly four and a half minutes of play, Sacramento was -15.

Defensively, he had a few poor moments in addition to committing two fouls in under five minutes of play. At one point he failed to step up out of the restricted area until it was too late, making it to easy for the driver who dished it for an assist. And there were moments he didn’t look all too engaged.

But honestly, Toronto was getting too many looks in the paint regardless of which guys were out there. But the drop off was felt mostly on the offensive end, which is typically the case when Metu doesn’t have a convincing performance.

Metu did go 1 for 1 from the field, but that was due to Terence Davis, who went deep into the paint, drew an extra defender, and dumped it off to Metu for an easy layup right after he’d entered the game.

Other than that, he committed a turnover in the post and created no issues for the Raptors defense. The offense looked slower and clunkier.

It’s clear that size is not the issue so much as the lack of a dynamic skillset that can impact the game in multiple ways for Chimezie Metu, who seemed like he’d physically match up well against this team’s roster. He does some good things, but is he the guy?

Interestingly enough, Richaun Holmes was given some early time in the third when it was Domas’ time to rest. Even though he’d been ejected, this very well could have been part of Mike Brown’s strategy for the game to potentially go to Holmes (if not, Jordi Fernandez went rogue). He has better size than Metu, he also has fresher legs, and he had minutes the night before, so he wasn’t entirely rusty.

Given his lack of floor time over the last five or six weeks, a poor performance doesn’t seal the deal that Holmes is a lost cause for this team because maybe it’s a question of rhythm. But much of the unsatisfactory play earlier in the year seemed to come out Wednesday night as well.

Holmes did have a moment of nice defense and sunk a turnaround hook shot, but in three minutes of play, he fouled twice on defense. The first was him moving his feet to defend against a driving VanVleet where he had an arm on the opposing player. The second was him stepping up far too late as the low man and getting a good deal of his arm on the driver in attempt to defend the shot.

Earlier in the season, he looked hesitant and unsure on defense—when to step up, when to go vertical, when to contest—and he looked similarly subpar on that end of the floor. A lot of guys—including Sabonis and, at times, Metu—use excellent fundamentals to stay as straight up as possible to defend shots, yet Holmes does nothing of the sort.

Again, this isn’t to say Holmes never deserves another chance for this team—it was not a bad idea to see if he’d do any better—but it’s not any more promising today than it was last week that Holmes will solve the backup 5 debacle.

The backup 5 is a topic that is returning to the front of the discourse surrounding the Kings as Wednesday night’s game showed that a foolproof answer has yet to be found.

Taking note of the Kings’ three best players

Enough has been said of Fox. His return and his value is unquestioned, and the Kings appear as if they will go as far as he will take them.

However, Sacramento’s two other top-three players also showed up for this one.

Of course Sabonis did. When doesn’t he?

But also important was Malik Monk, who has put together a couple of nice games after three straight underwhelming performances to start this trip.

He has unleashed his facilitating ability again and is producing so much for Mike Brown off the bench. 

It’s obvious Sacramento relies on Fox and Sabonis, but Monk’s impact off the bench does a great deal in terms of getting this team over the hump from night to night.

There isn’t much more to say for this section. Fox, Sabonis, and Monk are the Kings’ best and most important players and they demonstrated that yet again in this victory.

Trey Lyles’ noggin

Early in the fourth quarter, Trey Lyles appeared to take a knee to the back of the head. The forward dove to the hardwood to try and grab a loose ball and, with him on the ground, Juancho Hernangomez snagged the rock and drove to the rim, unintentionally kneeing Lyles in the noggin.

He hobbled back up to the other end of the floor before checking out of the game and holding his head on the bench with a trainer right there.

Lyles had missed a few games a few weeks back after suffering from a bug following the team’s return from a three-game east coast trip.

After the game, the Kings celebrated heartily and Lyles was an enthusiastic participant, so it doesn’t look like anything too serious. Still, a bang to the head can always have other effects and symptoms that can emerge later on.

Going forward

The road trip is finally coming to an end, and after this win, they can call it even regarding this six-game road trip. Right now, they are 2-3, and could break even tomorrow.

After one day off, the Kings will play the Pistons in Detroit before coming back home for six games at The Golden 1 Center over the course of the next two weeks.

Detroit came to Sacramento as the last visitor before the Kings left for the Thanksgiving week trip to the east coast, and now they’ll be the last opponent of an arduous roadie.

The Kings won back in late November against this team in an ugly game, one that Mike Brown called “lucky.” They’ll look to make better work of them Friday to set up for a happy flight home, and they’ll have some momentum going into it after a good win.

Detroit will be on their own floor this time, but in five home games since their loss in Sac, the Pistons are just 1-4 at Little Caesars Arena (yes, that’s the name of their arena).

Still, it will require every bit of effort as the getaway game to end this long trip.

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Kings Talk – A Cap City Crown Podcast on the Sacramento Kings

Kings Talk: Episode 67

On this episode of Kings Talk presented by Cap City Crown, Tony and John discuss who has the best shot at winning the third backup center role, Mike Brown’s first real interview of the offseason, […]

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[…] you want to see him try. He lost his grasp on the backup 5 role for a period starting in December in a game up in Toronto where he tried to play outside himself and his […]


[…] Holmes got some early minutes two weeks ago in Toronto, he did not look impressive, but it seemed to confirm that the team understands his potential and […]

Dan Smith
9 months ago

Awesome writing Tony, always enjoy your recaps…keep them coming bud!