Happy Flight: Kings Handle Pistons, Go 3-3 on Road Trip

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Sacramento Kings teammates Matthew Dellavedova #8, Malik Monk #0, and Domantas Sabonis #10 celebrate the win against the Detroit Pistons on December 16, 2022 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)

After six games on the road, the Kings broke even on their trip and returned to .500 away from home after defeating the Pistons in Detroit, 122-113.

All the way around, Sacramento performed well considering it was the last of a six-game road trip against a young, developing team. The second half was particularly excellent, where Detroit was held to 50 points. On the night, the Kings had 30 assists, just 13 turnovers (one being the shot clock violation as the clock was milked to the end), and were just -1 in free throw points to one of the best teams at producing from the line.

Bojan Bogdanovic was great in the first half for Detroit, finishing with 22 points. Rookie Jalen Duren was perhaps most impressive, finishing with 15 points and 14 boards, 6 of which came on the offensive end. Isiah Stewart hit 3 three’s for 13 points and Saddiq Bey had 14 off the bench.

As noted, it was all around excellence for Sacramento. De’Aaron Fox lead all scorers with 24 points in addition to 9 assists and Domantas Sabonis put up 23 points, 13 boards, and 7 assists. Also with them in the scoring column was Keegan Murray’s 20 points, and Malik Monk had 11 points and 6 assists in another energizing performance off the bench.

The Kings got off to a good start in the first quarter. After a possession or two, Sacramento got a couple of good looks from deep after a paint touch, and then the defense began getting stops, which turned into quick offense lead by Fox. But as Jalen Duren (4 offensive rebounds in the first) and other Pistons players kept disrupting on their offensive glass, the stops were harder to come by for the Kings. The offense in turn put together poorer possessions and Bojan Bogdanovic was beginning to get it going, but when Fox returned to the floor, he and Malik Monk shrunk the deficit down, trailing 28-29 after one. 

The Pistons continued their solid play while Monk and Terence Davis began to get it going for the Kings, combining for 10 points in the period. The game got equally muddy for both teams, as the turnover volume was high (7-6 in the quarter). As the first half was winding down, Fox flipped a switch, scoring 10 points in the first half with three trips to the line, but Detroit held their lead at the half, 55-63, with the help of some more offensive rebounds and an 80% success rate in the paint. 

Coming out of halftime, it was all Kings as Mike Brown’s squad began the fist three minutes on a 28-8 run. It began with some nice set ups for Keegan Murray, who executed brilliantly, and then Sacramento began to generate good looks and pace from defensive stops, giving them a double-digit lead, and Fox was the primary force behind it.  However, the offensive rebounds were coming around for Detroit again, Bagley in particular this time, and Sac’s lead was at just 7 at the end of three. The Kings looked great, though, posting 11 assists, 14 fast break points, and winning the period 38-23.

Detroit started the fourth with a 6-2 run, but the Kings returned to a high-level of play. Harrison Barnes had a terrific quarter on both ends of the floor, and midway through the quarter, Sac went on a 15-7 run to stretch the lead out again. The defense remained effective and the offense continued attacking, benefitting because of it; even some scoreless possessions looked good. With a few minutes left, Fox slammed one home, representing the dagger as Sacramento came away with the victory.

It’s safe to say the flight home will be a happy one.

3-3 trip

3-3? Hey, that’s pretty good.

It seemed like the Kings went through quite the story arc on this road trip. It was filled with twists and turns, high points and low points, but in the end, everything came together, and the team looks to have that mojo heading back to Sacramento for a two-week home stand.

First, they looked dead in the water against Milwaukee, but then came out and got a huge win in Cleveland. Then they again looked languid and dull in New York and carried much of that to Philadelphia, which was Fox’s return after two missed games. And it finished with a gritty⁠—if not improbable⁠—victory in Toronto on the second of a back-to-back before taking care of business in Detroit.

Such a trip seems to indicate a team that not only came together when it was time to grind it out, but came together and actually took care of business.

Looking at the three wins specifically, each one seemed to illustrate the kind of team that remains competitive all season long.

They went into Cleveland after the Kings had beat them back in Sacramento, dominating the fourth quarter. They put together one of their best wins of the season in Toronto. And then they mopped it all up against the Pistons.

A lot of teams come out of a road trip like this and⁠—even at 3-3⁠—are susceptible to coming out of it a little slower and with a little less bounce, but it feels like quite the opposite for this squad. 

The Kings are a far better team coming out of this road trip than they were going into it. That is all you can ask for.

The leader is back to feeling himself

The three common themes about this win as it pertains to the overwhelming positives of Sacramento’s night were pace, ball movement, and defense.

The Kings pushed the ball up the floor, attacked the basket, and kept that foot on the gas. They also had 30 assists, which follows a 29-assist night in Toronto that was preceded by four games where they averaged just 20.3 assists per outing. And their defense had plenty of terrific moments having gotten stronger as the game went on.

As simple and concise as those three may appear, it’s possible that it could be simplified into one pair of shoes: those of De’Aaron Fox.

After a game in Philadelphia to get his feel back following his time off, Fox has put together two tremendous games to close out this road trip.

The point guard put up 24 points on 9 of 19 from the field with 5 rebounds and 9 assists.

From start to finish, he was creating good looks for teammates, pushing for quick and early offense, getting to the free throw line, finding and executing from his spots, and setting a tone defensively (which was especially important with Davion Mitchell’s absence due to illness).

“He’s so far ahead of where he was when I first got here,” Mike Brown praised of his point guard’s leadership after the game. “When he says it, you can feel the guys gravitate towards every word he says and hanging on to it and believing in what he’s saying. We were struggling in the first half, he said some good things before we went out on the floor, he says good things the whole time, especially in the second half, telling the guys, ‘Hey, we got to get stops. It’s great we’re moving the ball, but we gotta get stops. You do this, you do that.'” 

“Even during the flow of the game, there were times where I called a play and he waved me off,” the coach continued. “I absolutely love it. That’s what a leader does, and when you have a feel like he does, you have the right to do all of those things.”

It’s very clear that many of the struggles that appeared to nag this team early in the trip⁠—things like lack of ball and player movement, lack of energizing effect from the bench, and a general staleness⁠—were due to either Fox’s insufficient health and absence. 

By contrast, when he’s there and close to 100%, he pushes this team towards undeniable legitimacy.

He pushes the pace and it’s no wonder the assists per game numbers happen to rise back up to normal for the two games Fox did the same in his own right. His place in the rotation, which puts him alongside many bench guys, allows a variance of effective lineups all game long while also elevating the production of the bench. He leads by words and example. 

He’s the wind behind the sail for this team.

Without Fox, fans saw the consistent level of play from Sabonis, who is in an elite class of big men. But if it’s Domas that is the guy that gives this team any chance out in the open water, Fox is the force behind it that dictates how far she goes.

There’s a million metaphors for this exact point that is often made by fans and analysts, and Fox doubled down on that reality. 

A valuable road trip for Keegan Murray

On this trip, rookie Keegan Murray averaged 14 points per game on 47.6% from the field and 47.5% from beyond the arc.

More than that, he looks incredibly comfortable. It’s not that he looked uncomfortable or out of place, but there were moments, namely in November, where the rookie would look hesitant and even awkward at times. On this trip and in this Pistons game in particular, he has the same level of confidence, but he executes like he’s been absorbing a ton of lessons in this league.

On Friday, he was not only sinking three’s, he had a strong, NBA-level finish, drew another charge on top of his play on defense, and looking more natural.

It was already evident that Murray had climbed out of his November slump (where he put up 8.0 points per game on 33.9% from the field an 27.0% from deep), but this road trip could have been the exact experience to come into his own.

Bound to happen, sure, but being able to come out and keep the momentum of solid play going despite hitting the road for a long trip is the sign of progress.

Similar to this team as a whole, Murray is a far better NBA player now than he was at the start of the trip. It will be exciting to see him continue his ascension on the home stand.

Richaun Holmes deserves a chance because of Chimezie Metu’s shortcomings

With Nerlens Noel over on Detroit’s bench, the backup 5 conversation seems prudent to note yet again. Beyond the fact that the Kings have talked to the Pistons about the former number-six overall pick, Sac’s lack of immediate answers for that role again made itself known.

Chimezie Metu came in when relief is usually called upon for Sabonis. Around the four minute mark, Sacramento’s de facto backup 5 for the previous month and a half checked in.

While Metu utilized his hands to poke a ball away for a save, it seemed fitting that, as he put in a decent effort to save the loose ball, he turned the ball back over for an easy Pistons score.

See, other than that, he did not look all that good, and it’s no wonder why they went back to Sabonis at the start of the second period, having the two-time all-star play all twelve minutes.

For one, Metu went 0 of 3 from the field. The first attempt was a good attempt with the shot clock coming to an end as he missed a turnaround hook. His second, though, was horrific; first he hesitated on an open three that he was walking into (and sure, he’s not a sharpshooter, but his coach wants him to take these shots) before deciding to drive for a lame floater attempt. And his third attempt and miss seemed to illustrate just how undersized Metu is as he couldn’t get the hook shot to go against Bagley down low.

Again, when Metu isn’t rim-running and jumping for lobs in a fast-paced environment, his offense can be singled out as virtually non-existent, but worse, it feels forced, as two of his three attempts did.

Defensively, he looked underwhelming aside from the showing of nice hands⁠—which, credit to Metu, he’s shown a few times before⁠—as Detroit was able to close out that period maintaining their lead.

Individually speaking, he committed a foul with some poor defensive movement, or lack thereof, which sent Alec Burks to the line. And on Detroit’s next possession, he also seemed a step slow when coming to pickup a driving Bogdanovic, who went by him easily

As noted in this space plenty of times in benefit of the doubt fashion, Metu has proven he has value on an NBA team, but given his size and skillset, it’s not as the nightly backup 5.

It’s obvious Mike Brown has trust in him, but based on the last two games, that trust is not going to last forever.

Though it was technically Jordi Fernandez’s call in Toronto, Richaun Holmes has been called upon as the second half relief of Sabonis for two consecutive games.

He really didn’t look great aside from a made push shot on Wednesday with his defense looking subpar, but the guy hadn’t played in a while.

On Friday, his defense again did not look all that great, but he converted a lob from De’Aaron Fox and at times looked more in tune with what was going on than both Metu has been lately and Holmes himself from earlier in the year. Here he gave a dribble handoff to Terence Davis, set an adequate set of screens and went to go crash the boards as TD hit the three.

Honestly, it was nothing special and his minutes were not spectacular, but it might be time to lean into giving Holmes more of a chance to earn that role.

Not only does it feel like it can’t hurt at this point, but if he can indeed fulfill the expectations as the backup 5, that is so good for the Kings and so very dangerus for their opponents.

Holmes may not have done much to earn it per say, but it feels like he’s got to be given a chance considering there is a limit on Metu’s impact.

Going forward

The road trip is over, and at 3-3, it’s fair to say it was a success.

Now, the Kings head home for a two week stretch where they will play six games starting with the Hornets on Monday night.

As of now, Charlotte is in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. They play in Denver Sunday night before playing in Sacramento on a quick turnaround. 

After the Hornets, the Lakers and Wizards will come to town before three days off. That will be followed by a back-to-back⁠—a two-game series, if you will⁠—against the Nuggets in both contests. And then Utah visits the day before New Year’s Eve.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] the next game, Metu got minutes in the first half against the Pistons before Holmes took over the responsibility in the second half once again, offering three minutes of […]


[…] [ December 17, 2022 ] Happy Flight: Kings Handle Pistons, Go 3-3 on Road Trip Basketball […]

Dan Smith
Dan Smith
5 months ago

I was hoping they’d go 3-3 on this road trip…and got exactly what I and other Kings fans wanted! This next stretch hopefully they can go on a run, as there are only 3 tough teams in the next 16 games that ends on Jan. 20. Denver 2x, and the Grizz. A couple of other average teams but nothing daunting. Hope they can reel off a bunch of wins and try to take a good jump in the standings. I have a feeling they will, the other Kings teams are long gone where they would blow such an opportunity and play down to their opponents. Let’s go Kings! #BeamTeam