In a game that did not feature many defensive stops, the Kings landed the last punch on the visiting Jazz to win 126-125 on a late-game three-pointer from Kevin Huerter.
Utah had 70 paint points and 30 free throw attempts, yet Sacramento managed to come out of this one with a victory. Part of that was because they had 32 assists, 16 second chance points (3 of which won the game), and shot 40% from beyond the arc.
The Jazz offense, which ranks near the top of the league, was a challenge for the Kings. Lauri Markkanen scored a spectacular 36 points despite shooting just 1 of 7 from deep, and Jordan Clarkson scored 25 with 9 assists and 10 attempts at the line. Additionally, Mike Conley scored 17 with 8 assists.
However, Sacramento’s top three scorers showed up big time with Mike Brown back on the sideline. Huerter lead the team with 30 points on 6 of 10 from three-point range. Along with him, Domantas Sabonis went 12 of 12, put up 28 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists while De’Aaron Fox also had a double-double with 24 points and 10 assists. The bench unit also featured a nice mix of performances, including Malik Monk, Richaun Holmes, and Trey Lyles, but Davion Mitchell stood out among them, having another masterful night individually on the defensive end.
After starting the home stand 1-3 with two ugly losses to Charlotte and Washington, the Kings were able to wrap up the final two to get some momentum as they hit the road for a short trip and embark on a new calendar year.
Out of the gate, the Kings were playing their kind of game; their defense looked solid, they were pushing the ball in transition, and getting good looks at the rim. Sacramento got out to a 18-8 start, but Utah answered with a 13-4 run as the efficacy of the Kings play flattened. Shifting the momentum, Davion Mitchell’s defense generated a Malik Monk dunk on the other end and the Kings countered with an 8-2 run before Utah closed with a few unanswered points—including a questionable flagrant—to get the score to 30-28 after one.
Starting the second, the group of Fox-Mitchell-Monk-Lyles-Holmes came out with a ton of energy on both ends, helping stretch the lead out a little more. Davion Mitchell was all over Collin Sexton, putting on a showcase in defense and relentless effort (more on that later). The Jazz remained ready to capitalize; with Sac’s lead at 45-36, Utah went on a 14-8 run to cut it back down. At the half, Sacramento’s lead was 60-57 as the Jazz offense continued answering back, mostly inside with 18 paint points in the period.
After a first half of 34 paint points and only 6 free throw attempts, Fox got inside to start the third with an and-one finish (that he did not complete). But even as the Kings continued pursuing looks inside, Utah started the second half with some emphatic dunks, including this one from Lauri Markkanen, who really got it going in the period. Even so, Domantas Sabonis, Kevin Huerter, and company got their lead up to double digits with inside scores and three-point shooting. But Utah was able to come back with 8 quick unanswered points to cut down the margin yet again. Punches were exchanged and the Kings lead was just 4 points.
Early in the fourth, Utah got their first lead of the ball game, utilizing some excellent ball movement. However, the lead would flip back and forth as the Kings continued doing their part in trying to piece together the right momentum. Malik Beasley hit some big shots, but Fox answered with a career highlight of a dunk. Markkanen responded, Huerter drilled a three, but Jordan Clarkson regained the lead. It just kept shifting, the tennis-like rally unending.
That is until Sacramento went an an 8-0 run to get their lead to 6 points. Huerter hit another 3, Sabonis’ effort on the glass got Utah over the limit, and Fox looked to begin wrapping this one up. Clarkson and Markkanen, however, lead a 13-4 run. In fact, Markkanen hit his first and only three of the night with under forty seconds left.
Utah lead 125-123 and Fox took missed a floater, but Domas on the boards kept it alive, giving Fox another chance that he missed. But another offensive rebound fell in the hands of Harrison Barnes and the ball was swung to Huerter for a big three that gave Sac a 1-point lead with nine ticks remaining. As Utah attempted to win it, Sacramento swarmed them successfully twice, once getting the ball kicked out of bounds and then forcing a miss from the opponent’s best player in the final moment—similar to Wednesday against Jokic and the Nuggets—winning the game with a stop.
On the offensive rebounds that ultimately won the game, Mike Brown described it as “a will to go get it” in a postgame presser where he showed his love for nearly everyone on his roster.
Huerter’s three-point shot is lighting it up again
As noted the Kings shot 55.6% from the field and 40.0% from three, they had 32 assists, they were active on the offensive glass, and they pushed the ball with awesome pace.
In addition to that, Friday night’s game also featured yet another trio of astounding individual performances.
Instead of Malik Monk exploding for a surge of points it was Kevin Huerter.
One thing is for sure: Huerter’s outside shot is red hot again.
In his first 13 games this season, the red headed sharpshooter was flaunting a sensational 52.6% clip from beyond the arc, garnering attention from around the league.
However, in the 13 games that followed, the three-point shot took a massive dip as he shot just 28.4% from deep in that stretch.
Huerter missed the game in Toronto with ankle soreness, and since that lone instance of not dressing this season, he’s shooting 46.8% from three over his last seven games.
That proves to be more good news when it comes to the Kings shooting guard. Despite that outside shooting slump, Huerter was still finding ways to impact the game, including finding other ways to score the basketball.
Shooters shoot, and the shot, even when it goes away, has a habit of coming back around again. So no wonder that’s exactly what’s happening here. But again, that just adds to his already dynamic impact.
Another nice game for Holmes as the backup 5
Again, Richaun Holmes had an impressive night.
In the first half, Holmes fouled a few times and had some moments defensively that show he could still work on a few things over on that end. However, his performance was still overwhelmingly good.
Primarily, it was energy. Alongside guys like Malik Monk, Davion Mitchell, and Trey Lyles, the bench unit’s engine was rumbling, and Holmes played a large part in that. In the first half Holmes was a great presence on the glass, grabbing 4 rebounds in six minutes of play, including 2 on the offensive end. He also had a very fiery and-one finish that he followed through and completed at the free throw line.
In the second half, he continued playing an integral part of the bench unit. Soon after he entered the game late in the third quarter, he got the ball in transition before passing to Malik Monk and setting a screen for him. As Monk drove deep into the paint, Holmes was right behind him, allowing the guard to dump it back off to Holmes for a two-handed slam featuring a roar from the big man.
What’s more, his defense made an impact after it really didn’t in the first half. With the third quarter winding down, Holmes rotated perfectly on defense, getting back down low to get off a quick and effective contest to force a miss on a layup. And at the start of the fourth, Holmes jumped straight up to get an excellent block at the rim.
Shortly after the block, the big man went up for an aggressive contest on old friend Rudy Gay, which ended up as a foul, but was a good one nonetheless (and could have gone the other way considering he got his goggles knocked off); Lyles had rushed to close out on Gay, who faked and made a hard drive along the baseline forcing Holmes to act quick.
It was another great game for Holmes as the backup center. His energy and comfort on the floor is palpable, he’s impactful, and his defense has looked miles better over the last three games.
Holmes is ascending.
Good passing all around
Even as there were some ugly turnovers that came from errant passes made due to miscommunication, there were a ton of nice assists made among Sacramento’s 32 on the night.
The three usual suspects of course showed up.
De’Aaron Fox had 10 on the night. He had some gorgeous passes, including a beautiful pass to Sabonis in the two-man game and also had a heads up full-court feed to Kevin Huerter. Sabonis had 8 himself, completing some lovely dimes early in the game, one of which being a nice feed to a cutting Fox. And Malik Monk had 5 off the bench and 3 in the third quarter; twice in a row he fed Domas, and he also had that aforementioned dump off to Richaun Holmes.
In transition, Davion Mitchell hit Monk for an alley-oop. In their effective two-man game, Huerter hit Domas for a smart assist in the second. Trey Lyles had a magical dump off to Sabonis as he drove into the paint. And Keegan Murray had a couple of nice passes despite a quiet scoring game; in the first, he got one to Sabonis in transition, and in the fourth, he placed one perfectly for Harrison Barnes, who went to the line.
The Kings put on a mini highlight reel of great assists on Friday.
One game removed from his first chance receiving Defensive Player of the Game honors, Davion Mitchell took it to another level, which frankly sounded impossible.
But he did it. Just ask Collin Sexton.
As such he double dipped on the DPOG chain.
And his transition defense was superb. At one point he stopped the ball which lead to a bad pass turnover, and at another he did the same, allowing Harrison Barnes to poke the ball away.
Davion Mitchell continues to be one of the best all-around defenders in the league in only his second season. Maybe a place on an all-defensive team is in the works?
MVP chants for Domas
There’s no use trying to put the brilliance of Domantas Sabonis into words.
That is unless there’s a three-letter acronym well renowned in the world of sports. The fans in Sacramento may have actually articulated it quite well Friday night.
In the fourth quarter, with the elite big man at the line, the crowd at The Golden 1 Center serenaded him with MVP chants. Catch a listen here.
He is extremely unlikely to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, but it’s clear he deserves to at least be in the conversation.
Honest question: Would Will Hardy have been a good head coach in Sacramento?
For what it’s worth, Hardy has proven that it would not have been a bad move for the Kings to hire him as head coach.
His youth combined with the impressive performance of his team—which was thought to be rebuilding and tanking—is evidence of that. Hardy had always brought intrigue and it was always hard to not try and picture where he can go as a head coach in the future.
Still, Mike Brown was a great choice for this particular job in Sac.
While pairing Hardy with a young, ascending core in Sacramento, the culture issue remains a factor. In spite of the perceived rebuild, Utah had a winning culture under Quin Snyder; it’s not like Hardy took over a franchise that hadn’t been to the playoffs in 16 years.
So really, credit to both coaches on their performances thus far.
Trey Lyles had a nice game, but also limped off floor
He also limped off the floor in the fourth and walked to the locker room when he checked out of the game. Lyles returned to the sideline, sitting with his bottom on the ground and his legs bent in front of him with a towel (and maybe ice?) underneath.
Keep an eye out on Lyles in case he took a considerable ding.
That’s it for 2022.
The Sacramento Kings will ring in the new year with a two-game road trip. On Sunday—New Year’s Day—they’ll play in Memphis, and then that Tuesday they’ll play this Jazz team in Utah before coming back home for the second of a back-to-back against the visiting Hawks.
With the new year comes the acceptance that the grueling nature of the NBA schedule affects everybody. Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back for the Grizzlies as they host New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, and it’ll be the third of four games in three nights.
Taylor Jenkins’ squad, which sits near the top of the conference, will be looking to get back at a Kings team that waltzed into Memphis in November and won a hard-fought game that went down to the final minutes.
So long to this year, 2023 is around the corner and the Kings will look to get off to a good start to it come Sunday night similar to how they closed 2022 with a win.