No Matter How You Slice It, the Kings Blew It in Final Minute vs. Hawks

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 4: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Atlanta Hawks on January 4, 2023 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. 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 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

It was a heartbreaker at The Golden 1 Center as the Kings fell to the Atlanta Hawks in the second of a back-to-back in spite of the fact that four of Sacramento’s starters scored 20 or more points.

Kevin Huerter had a great game against his former team, scoring 24 points, going 4 of 9 from deep with 5 assists as well. Building off his last game, Harrison Barnes put in 22 points. De’Aaron Fox scored 25 points with 5 boards and 5 assists while Domantas Sabonis had 20 points, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists, but Sacramento’s stars had some costly mistakes in the end.

From start to finish, the contest was close with Atlanta shooting 53.6% from the field and Sacramento shooting 40% from three. Throughout, runs were exchanged as the Hawks too had four guys score at least 20 points.

John Collins had a terrific game, scoring 22 points on 7 of 11 from the field and 2 of 4 from deep with 12 rebounds. Likewise, De’Andre Hunter put up 22 with 8 rebounds. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray scored 21 points each and combined for 10 assists. And old friend Bodgan Bogdanovic, for good measure, added 17 points and 8 rebounds off the bench.

In the end, despite being close and a vigorous effort in the face of what were probably some tired legs, the Kings blew this one after being up 4 points with 1:16 left to play.

Game summary

It was a choppy start for both teams. Atlanta had 5 early turnovers, but at least they were converting the attempts they got off. The Kings were missing some gimmies, failing to take advantage of the Hawks’ mistakes and the occasional defensive stop. And as has been a bloody wound of an issue for the last several weeks, Sacramento was struggling to defend the paint despite the high pace they were pushing; Atlanta scored 22 paint points in the period. Sac finished with the same figure in the paint points too after they began hitting their looks near the rim, lead by De’Aaron Fox.

In the second, the Kings went back to missing some point blank shots while the Hawks saw some early three-pointers fall, giving them the lead again. The pace revved up in the Kings favor again, prompting a 10-2 run and a lead change, but Atlanta quickly scored three straight field goals to regain it. For the remainder of the quarter, shots were essentially exchanged, but Sacramento did a better job of getting to the line (8 trips after 2 in the first) and defending inside (allowing 10 paint points). Atlanta still lead at the half, 61-58, but former Hawk Kevin Huerter had 13 points at the half, the amount he scored when these teams played in November.

Into the second half, the Hawks got some more outside shots to fall (going 4 of 7 from deep in the period), which helped them get an 8-point lead. Sacramento responded as Fox turned up his aggression and Domas dished out some nice assists as Atlanta’s lead hovered around four or five points. It was sort of a back and forth with both teams scoring a 30 points in the period with a 91-88 Hawks lead. 

Trading buckets, trading misses, the Hawks maintained roughly the same lead, but about five minutes in the Kings were able to tie it off a stop and full court feed to Harrison Barnes for an unmissable look. Soon after, the Hawks went on a 7-0 run with a Hunter midrange, a Bogdanovic three, and a Collins finish. However, in decisive fashion, the Kings responded. In the last four minutes, Huerter drained a few big three’s, De’Aaron Fox got the crowd on their feet with another crazy dunk, and most important of all, stops were being generated on the defensive end, which gave them the lead again. But Atlanta’s heartbeat did not flatline.

Up 4 points after a 13-2 run with a little over a minute left, the Kings dug in their heels on defense. Trae Young converted an and-one, promptly cutting the lead down to a single point. Domas then got to the line, but he missed both free throws (the team was perfect prior to that) before Dejounte Murray got to the line and hit both to gain a lead. 

The Kings were still in the driver’s seat, down one with about thirty seconds remaining, but Murray picked De’Aaron Fox’s pocket and scored on the other end, making it a 3-point lead. Then Fox was blocked by Onyeka Okongwu and Sabonis missed the put back. Sac then did not foul and lost the game, 117-120.

They absolutely blew it

The Kings had just gone up 117-113 after Fox converted the and-one on a made floater. There was 1:16 remaining. In the previous three or so minutes of play, they’d turned up the intensity on both ends; it looked like they were going to seal up a great victory because the stops were coming around, the crowd was electric, and plus, they had stars like Fox and Sabonis who would surely see this one through.

However, both guys showed they are indeed human.

Trae Young brought the ball up with Davion Mitchell on him, but a Bogdanovic screen forced Keegan Murray to pick up the guard. The speedy Young made a nice penetration against the bigger player, but adequate help was nowhere to be found as Sabonis—guarding John Collins—was late to meeting the driver at the rim as the rook fouled Young on the made finger roll. The and-one was made and Sac’s lead was a single point.

On the other end, Fox gave a nice feed to Domas, who’d gained a deep position in the paint, leading to a pair of free throw attempts for the big man. That was not just a smart decision; at that point, the Kings were a perfect 25 of 25 from the charity stripe. However, in a tragic turn of events, Sabonis was short on the first and rimmed the second one out, ending up with nothing to show for it.

With the ball on Atlanta’s end, a defensive foul was overturned, which would have been Huerter’s fifth. After inbounding it on the side, Dejounte Murray got the ball back as he drove to the rim with Huerter trailing, earning a trip to the line. Sabonis was unable to get down there as quick as he need since he was forced to guard Collins near the top of the key, and thus he fouled Murray.

Given the mismatch, Sabonis may have been only marginally at fault getting into help position late when Young drove, but this one was a little more out of his control given the great play call and execution.

Murray hit both, and so with thirty ticks left on the clock, the Kings found themselves down by one. Aside from the empty trip to the line, the Kings had scored on their previous five possessions; they still had their hands on this one.

De’Aaron Fox brought the ball up the floor and after a ghost screen from Keegan Murray, Dejounte Murray picked the point guard’s pocket. Atlanta’s offseason acquisition took it to the other end for a layup. On his attempt, it sure looked like a push off occurred, which would have meant an offensive foul and a turnover.

But the whistle went the other way.

Remarkably, the Kings still had a chance, which is what makes this loss so crushing for them. They were still down by just a score with about sixteen seconds left. There was enough time left so that they could go for a two and then foul, avoiding the reliance on lower-percentage shot.

With the ball past half court, Fox got a screen, forcing Okongwu to pick him up on the elbow. Then Fox spun his way into the paint for a turnaround jumper near the restricted area, but he was denied by his man. Sabonis got back at Collins, grabbing the offensive rebound, but like so many other point blank shots in this game, Domas missed a good put back look.

That was it.

Of course, the two minute report will confirm the Dejounte Murray push off, but that doesn’t excuse a single thing. Sabonis still came up empty handed at the line and Fox still lost the ball at a time where it was as precious as ever. And with another chance to make a bucket, they again came up short.

Fouls always go back and forth, players have to be able to control what they can control.

That was the head coach’s takeaway.

“(The Hawks) basically just went at what they felt was a mismatch and attacked the mismatch, and got layups,” Mike Brown described after the game, giving credit to the other team. “So we have to do a better job in those situations in trying to control the basketball and not allow them to get a look at the rim.”

De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are still stars that should be featured as all-stars for their conference, but they simply dropped the ball in this one in spite of being in the position to lock up a victory.

It’s on them to bounce back. While it was surprising to see them both slip up down the stretch, it won’t be surprising if they come back and deliver a pair of tremendous performances when they play the Lakers on Saturday.

How about Kevin Huerter?

If the Kings had won this one, perhaps the big takeaway would have been Kevin Huerter’s revenge.

Like November’s meeting between these two teams, Huerter’s new team came up short. However, this time around, the sharpshooter made sure to let his former club know what they’re missing.

Playing terrifically over his last nine or ten games, Huerter shot 8 of 15 from the field and 4 of 9 from three for 24 points.

What’s more, late in this one, as the Kings mounted a nice run that looked to be setting up for a victory, Huerter hit some big shots. Two of his three-point makes came in the final four minutes. The first came out of a timeout when the Kings were down 104-111; the three made a considerable cut into the lead that essentially started a 13-2 run. 

And the second one, a side step make, got them the lead that was eventually relinquished in the final 76 seconds.

In spite of the tough loss, good for Kevin Huerter.

Holmes as backup 5 a flash in the pan?

For a second there, Richaun Holmes looked like he may be have been gaining momentum as the backup 5. In the final three games of the 2022 calendar year, he was high-energy, hustling, and playing better defense. And on New Year’s Day in Memphis, he had another positive performance.

While he was not perfect, the improvement seemed like he was on track to be a good backup to Sabonis should the Kings hold onto him. But over these last two, there was an abrupt drop off in performance.

In this one Holmes again looked like he was void of energy and out of place, and so much so that he didn’t log any second half minutes as Mike Brown went with Lyles as a small 5, which has and did again work fairly decently (though, admittedly, that won’t work in every instance, against every team).

Of course, it’s not like the Hawks—who were missing Clint Capela—featured a ton of size for the guys they play at center, but it was not a pretty five minutes of play for Holmes regarding.

There isn’t a ton to point to; without the energy, it’s easy for him to disappear. 

But he wasn’t completely visible. All eyes certainly caught a peak at his whiffed dunk attempt. It was unfortunate that he missed it, too, because he showed a bit of a jolt on top of it being a nice play executed by Malik Monk. Having driven deep into the paint, Holmes cut along the baseline where the ball found him, but the big man missed.

It was a back-to-back where the team had to travel home from Salt Lake City and plenty of other guys missed easy attempts, but that can’t be an excuse given his specific role. As Mike Brown has noted, part of the role of the backup center is to unleash the maximum amount of energy in his time on the floor because he doesn’t have to put in a ton of minutes. 

Still, expect Holmes to get the backup center minutes.

“We haven’t been able to find ways to score,” coach Brown said postgame, referencing the second unit as a whole. “And (Holmes) has been doing some of the little things we’ve been asking him to do, but just collectively as a group, we haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket, we haven’t rebounded, and hadn’t gotten any stops. That’s not a good combination. And so we just wanted to change it up to see if having Trey (Lyles) at the 5, as a stretch 5, could disrupt Atlanta’s defense a little bit.”

Brown expressed satisfaction with that move because it gave the Hawks “a different look,” but he added that “all it was” was an attempt to “generate something offensively.”

Terence Davis’ uneventful appearance

Since the win over the Lakers two weeks ago, Terence Davis has not seen the floor very much. In fact, he’s posted four DNP’s over his last six games. One of those games that was not listed as such was about a minute and a half of garbage time against the Grizzlies on Sunday.

Mike Brown went to Davis in the first quarter, presumably seeking out a potential hot hand. In that period, the offense had taken some time to get going. And as noted just above, the head coach is searching for some offense off the bench.

In four minutes of play, TD went 1 of 2 from the floor for just 2 points. His first shot attempt (no clip available) was him settling for a poor midrange jumper that he missed. His second came on a nice drive with the shot clock expiring.

In addition, however, and what really made his night subpar was the fact he picked up two fouls in those four minutes, which is a big no-no for any of Mike Brown’s players. 

It’s understandable that he would not come in with an immediate rhythm—which was visible in his missed jumper and this foul where he got caught in the air—but one of the potential upsides of Terence Davis seemed like it could have been his break-the-glass factor. That is, like a fire extinguisher: in case of emergency, break the glass for some Terence Davis production.

That factor would likely come in handy, but Davis was not up to the task in this game. 

Maybe he shook off some rust, though; don’t count the undrafted guy out.

Going forward

After this draining back-to-back where the Kings went from Utah back to Sacramento, they’ll have two days off.

After that short break, the Los Angeles Lakers will come to town Saturday night.

Since going on a four-game losing streak—one of which included their loss in December to the Kings—the Lakers have won four of their last five. To their disadvantage, however, they will play the second of a back-to-back come Saturday.

Sure, they’ll simply be going from LA north to Sacramento, but again, the Kings will be coming off two days of rest.

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Dan Smith
Dan Smith
23 days ago

Good point, we should have the upper hand with the rest and Lakers playing 2nd of B2B. We really need the team to start stepping it up on D, I heard Kings have allowed 120 or more in 6 of past 7 or something like that. The bench has to start delivering more too, no one can get over 10 pts recently outside of Monk.
Really thought that Murray pushoff would’ve made the L2M report like you did. That was really blatant, but outrageous the league upheld that call. Even the Markkanen kick on Murray too was bad. NBA wouldn’t admit to it, and said Murray grazed his elbow on the shot..just to cover their butts.