Kings Execute Defensive Gameplan, Contain Hot OKC Team

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 20: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings pushes the button to light the victory beam after a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden 1 Center on January 20, 2023 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. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Coming into this one, the Thunder had won six of their last seven games and were considered one of the hotter teams in the league, but the Kings stuck to the best defensive game plan available, executed, and scored enough to win, 118-113.

Oklahoma City kept it interesting the whole way through, leading for a good portion of it in the middle with a great start from beyond the arc and raising the drama level to a high degree in the final minutes. Even still, they were held to 40 paint points, 11 free throw attempts, and a 51.1% clip in the restricted area.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander nevertheless got his 37 points and 7 assists and Josh Giddey had a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double with 5 assists. Isaiah Joe was primarily responsible for the outside shooting success, scoring 21 points on 7 of 12 from deep. Santa Clara product Jalen Williams looked good with 13 points and Lu Dort added 15 points.

Having put the correct emphasis on certain areas pertaining to the defensive end, the Kings also made a conscious effort to rebound, winning that battle, 61-40, while also grabbing 12 offensive rebounds for 22 second chance points.

Keegan Murray lead his team with a career-high in points (29) and rebounds (14) for his second straight double-double. Getting his 21st double-double in a row as well as his fifth triple-double of the season, Domantas Sabonis scored 18 points with 13 rebounds and 14 assists after missing the previous contest due to illness. Adding another steady performance, De’Aaron Fox put up 25 points. With them Kevin Huerter scored 14 with 6 rebounds and Harrison Barnes added 11 points.

That’s now six straight wins for this team as they remain third in the conference by a whole game.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Oklahoma City started off on a 9-0 run, hitting their shots and getting a lot of looks in the paint and scoring off three early Kings turnovers. Sacramento found a groove after missing a lot of threes that were not preceded by paint touches, but after an offensive board, Fox hit one and the scoring picked up, but primarily as the stops came. The Kings ended the quarter on a 10-2 run to get a 33-32 lead after one.

Starting the second, the Thunder quickly went 2 of 3 from deep while Sacramento missed a pair, prompting an early timeout. Things improved as the Kings offense produced better looks, but Oklahoma City was hot from beyond the arc, hitting 12 of 21 (57.1%) in the first half. Meanwhile, the Kings had made just 4 of 19 (21.1%). Many stops for Sac came after they forced the opponent to take a three that was missed—they held OKC to 20 paint points and 5 free throw attempts in the half—but if they kept hitting those looks at a high rate, the night was sure to be a long one. The Thunder maintained a lead at the end of two, 66-59.

Well, the three did not fall at nearly the same rate as the first half for Oklahoma City, and with the percentage falling back to earth (2 of 9 in the period), more stops were secured because those three’s they were essentially allowed to take were not falling at a fantastical rate. Meanwhile, Sacramento’s three-point percentage was on the upswing (5 of 10 in the third), allowing them to exchange leads with the Thunder before going into the fourth with it.

The start of the fourth quarter did not feature a lot of scoring, but the close nature of the contest carried over. Sac was off to a 4-0 start before OKC went on a 6-0 run, and then the Kings went on a mini 4-0 run to prompt a timeout from the opposition. Murray hit 3 three’s, including the 100th of his career, which was reached in the third fastest time in NBA history, and their lead began to grow with the clock trickling away. The Thunder made it far more interesting than it needed to be—to their credit—as the Kings allowed some easy paint scores, but Sacramento ultimately held on.

Credit to the defensive game plan and execution (for the most part)

It was interesting that Kayte Christensen suggested the Kings need to guard the perimeter better as a key at halftime. It seemed prudent and certainly wasn’t wrong given the 12 made three’s, but it was clear that Sacramento prefferred OKC to take those shots.

The Thunder are in the top five in paint points at over 55 per game, and Sacramento held them to just 40 inside. Shai Gilgeous Alexander averages 10.3 free throw attempts, he was held to just 4 while his team was held to only 11 trips total. And though they convert 56.1% of their looks near the restricted area (league average is 60.1%), they shot just 10 of 19 (52.6%) near the rim.

From that standpoint, the Kings executed the defensive game plan very well.

Many of those 12 first half three-pointers that the Thunder sunk were shots they were given; in other words, they were damn close to being defensive stops. 

Defending the perimeter was not the issue, Oklahoma City was hitting what they were given. As it is prone to do, and as it happened to go in this game, the three-point percentage fell back closer to earth. They still shot an impressive 40% from three, but the Kings did what they needed to do defensively based on the matchup they were faced with.

That isn’t to say they were perfect defensively. There were still a lot of easy looks for OKC inside. Many came early on in each half, but as they are prone to do, Sac’s defense adjusted. In the first quarter they scored 14, but the Kings held them to 6 in the next period. They then put up 16 inside in the third before being allowed to score just 6 in the fourth.

Discipline seems more like the necessary thing to preach. Oklahoma City was allowed to make things interesting in the final moments of the game due to some lackluster attempts at stopping the ball. They had three pretty easy scores inside in the final sixty seconds—all amid some Kings mistakes that included turnovers from Harrison Barnes (had it stolen) and Keegan Murray (bad pass)—and they also threw a huge Isaiah Joe three in there off of another turnover to get the drama to peak.

Playing to the final second may have been an area that earned a valuable lesson learned, but really, executing the defensive game plan was the main factor behind this win. The way it went down, OKC would have had to continue hitting those three’s at an unreal rate, which would have been something Sacramento would just have to live with.

But as was predictable, they didn’t do so from start to finish, rewarding the Kings for applying focus to the areas the Thunder lean on the most for success.

Keegan Murray’s best game as a professional

Scoring 29 points on 10 of 12 from the field and 5 of 7 from three with 14 rebounds—3 on the offensive end—is simply an incredible performance from the fourth overall selection.

It was a career night for Murray, hitting a single-game career-high in scoring and rebounding, getting his second double-double not only of his career but in a row, and of course hit his 100th three-pointer, doing so in the third shortest timeframe.

The kid is in a groove. Converting 5 of 7 from deep was tremendous and was also a continuation of his hot shooting from beyond the arc. In ten games this January, he’s hit 48.1% of his looks.

He just looks more and more comfortable in the NBA. There were plenty of times where the rookie would dribble to the rim to get blocked or miss in the face of some nice defensive efforts; often times, his attempts at going to the rim looked like the most rookie thing about him. In Friday’s game, he had a moment in the third where he began to drive from the perimeter wing; it looked awkward at first with his dribble getting a little out of control, but flipping a switch, he rose up for a strong dunk that had Sabonis elated as ever.

And 14 rebounds was just awesome. Of course, everyone is aware—probably more than well aware—about Mike Brown’s public challenge to Keegan Murray to get involved more on the boards. Since that challenge was made—after his 0 rebound performance on January 7—the rookie has not had a game where he grabbed less than 3 rebounds. In fact he’s grabbed 5 or more in four of those last six games.

Better yet, as Fox noted before the game, an area of focus for the Kings in this game was rebounding due to the fact OKC is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams with a league-low .688 rebound-percentage and allowing a league-worst 12.4 offensive rebounds per game. So to see Murray not only take ownership of his own impact, he took it up a notch to execute the team’s game plan.

The kid was simply terrific and has looked that way since recovering from his November troubles.

“I feel like, especially early on in the season, I kind of hit a low point,” Murray confided postgame when asked about his progression during his rookie year. “And just getting through that, I felt like, just helped me a lot. The team still believed in me, the coaches still believing in me through that point, and I just tried to keep confidence throughout that. And it’s over the midway point of the season and I still have extreme confidence in myself and my abilities.” 

That’s for sure, he’s really blossoming.

Metu not Holmes

After the game he had on Wednesday, maybe one would have expected Richaun Holmes to see time on Friday, but Chimezie Metu looked to still hold the reigns on the backup 5.

Really, though, Metu matches up far better against a team that tries to play with various lineups based on length rather than size. 

It’s a lot like what Toronto does, and Metu had one of his worst games up there in December, playing outside of himself to a frustrating degree. But he was not playing at that low of a level against Oklahoma City, and really hasn’t in the short time since having the backup center carousel stop on him once more. In all, Metu looked okay in 10 minutes of play, which is sometimes all one can ask for.

He came in and got caught in the air for a foul against SGA—which granted the star half of his free throw attempts on the night—but was immediately fed on the other end by Malik Monk for an easy dunk opportunity.

Probably his best impact came on the offensive glass where he had 2 of his 3 total rebounds—producing 4 second chance points—with one accompanied by a put back slam

His second half minutes (just 3 minutes played) produced far less to compliment, as he really just committed 2 fouls.

As he always does, Metu comes in and finds a few areas he can impact, but overall, there is a lot left to be desired.

A nod to Malik Monk for his occasionally overlooked role

Malik Monk has not been playing all that way as of late, particularly when it comes to shooting. His assist numbers have been on the rise this month and he had 5 in this game, involved in some nice offensive moments. 

But his shooting continues slumping, going 1 of 6 from the field and 0 of 5 from three-point range for 5 points that came mostly from his three free throw makes.

Reserving much critique for a slump that shouldn’t last forever, Monk actually deserves credit for the other ways he impacts this team due to two nearly identical moments.

In the second quarter, Domantas Sabonis reached what felt like a new high this season in terms of his frustration with the officials. The only time he looked more irate in a Kings uniform was last season when he unintentionally made contact with a ref that got him suspended for a game. Viewing several calls and non-calls as disagreeable, they were beginning to add up to what could have been another breaking point for the big man, and he was chirping a great deal after a travel violation late in the second quarter.

At the end of this clip, viewers can see Monk (as well as Matthew Dellavedova and others) waiving to Domas to drop it and go back to the defensive end for his own good. It was Monk, though, who took it upon himself to pop out of his chair and make a more emphatic urge to the star center.

And then in the fourth quarter, when Kevin Huerter got the inbounds pass, appeared to be shoved, and stepped on the line out of bounds, the sharpshooter was furious that the officials dis not see the push that had knocked him off balance. Who was there to try and deescalate other than Monk and Dellavedova? (Clip not available for this example).

It happened twice in this game, and it’s likely no surprise if this is a typical occurrence that just happened to be coincidentally highlighted twice by Friday night’s broadcast. Monk, after all, has noted many times how he takes a responsibility in being the glue guy in the locker room. Like he said after the loss to Phoenix in November, he takes “a big part” in that.

In these instances, it was more of that: not letting his teammates separate from the responsibilities they had on the floor. And that was coming from a guy not even on the floor. 

Credit to Monk (and Dellavedova).

Large work load for Barnes

Harrison Barnes played 39 minutes on Friday in the first of a back-to-back, marking the fourth game in a row where he’s played 36 minutes or more.

As noted before, Mike Brown has noted that he sometimes needs to lean on Barnes for heavy minutes like that, though it makes him “cringe” and he “hates” to have to do it.

That rose a question on sustainability, which still stands: Is this kind of workload—a heavy one that has befallen Barnes every year since becoming a King—sustainable for this team as it works to be a legitimate contender?

Fans saw how his boost in play helped lift the team offense to new heights; he is undeniably crucial. If he can stay fresh and thus produce an optimal impact, the team will in turn have a good chance to come out blasting. And also one can’t forget the veteran presence that plays such an important role on both ends of the floor in terms of settling things down and helping get the team back on track by example.

It will be interesting to see what happens on the quick turnaround of this back-to-back. Will Barnes have another 36-plus minute workload?

Moreover, the trade deadline is less than three weeks away. Is that an area of the roster that will be addressed?

Going forward

The second of the back-to-back comes tonight with the 76ers in town.

Philadelphia is continuing it’s roll since early December, winning 17 of its last 21 games. In that span of time, the Sixers have the third best offensive rating—just below Sacramento at two—and the sixth best on the defensive side for a net rating ranked third.

Plus, the Kings will be forced to take on yet another star that averages over 30 points a game. Joel Embiid is averaging 33.6 points on 53.7% shooting with 9.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists. The MVP runner up the last two seasons put up 31 points when the Kings traveled to Philadelphia, and 21 of them came in the first half. 

After a good test against a hot Oklahoma City team, Sacramento will be slapped with another one tonight. 

Also, going back to their days in Houston, Daryl Morey and Monte McNair—who watched the game together—have left many with a feeling of anticipation for something.

It’s probably nothing, but who knows for sure?

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[…] [ January 21, 2023 ] Kings Execute Defensive Gameplan, Contain Hot OKC Team Basketball […]

Dan Smith
Dan Smith
2 months ago

Great game from Murray though, congrats to him!

Dan Smith
Dan Smith
2 months ago

Damn, such a drastic change from this game compared to how they rebounded against Philly. Where did their great rebounding effort go to?