Tired or Inconsistent? Kings Get Pushed Around By Sixers

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 21: Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 21, 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)

Philadelphia was without Joel Embiid and James Harden, who combine for about 55 points per game, but they came in to The Golden 1 Center and took it to the Kings, winning the brawl, 129-127.

Sacramento was dominating out of the gate before the 76ers turned it on and carried a lead for much of the second half. The Sixers got what they wanted in the paint, scoring 70 points inside and dominating the glass (54-39) to win out in offensive rebounds (16-4) as well as second chance points (23-6). Even as the committed 15 turnovers (allowing 25 points off of them) their 42.9% clip from three helped their offense immensely.

Tyrese Maxey had a hell of a game with 32 points, 21 of which came in the second half as he and his team proved too much. Despite fouling out, Tobias Harris scored 17 points along with 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Starting for their star teammates, Montrezl Harrell scored 17 with 7 rebounds and De’Anthony Melton put up 14 with 7 rebounds. And really boosting the team effort, Georges Niang and Shake Milton combined for 32 points off the bench.

The Kings got some nice performances. Included among them was De’Aaron Fox’s team-high 31 points—14 in the fourth quarter—with 9 assists as well as another triple-double for Domantas Sabonis at 16 points, 10 boards, and 10 assists. Kevin Huerter put in 20 points and Keegan Murray had 13. And Harrison Barnes had an all-around impressive night with 27 points, but he was unable to take advantage of his three late free throws.

On the second of a back-to-back—and third in four nights—it was surprising to see the Kings play with such energy and efficacy to start, but the train visibly began running out of gas and the 76ers definitely looked like a rested and confident team. Still, they know the game was always within reach and that the home crowd was behind them the whole time.

“Give them a lot of credit because they came in here and took the game from us,” coach Mike Brown said after the loss.

Game summary (takeaways below)

With the quick turnaround from the previous night, the Kings started off in stride on both ends; all five starters got on the board in swift fashion as they embarked on an early 16-4 run. The Sixers’ 6 first quarter turnovers helped Sacramento’s cause as they gained 11 points off of them. Things were going their way, even this would-be lob which became a bank three-pointer for Davion Mitchell. The 76ers were shooting well and were able to get some inside scores later in the period, ending up with 14 paint points. But Sac lead 35-27.

Philly committed two early turnovers in about twenty seconds which granted the Kings 5 early points off of them followed by a pair of three’s from Barnes, the last of which made in an 11-2 run and forced a Doc Rivers timeout. They responded well, going on an 12-3 run of their own, but Malik Monk was a constant pulse of energy to keep the lead at double digits. Then Barnes came back in and both he and Murray hit a three each to help generate a 13-0 run in response. But Sacramento gave Philadelphia chances inside as the defensive lapses would continue to occur, allowing 40 first half paint points. Worse, there were three late turnovers in Sac’s final five possessions, and to top it off, Daniel House hit a buzzer-beating deep three to cut the Kings’ lead down to 10 points when it was at 21 just minutes earlier.

Things continued going the 76ers’ way as they cut the deficit down to a single score by the nine minute mark, mainly due to the play of Tyrese Maxey, who scored 13 points in four minutes. Fox was there to answer a lot of the time, but they were just exchanging buckets before Philadelphia tied it. Sac responded with a couple of stops and some more scores from Barnes to get the lead again. The 76ers stayed with it, though, continuing its disruption on the glass before taking its first lead of the game with the help of an 10-0 run. After giving up 38 to their opponent in the third—18 in the paint—the Kings trailed 96-102.

The Sixers started the fourth on a 5-0 run, but the momentum jumped back up for grabs as the Kings got a couple of blocks from Murray and Richaun Holmes. The 76ers put Sacramento in the bonus around the eight minute mark and another block, this time from Monk, fired up the home crowd allowing for a 12-2 run, but Philadelphia again answered with a quick 5-0 swing. That lead went up to 8 points, but the Kings answered with some defense including a stop and a Murray drawn charge to produce a 7-0 run. A Niang three thrust the Sixers back in the right direction as the Kings turned it over twice in a row. 

Down 4 points with 30 seconds left, De’Aaron Fox moseyed his way into the paint for a beautiful floater with 22 seconds remaining. They fouled Maxey, who hit both at the line. On the other end, Fox found Murray, who nailed a three to make it 127-126. They then fouled De’Anthony Melton, who knocked down both. Out of a timeout and down 3 points with four seconds left, Barnes passed it in to Huerter, who quickly got it back to the inbounder. Barnes went up for a shot and was fouled, but at the line, he missed the first before hitting the second. On the last one, he had to miss on purpose, but no putback was found and the loss was made final.

Pushed around

As mentioned, the rebounding differential—including on the offensive end—and the 70 allowed paint points really did the Kings in. In short, they were pushed around and the 76ers were able to do what they wanted, attacking the lane, the glass, and the challenge of not having Embiid and Harden.

“They just physically kicked our behind,” Mike Brown appraised postgame.

Sacramento allowed 14 paint points in the first quarter, which is a little over the mark for what they’d probably like, but it was a number they could live with and feasibly improve upon. Just the night before, the Kings allowed 14 first period paint points to the Thunder before surrendering only 6 in the second. This time, however, the Sixers cut a hole in their opponents’ defenses, dropping 26 paint points in the second quarter to drive the number up to 40 at half time. 

They added another 18 in the third before the defense finally held Philly to a more modest 12 paint points in the fourth.

At the end of the game, they allowed 70 inside, which was the same number they allowed two weeks earlier in Los Angeles when Mike Brown characterized his team’s defense as “terrible.”

The Sixers, to their credit hit a lot of tough shots, such as this Tyrese Maxey layup that was defended excellently by Domas, but Sac’s defense was riddled with perforations.

The pick and roll defense was horrific, and it really wasn’t great all night. Off a set of staggered screens, three Kings players managed to allow Paul Reed a clear runway to the rim in what looked like a blatant miscommunication. Here, there is absolutely no communication between Metu and Lyles, allowing Reed a wide lane to the rim, where he was fed and fouled by Metu. There was no miscommunication here, but Lyles was simply beat by Shake Milton and Sabonis did not have the time to properly step up. 

Help, too, was lacking. When Maxey got a quick layup to go to generate a two for one opportunity at the end of the first half, his push was completely missed by Keegan Murray, who did not turn his head around until far too late as the game-high scorer came up with a nice finish. 

The rebounding was equally lethargic after they’d dominated in four of their previous five contests. There was just nobody blocking out Reed here. In another example, having to assume a deep position to offer help near the rim as Maxey drove from coast to coast, Sabonis was not in the optimal place to box out against Harrell, who put in a tip-in layup with no other Kings player getting in the air. And here Reed missed against Holmes’ attempt to go vertical, but Barnes and Monk just watched as the Philly forward tipped it back in. In all, coach Brown noted that smaller players “did not get engaged with their bigs on the backside,” which left Sac’s bigs without help.

Fifty-fifty balls in general seemed to go the other way, even when good defense was played, pointing to a lack of jolt within the Kings.

Philadelphia also got away with some transition scores, though they only won the fast break points battle 11-10. Here, Matisse Thybulle out runs Barnes as Fox tries to stop the ball, receiving a lob from Shake Milton. Fox again makes a worthy effort to stop the ball that was in the hands of Harris, but there was no help behind him. Really, there was an extra bounce in the Sixers’ step as seen here

It was a lackluster effort nearly all the way around.

Even as the Kings had done something similar two weeks ago in Los Angeles, this one really felt like fatigue played the biggest factor. Not only did the defense decline abruptly at one point, but the offense dropped off in the second half. 

Sacramento shot 60.5% from the field and 47.4% from three for 74 points in the first half, but in the second they shot 48.8% from the field—admittedly not bad—and 28.6% from deep for 53 points. 

Also, the fact there was a 30-point swing sort of substantiates the idea this team was gassed.

That’s still not an excuse for losing a game that was within reach on the home floor, but it does provide an explanation.

But coach Brown has a big-picture viewpoint.

“If we want to be great, we can’t let a team outwork us or be more physical than us in our building, especially the way they did tonight,” he said, refusing to “chalk it up to a back-to-back.”

Chimezie Metu’s knee

On top of a disappointing loss, it also looks like the Kings might be without Chimezie Metu for awhile.

Just ahead of the nine minute mark striking in the second quarter, Metu appeared to hyperextend his knee as he dribbled inside the paint, grabbing at his leg in immediate pain. It’s not clear whether there was a wet spot in there or if the soles of his shoes failed to gain a grip.

He did walk off the floor on his own after some help up, but did so with a sizable limp. The Kings’ backup 5 was visibly vexed by the injury.

Mike Brown had no update in his postgame press conference.

Holmes’ time

As a result of Metu’s knee, Richaun Holmes was called upon in the second half to give relief for Sabonis. 

In five and a half minutes, he was alright. He definitely brought an energy with him that seemed to be both piggy backing off of his double-double on Wednesday in Los Angeles and feeding off the intensity of the moment.

Early in his time, he put in a dump off from Malik Monk. And into the fourth quarter he had a nice post score and provided a defensive element with a pair of blocks. He also committed no personal fouls in his time.

Really, other than maybe crashing too hard here on a rebound, he was fairly adequate.

And it looks like he’ll be the backup to Sabonis for now. He’ll have hold of that, but one wonders if the inclination to pursue a backup center has only gotten stronger.

Even before Metu went down, it was a discernible need, but with one less man available option the hole becomes a little more exposed.

Just assessing that on its own, it becomes clear that this Kings team has remained remarkably healthy this season up to this point. Metu may not be considered a great talent, but he was a rotational guy. 

It will be worth keeping an eye on what transpires both in terms of the backup center and the impending trade deadline. 

Bright spots

De’Aaron Fox never gets enough credit. The fact this game remained close in the scoring column was primarily due to him. He scored 20 in the second half, 14 in the fourth quarter, and was one of the rare individuals who did not look a half step slow. He lead the team on both ends of the floor and it was his presence that did a good job of somewhat disguising the fact Philadelphia outplayed Sacramento.

Similar to that, Kevin Huerter looked really good in this game, scoring in multiple different ways and providing heads up defense.

Speaking of the two starting guards’ defense, both of them could classify as two of the most underrated defenders on the team. What Fox does at the point of attack—which revs up as the game goes on similar to his offense—and what Huerter does in weak side protection are both primary components to any successful defensive night. Even in a poor team showing on that end, their presence is there.

Offensively, Fox and Huerter are obviously incredible, and it’s nearly the same degree on the other side of the ball.

And it wouldn’t feel right to end this without a nod to Sabonis, who got his sixth triple-double of the season, second in a row, and third in his previous four games. He’s another guy who brings it on both ends every game. Though nobody is anywhere close to doing so, nobody should forget about Domas.

Going forward

With the back-to-back behind them, the Kings get Sunday off before taking on the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.

That game will be the second of a back-to-back for Memphis as they will play in Phoenix tonight. As of now, the Grizzlies are second in the Western Conference while the Kings are 5 games behind them in third place.

This will be the fourth and final matchup between these two teams. The Grizzlies took the first one in Sacramento before the Kings took one of two in Memphis, losing the second one there just three weeks ago on New Year’s Day.

Taylor Jenkins’ team was on an 11-game win streak prior to a loss to the Lakers in LA on Friday.

This will be a big game for Sacramento as they look to bounce back. Remember, in that New Year’s Day loss in Memphis, the Kings lost mainly due to the Grizzlies’ offensive rebounds; they grabbed 21 and 13 of them came from Steven Adams.

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

Kings Talk: Episode 77
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On this week’s episode of Kings Talk presented by Cap City Crown, Tony and John discuss the In-Season tournament and Sacramento’s chances of making the knockout stage, Trey Lyles’ return and what that means to […]

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Dan Smith
10 months ago

We did well to win the turnover battle but surprised they got beat up so bad on the boards…especially when the sixers were missing the rebounding abilities of Embiid and the Beard. I guess they were tired from the B2B, but Philly was at the end of a 5 game road trip also. Shouldn’t have threw the game away after having a 21 pt lead on their home court. All in all, can’t complain too much, they did just win 6 straight, so losing a close one against one of the East’s best isn’t too too bad. Hope they can come back and take down the Grizz tonight!