Malik Monk and the Bench Finally Unleashed the Energy Again

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 23: Richaun Holmes #22 reacts with Malik Monk #0 of the Sacramento Kings after Monk dunked the ball against the Memphis Grizzlies in the second half at Golden 1 Center on January 23, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Grizzlies were without Ja Morant and Steven Adams, and the Kings did what they were supposed to do, clobbering Memphis 133-100 with a second half surge on both ends of the floor.

In a game that felt far too close at half time, Sacramento turned up the heat as the game droned on to turn it into a blowout.

At half time, the Kings had allowed 32 paint points, but worse, they’d committed 12 turnovers for 21 points. That sloppiness was a disruption for Sac on both ends, and Memphis was able to take advantage. 

Overall, all five starters for Memphis were able to get into double-digits. Desmond Bane scored 21 points, Jaren Jackson Jr. scored 19, Dillon Brooks had 13, and Tyus Jones had 12 with 8 assists.

But the second half play from Sacramento thwarted their chance to sabotage things on the road, turning the tables entirely. Memphis only scored 24 paint points in the second half, had just 4 points off of an equal amount of Kings turnovers, and they were forced into 13 second half turnovers themselves which surrendered 22 points off of them. Adding to the outcome, Sac also shot 55.7% from the field and 55.0% (22 of 40) from beyond the arc.

At the end of the night, Trey Lyles lead the team with 24 points and 6 boards off the bench. Combining for 11 of 16 from three, Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray scored 20 each. Almost sliding under the radar, Domantas Sabonis had his third straight triple-double with 14 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, and De’Aaron Fox had a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists. And topping it off, Malik Monk went 5 of 9 from the field for a phenomenal 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists in 24 minutes off the bench.

It was precisely the type of game—or second half, really—that this team needed to have.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Sacramento was scorching from beyond the arc; on three out of four possessions, Harrison Barnes sunk three and then Murray put one in for a 4 for 4 start. Then both of them hit another pair each to make it an 8 for 8 start, and Trey Lyles and Davion Mitchell made it a 10 for 10 start—they finished 12 of 13—tying an NBA record for three’s made in a period. The Kings defensive effort there as well as on the glass and in transition was pretty solid to start, but the Grizzlies managed 33 in the first, 16 in the paint, and shot over 50% from three in their own right. Leading 47-33, Sac scored the most single-quarter points in franchise history.

The Grizzlies got off to a 10-2 start in the second quarter, hitting a few three’s and scoring off a couple De’Aaron Fox turnovers, but Sacramento responded with a 12-2 run out of a timeout to get the lead back over 10 points. Some sloppy play (8 turnovers in the second) allowed Memphis a lot of offensive opportunity, scoring 14 points off those turnovers and putting up another 16 paint points. And as was prone to happen, the Kings could not rely on the three, going just 1 of 9 in the period and saw the lead at half shrink to 5 points as their opponent closed it on a 8-3 run.

Memphis began on a 7-3 run to cut the lead down to a single point as the Kings’ offensive possessions remained poor, warranting a quick timeout. Out of it, they scored and came up with a stop, but then appeared to revert to the poor play, missing a shot and failing to return to defense properly as the Grizzlies got a lead. The Kings threw together a better answer, going on a run to get the lead back up to about 4 or 5 points before hitting another gear with a 10-0 run that granted them a 10-point lead after three. Sacramento allowed 18 paint points, but the difference was in their allowing just 2 points off turnovers in the quarter.

A few minutes into the fourth, the energy of guys like Trey Lyles and Malik Monk was pulsating unlike any other moment in the contest as the Kings turned some defense into assertive offense (14 total fast break points in the quarter). Out of a timeout, they kept it up, the defense shining through, pushing things to a 14-0 run as the lead exceeded 20 points with Sabonis returning to the game. It maxed out to a 23-2 run before mop up time officially struck.

Monk’s performance: We’re so back

The major difference in this game—in terms of it being different from the last couple of weeks—was Malik Monk, who looked to be in the kind of form that got him into the Sixth Man of the Year conversation to begin with.

Against Memphis, Monk scored 13 points on 5 of 9 from the field and 2 of 5 from beyond the arc with 9 rebounds and 8 assists to go along with it. 

In his last 17 appearances prior to this one, he was shooting 35.5% from the floor and just 23.4% from beyond the arc. His facilitating and, to a greater degree, his ability to be a locker room guy both stuck around for the most part, but the dip in scoring had a massive effect.

In the first 27 games of the season, the bench averaged 40.4 points per game with Monk averaging 14.9 points. Over the last 18 before Monday night, they were averaging 30.2 as Monk averaged just 10.5 points.

The level of play from Monk served a pivotal role in the fact the Kings bench put 57 up against the Grizzlies.

In all three-facets of his on-floor impact—facilitating, shooting, and defense—Monk was terrific.

Though he was brought in to be a bucket-getter, perhaps the most consistent aspect of Monk’s game has been his ability to open up opportunities for his other teammates. Earlier in the year, he’d explained how it was that passing threat that opened up looks for him. Upon entering the game, he quickly hooked up for 2 assists, one of them with Domas in their two-man game. He finished with 8 of them, continuing his rapport with Sabonis in the fourth with another nice dish as well as a feed in transition.

Shooting was the aspect that eluded him over the last month-plus, serving as the key force behind his slump as anyone can see. After coming in, recording a few assists, and getting his finger prints on the game upon entering, Monk finished the first quarter hitting a three off of great team ball movement, which was a welcomed sight. Not only did he contribute to the three-point party of the first period, he got to see one drop with of course all the vibrations of the building assuming a full roar. His other make from deep came off a beautiful step back move. 

Beyond jump shooting, he looked good inside as well. In the third quarter, Monk had a terrific and-one finish and transition. He kept his eyes peeled, taking advantage here of some lax paint defense from the opposition. 

And defensively—another aspect he’s maintained some consistency in—Monk was also a difference maker. He had moments on-ball, on the boards securing stops, and off ball (yeah, Monk didn’t come up with the steal here, but he had a moment of ball denial, forcing Brandon Clarke to make another pass—a bad one—and getting down the floor for a top-popping slam on the other end.) 

With the Kings set to face a lot of road games in the next month, it will be vital that Monk regains this type of form. His ability to impact those three areas consistently helps unlock this defense and the energy that lurks within it. It all starts with Malik Monk.

Trey freakin’ Lyles

With a game like that—a return to form—for Malik Monk, it was not surprise the bench erupted for 57 points, the most they’ve scored since November 30 against the Pacers when they had 58.

But also, one can’t forget about the hottest member of the bench over the past three weeks. 

In his last 9 games, Trey Lyles is averaging 11.4 points on an incredible 59.0% from the field and 54.8% from three with 4.7 rebounds per contest, and his Monday night against the Grizzlies really padded that.

Lyles scored a game-high 24 points on 8 of 11 from the field and an automatic 6 of 8 from three-point range with 7 boards and 3 blocks to go along with it.

While Lyles has done an excellent job emerging as a shooter and scorer in general for Mike Brown, the manner with which he plays stands out.

He came into the game and hit a three, but he also closed out too hard on a three-point shooter and committed a turnover. Having not played a ton in the weekend back-to-back and putting up his first single-digit scoring performances in a while, the idea that Monday’s game would lack a huge impact from Lyles was possible.

But he stayed with, as he has all season, from staying ready and cool despite Mike Brown looking at less established guys like KZ Okpala in the rotation early on to getting sick, losing conditioning, and having to regain a place in the rotation. And from there, he had perhaps his best game of the season, scoring his season-high.

On top of the shooting and offense in general, he was all hustle and awareness, which both serve as the baseline to his game. Everything else comes from there. 

He busted his tail on this play getting down the floor to prevent a would-be put back score, knocking the ball out of bounds to allow his team’s defense the chance to regroup for a stop. Ultimately, Memphis still scored off the inbounds pass, but Lyles was there to give a nice contest that made the shot difficult. In a similar vein, in the fourth quarter, he hustled back in transition for one of his three blocks. Plus, he used active hands to bat the ball loose which allowed him to get a highlight reel dunk on the other end.

In terms of awareness—what coach Brown called “his feel” for the game—it’s why he is one of the most useful defenders on the team. He was so sharp here, sliding from the weak side to put himself in front the much larger Xavier Tillman for a drawn charge. And he executed beautifully against Jaren Jackson Jr., staying straight up for a block.

What a game from Lyles. Really, what a season so far.

Richaun Holmes looked like a piece of the puzzle

Another contributor to Sacramento’s electric bench was Richaun Holmes.

After playing excellently in the absence of Sabonis last week, Holmes still found himself at the end of the bench with Chimezie Metu grasping the backup center role. With Metu’s unfortunate—though, luckily, not severe—injury, Holmes has another chance.

It’s been said before—about him and other guys in this role—but he did have a great game.

Minus the three fouls—the first came really early and then the next two came in quick succession—Holmes looked like the type of backup center fans would have hoped for. After all, all anyone can ask for from Holmes is energy and a presence on the glass, and he did both of those things.

Off an air ball and already down fighting on the boards, Holmes had the ball fall in his area and he put it back up for a second chance score with the and-one. Here, he crashed after a transition shot attempt, forcing his way into position to secure the defensive stop. And here, he was unhindered by anything, remaining engaged on the offensive glass to help get his team another scoring opportunity. He also had an instance of nice rim-running that saved a possession late in the second quarter after Sabonis was tacked with his third foul (no clip available).

With it, he was also fed for a dunk and continued showing some improvement on defense, staying straight up here and getting the block.

More than playing pretty well, Holmes looked like a piece of the puzzle. 

Can he keep it up?

Fox on defense

Scoring wise, De’Aaron Fox did not have to take much charge, but that isn’t to say his effect was nonexistent. 17 points may not be amazing given what he is capable of, but he did have 10 assists, finding ways to open things up for his teammates.

Better, though, he continued playing great defense—posting 4 steals—which was as impactful as his facilitation and helped earn him DPOG honors. 

At different points his on-ball effort forced turnovers, but it was the same regarding off-ball. That was the case here as he hustled back in transition and went towards a loose ball only to get up deflect the ball for a steal. Overall, he was active and sharp, snagging steals and doing whatever it took to disrupt Memphis’ passing.

“Being the head of the snake on that end of the floor, (Fox) really gets the rest of the guys going,” coach Brown said postgame. “And so he was fun to watch — offensively he’s always fun — but defensively he was really fun to watch tonight. And his leadership, too — he took over down the stretch, making the right calls. There were probably three or four times in the second half where, in the huddle, I went in and just said, ‘Foxy, what you want?’ And he took over the huddle and told the guys what to run and all that other stuff.”

Fox continues to show he’s far more than just a scorer.

A good trend: second half defensive adjustments

As seen in the stats laid out up top, the Kings turned it around defensively in the second half.

“I thought defensively in the second half, we were good,” coach Mike Brown assessed after the victory. “We did some things schematically based on our foundation that were pretty impressive, where we gave multiple efforts, and we rotated and contested shots at a pretty high level. It was fun to watch.”

It seems like when the defense has put out good performances, it arises because of in-game adjustments. Put another way, they don’t start great, but end up playing well, typically in the second half. In recent memory, that was the case versus Orlando, in both Houston games, in San Antonio, in LA against the Lakers most recently, and against OKC.

The adjustments have been huge.

Domas and Barnes: light minutes for a change

Being that this game ended up as a blowout, it did indeed allowed for perhaps the biggest advantage of convincingly closing the deal early: rest.

It wasn’t a ton of rest, but it’s rare for both Domantas Sabonis and Harrison Barnes to play just 30 minutes, which was the case in this win.

The matter of the backup 5 has lingered all season and its in part a big issue because of the implications on Domas’ workload. Likewise, Harrison Barnes has always played a heavy load of minutes since coming to Sacramento (though, he’s only averaging just 32.5 minutes per game this season, which is the lowest since his Golden State days).

In short, another positive element to this game was seeing a light workload for two players with sizable levels of responsibility on this team.

Going forward

The Kings will close out this home stand on Wednesday night against the Raptors.

It will be the first of a seven-game road trip that spends a great deal on the West Coast for Toronto. They beat New York at home on Sunday in the second of a back-to-back, but have won just two times in their last five contests.

Over those last five games—and lately in general—the Raptors offense has been on the upswing while the defense continues to take steps back. In that segment of the last five games, their defense is worst than Sacramento’s, sitting in the bottom ten, which is why their on a bad overall trajectory.

After Monday night’s impressive win over Memphis, the Kings will be looking to handle their business against this Toronto team. It’ll be important to close out strong on the home floor before hitting the road. 

It won’t just be any old road trip; 11 out of the next 14 games are on the road, starting with a tough seven-game stretch that takes them to Minnesota (for two games), San Antonio, Indiana, New Orleans, and Houston (also for two games).

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