Kings Summon Energy and Effort to Defend and Defeat Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 30: Trey Lyles #41 of the Sacramento Kings boxes out against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 30, 2023 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 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 David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)

After dropping the first of the road trip to the Timberwolves on Saturday, the Kings played much sharper on Monday to get a 118-111 win in overtime.

Following the loss over the weekend, Mike Brown questioned his team’s defensive “urgency” after his team allowed both of Minnesota’s stars to go off and let the team shoot over 50% from the field and over 45% from three. In Monday’s game, they answered the call, playing better and sprightlier as a unit, reaching a season-high 15 steals with bustling activity, holding D’Angelo Russell to just 10 points, and keeping the opponent’s field goal percentages to reasonable clips.

Anthony Edwards was a problem nonetheless at 33 points scored with 8 rebounds, but Sac could live with it. The next highest scorer was Rudy Gobert at 19 with 14 boards. Jaylen Nowell had a nice night off the bench with 14 points, but most of the team was held in check.

More than just putting a better foot forward on the defensive end, the Kings saw some great offensive play from some of their best players. De’Aaron Fox led the team with 32 point while Domantas Sabonis put up 17 points and 13 rebounds for his second straight double-double after his streak ended last week. Making a recent habit of double-doubles himself, Keegan Murray got another with 13 points and 13 boards. And perhaps most encouraging was Malik Monk’s 19-point night off the bench with 5 assists and 3 steals.

On a tough road trip, it was vital to avoid getting off to an 0-2 start and the Kings really locked in in multiple facets to win this game, taking care of business convincingly in the overtime period to get in the win column amid this seven-gamer.

Game summary (takeaways below)

The offense was hard to come by for both teams early on, but Sacramento’s defense looked much improved from the start. Ahead of the six-minute mark, only 12 points were put up between both squads. But Fox hit a mid-range jumper and the Kings went on a 12-2 run, riding their nice defensive start—which came from a range of players—to gain a lead with inside looks. After one quarter, the lead was 24-17.

Into the second quarter, while not explosive, the offense was better as both teams were finding points inside. Sac’s defense had some good moments, but Minnesota quickly put in 14 paint points in the first five minutes or so of the period after putting up 10 in the entirety of the first. A 9-2 run for the T-Wolves tied the game, but the Kings pushed the lead back under their control despite continuous struggles from deep range. On the other hand, though, Minnesota’s three’s began to fall as they hit three in the winding minutes of the half, taking the lead 53-51 over Sacramento.

Minnesota hit a couple of three’s out of halftime and stretched out their lead for a moment before Sacramento went on a 10-2 run with the help of defense and pace. However, the Timberwolves answered with a snippy 5-0 run that stretched the lead back out. From there, the defense declined as both teams traded blows. The T-Wolves kept Sac off the free throw line aside from a technical attempt and lead 81-78 after the third.

The Kings started the fourth quarter well, holding Minnesota to no points in the first three or so minutes. But the Timberwolves scored on three of their next four possessions to tighten the game. Shortly after getting his fifth foul, which drew his protest, Sabonis grew furious when the officials did not call a foul for him in his hard-fought attempt inside. With their composure slightly stirred, Anthony Edwards began hitting some tough looks, over Barnes, over Sabonis, and over both on another occasion. But the frontrunner for the NBA most clutch player award had something to say as well.

Fox hit a huge step back three-pointer and then hit a floater after Gobert went just 1 of 2 from the charity stripe. Back on defense, the Kings forced a steal and Monk took it to the other end to gain a 4-point lead with under a minute remaining. At the line again following Sabonis’ sixth foul, Gobert again went 1 of 2, but Fox could not find the bottom of the basket. On the other end Jaden McDaniels hit a three on a broken play, almost undeniably walking with the ball before it. Fox left the final shot short and thus overtime was initiated. 

Sacramento was off to a good start to the overtime period without Sabonis as Monk facilitated ridiculously well, guys like Murray and Lyles were knocking down their looks, and Fox continued getting buckets. They made pretty easy work of the period with nice defense and execution.

Defense was solid

From the outset, it was clear the Kings defense was better than the previous contest. After looking sluggish on Saturday, guys were active and aware early on Monday, getting an early start on the 15 steals they would end up with at the end of the game.

In the first quarter, Sacramento did a great job keeping tabs on Minnesota, holding them to less than 20 points as their percentages started off in the pits. 

Coach Mike Brown posited that it may have been their best defensive quarter of play all season.

In the first, they were excellent at not giving their opponent easy looks, applying good on-ball defense, and flashing some great contests.

Out of the gate, D’Angelo Russell sure felt De’Aaron Fox. Kevin Huerter may never have gotten it going offensively, but he forced some misses early on. Davion Mitchell came in and did what he does, both against Russell and Edwards. And of course, Domantas Sabonis showed why Mike Brown thinks traditional shot-blocking is not necessary as the big man continued to rise up vertically to be a disruptive force defending near the rim. Even Trey Lyles did the same, bouncing back after allowing an easy layup on the prior defensive possession.

But the defense wasn’t perfect as the Timberwolves found a the rhythm that had evaded them in the first period as they put up 36 ahead of halftime. Part of the reason for this was that Sac’s ability to stop driver’s from getting deep in the paint was not as sound, which often set up for dump off passes to an active Gobert, who scored 10 of his 19 points in the second. 

Out of the halftime break, the Kings stepped it up again. It was more of the same; Fox’s ball pressure at one point forced an erratic shot attempt from Russell and Sabonis kept contesting vertically

More than that, though, the little things were there, too, such as when Keegan Murray got into good position as the low man to step in front of Gobert, and though there was no contact for a charge, he stopped the opponent from proceeding which led to an ill-fated lob that the rookie came down with for a steal.

And the extra effort was visible in the third. Here, Terence Davis closed out strong to tip a three-point attempt. On another occasion, Monk rotated perfectly to go vertical and disrupt a layup attempt. And here, Harrison Barnes turned it up a gear after his team turned it over to grab a steal as Minnesota got into transition.

Later in the game, they found ways to continue doing these things on defense. Davion’s ball pressure in part lead to this bad pass from Russell, allowing Davis to pick up the steal and assist Monk on the other end. The rotations and help were good. Murray remained on his toes, getting out to intercept another pass for a steal and keeping his hands active in overtime for another team steal. And helping to seal the deal in the extra period, Monk got in front of the ball handler in transition and maintained similar activity with the hands to force another steal.

It wasn’t by any means perfect as the Timberwolves found some easy inside scores to get to 50 paint points, but even as the continuity of good play on that end was not perfect as lapses occurred, the mentality was there. As Mike Brown would say, the “urgency” looked more legitimate. 

Can the Kings shape this sort of play into a more consistent habit?

One will have to wait and see, but they certainly proved they’d like to do that after putting in a great team effort here in late January when fatigue begins to set in.

Malik Monk is trending upwards

That is now two straight games—and three of his last four—where Malik Monk really looked like himself.

On Monday, Monk went 9 of 14 from the field—albeit, 0 of 2 from deep—for 19 points with 5 assists and 3 steals. 

He was fabulous, and on a night where Kevin Huerter struggled mightily—going 1 of 7 from the floor—Monk provided the necessary push to come out with the win. 

Monk was not just hitting shots and contributing to the defensive effort, he continued being that great facilitator, which unlocks so many things for him. Early in the second quarter, Monk hit a rolling Metu with a pass, as the big man went to the line. Not long after, a similar play unfolded and the expectation that he’d pass gave Monk just enough space to score, which he did.

Moreover, as part of the overtime unit, he set the tone. On the three initial scores for the Kings in the overtime period, Monk assisted all three, including this highlight reel pass to Lyles in the corner.

It’s interesting because there have been moments where Sacramento plays great stretches of basketball while Monk is not contributing his typical output, but in the times where he is able to do it, the elevated level of play for the team is more than noticeable and nearly untouchable.

As the sixth man the team needs, Malik Monk has such an imperative role and impact on this team. 

Lyles as a backup 5?

Trey Lyles continues to be an awesome role player for Mike Brown off the bench. His shooting, his defense, and his presence of mind always makes a positive impact in some capacity, and with 11 points, 3 rebounds, and some critical play in overtime with Sabonis out, he did it yet again.

Not only has Lyles played himself into being one of the best three players off the bench, but he’s forced the issue on other conversations about his usage.

One of the things brought up from time to time is his ability to play minutes as a small 5. As the 5, he uses his solid size (6’9″ with a sturdy frame) and his excellent effort on the boards to be a presence down low. He’s smart enough to be disruptive through fundamentals rather than physical size or athleticism. And he’s a great shooter that can really become a conundrum for centers, especially if they are comfortable down in the paint like Rudy Gobert.

However, again, with Lyles performing so well at everything he does and with every opportunity he’s given, should he be utilized more as a center?

The Sac Bee’s Chris Biderman gave credence to the thought, asking Mike Brown after the game if there is anything to the idea of Lyles being used more in backup center minutes.

“We’ve talked about it,” the head coach said in response. “It’s something that we have in our back pocket. We’ve done it before. Obviously, I don’t think we did it this long … but we’ve done it at least one other time before, if not two other times. I have made a minutes sheet with him sliding to the 5, getting some minutes. It’s something that we definitely can take a look at from time to time going forward, but the reality of it is (Chimezie Metu’s) playing well and same with Richaun (Holmes) — those guys have played well for us when they’ve gotten minutes at the 5.”

It appears it would take a lot for Lyles to become the backup 5. It does not sound like something Mike Brown would want because if Lyles becomes your backup 5 over a Metu or, should he be used, a Holmes, then you’d be letting a lot of the team’s size go unused.

Of course, the ability to go to Lyles is the thing that may become more frequent. Looking at the overtime period—specifically the three-point shot, the dunk, and the strong effort on the boards —Metu is not going to offer that while Lyles can.

Brown’s going to continue feeling out the rotations as they are and continue to find ways to make use of Metu’s athleticism and lenght, but it seems undeniably clear that when Sabonis is unavailable late in the game and things are close, Lyles is the guy. That was the case earlier in the month down in LA, it was the case Monday night.

He’s not the backup 5, but he can be a great wild card option as a small 5, which most fans know by now.

Terence Davis had an impact

Terence Davis has been a luxury for the Kings. For one, he’s extra depth, which often leaves him with several games where he doesn’t see much, if any, action. But the second element to his value is the fact that in spite of that inconsistent usage, he always tries to stay ready.

Even if the shots don’t fall right away, he is intent upon doing the necessary work to help the team.

In the previous six games prior to Monday’s win, Terence Davis saw three minutes of action in one contest. It was against the Grizzlies and in garbage time.

After a poor shooting start to Monday’s game, Mike Brown went to Davis, and though he didn’t shine in his first half time, he played such that he had a second half opportunity as well. And there, he played well. 

Late in the third and into the fourth, Davis brought nice intensity on both ends, just this time it came with some results. As noted in the defensive section, he tipped a three-point shot, got a steal, and showed good awareness stopping a ball handler in transition (no clip available).

Plus, he managed to knock down a pair of three’s on a night where the team managed nine total. 

Obviously, given the fact Davis’ place on the roster is a surplus luxury because Huerter and Monk are there, the idea he could be a target for other teams at the deadline is more than believable. But at the same time, on a night like this, he showed he very well can be that break-the-glass emergency guy if the Kings were to hold onto him.

It sounds so cliche at this point, but Davis again displayed the invaluable trait of being able to stay ready.

The Kings and the officials

De’Aaron Fox continued feeling the need to point out to the officials more often than not that defenders were making contact with him. From his aggressive start to his overtime finish, Fox had an inclination to keep letting the refs know when they missed something.

While it has been Fox more than anyone who jaws with the officials over the last few months, Domantas Sabonis returned to a similar disposition in a rare showing of emotion not really seen since his ejection late last season in Phoenix.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Sabonis was assessed his fifth foul for a moving screen, which seemed to summon the elite center’s frustration. Only a little bit of time lapsed before Domas felt he was not awarded a call after battling with multiple opponents down low both on his shot and rebound attempts. His enraged response was met with a technical foul that forced the big man to recuperate in the tunnel for just a moment.

Topping it off, after Sabonis got his sixth foul, the whole bench was incensed to see Jaden McDaniels travel before hitting the game-tying shot.

Ultimately, Sacramento held onto their composure, but it was yet another installment of the officials not making friends among the Kings, or more specifically, Fox and Sabonis.

Going forward

The Kings now head south for warmer weather down in San Antonio as they gear up to play the Spurs for the third time this season.

Sacramento took both of the first two, one at home and one on the road a little over two weeks ago. That most recent game was responsible for handing the Spurs their fifth straight loss and eighth in nine games, but they managed to get a win in the next game. However, since then, they have since gone on a six-game losing streak, which means this team has lost 14 of their last 16 games.

It was a rough January for the Spurs and the Kings will look to make it a tough start to February.

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[…] late January, for example, everyone remembers how the Kings defeated the Timberwolves in a road overtime game. Sabonis had fouled out and instead of going to the backup 5 at the time in […]


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