The Sacramento Kings took care of business in San Antonio with a 119-109 win over the Spurs. Better yet, they demonstrated why they are more than deserving of sending two all-stars to Salt Lake City in a few weeks.
The three-point shooting never really came around, but the Kings scored 74 paint points, had a +8 differential in turnovers that gave them 23 points off, and played competitive defense even as they themselves allowed a whopping 68 points in the paint.
Keldon Johnson was a menace inside to start, finishing with 18 points, and then Josh Richardson did much of the same in the second half, finishing with 19 points. Rookie Malaki Branham led the team with an impressive 22-point performance while Jakob Poeltl was his typical self with an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double.
But the Sacramento Kings’ best players really showed who the playoff team was. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis both had double-doubles. Fox Scored 31 points with 10 assists and did a great job throughout the contest of taking control of the game. And Sabonis had a season-high 34 points—17 in the first quarter—with 11 rebounds and 4 assists.
Along with the should-be pair of all-stars, Malik Monk had yet another terrific game, scoring 22 points with 4 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals off the bench. Harrison Barnes scored 14 with 6 boards and Keegan Murray put his eggs in the rebounding basket with 7 of them.
Credit to the Spurs for being a ceaseless tailgater in the Kings’ rearview, but Sacramento did what they had to do, utilizing some explosive offensive performances, the third straight game with 12 or less turnovers, and a decent defensive effort to come away with the winning result.
“For us to have a big win in Minnesota and then, coming here tonight, and not have much of a letdown — it was was good,” head coach Mike Brown assessed postgame.
Game summary (takeaways below)
The Kings defense looked sharp to begin with aside from some early layups for the Spurs; Sacramento was able to put San Antonio on their heels. While aggressive in their own right offensively, Popovich’s squad kept getting inside, scoring a total of 18 paint points in the quarter. The defensive activity and effort was undeniably there, carrying over, it seemed, from Monday night, and Sabonis had 17 first period points, but the Spurs ended the first on a 9-2 run to lead 31-30, spoiling a mostly good quarter.
Sacramento started on a 5-0 run with great offense and defense before allowing two straight scores at the rim. Out of a timeout, the Kings purged some of the bad, keeping up with the effective play on both ends to return with an 18-7 run, stretching the lead to double digits and keeping their field goal percentage well above 50%. Worse news for the Spurs, both Jeremy Sochan and Tre Jones left the game with injuries. But they managed to close the quarter out fairly well again with a mini 6-2 run, cutting Sac’s lead to 7 points.
The Spurs started the second half 3 of 5 from the field compared to Sacramento’s 1 of 4 as Josh Richardson got inside twice in a row, forcing a quick Mike Brown timeout. Out of it, Sacramento went on a 9-5 run as Fox turned up the aggression, continuing his nice performance. But San Antonio never let things get away, going for a 15-7 run to get the deficit within a point around the two-minute mark. The two teams sort of exchanged buckets, but Monk, Sabonis, and Fox had their’s up 89-84 after three.
Sacramento started poorly in the fourth with two quick fouls for Chimezie Metu, a couple of turnovers, and some paint scores for San Antonio, but Fox took control of the wheel, finding Barnes for a three, playing defense, and getting to his spots. It appeared Fox and company was closing the deal, driving up the lead to 13 points, but the Spurs were persistent to stay in it, getting deep into the paint a few times to force help from Sabonis, which helped create some open scores. In the final minutes, though, the Kings were able to hold them at bay, getting the second victory of their road trip.
Fox has to be an all-star
Both of Sacramento’s stars had phenomenal nights in San Antonio, but given the circumstances, the attention has to go to Fox, who his head coach called “brilliant.” That takes nothing away from a season-high scoring night for the big man as it just seems his cohort deserves some extra love.
With this game coming the night before all-star reserves are announced, it would be a ghastly shame if the Kings didn’t have two-all stars. Domantas Sabonis is most assuredly bound for Salt Lake City, and after his game against the Spurs, it feels like it could be a similar fate for De’Aaron Fox. At least that’s how it should be.
Five of six writers at NBA.com put Fox on their ballots. Fox is the head of the snake on the third best team in the Western Conference. He’s the leader in clutch scoring. And he affects the game in multiple areas; that was clear Wednesday night.
Going 13 of 23 from the field for 31 points with 10 assists, 3 steals, and a block, Fox put together an all-around performance from start to finish, putting the offense on his back at times, being a facilitator, acting as the head of the snake defensively, serving as the leader, and closing out the victory.
Obviously, Fox inflicted damage offensively, putting in some sweet scores and supplying his teammates with beautiful feeds. Additionally, readers can get more on the defense below, but Fox was simply the head of the snake in terms of effort and execution on that end as well. And even with the Spurs doing their best never to go away, Fox made sure to keep the game out of their reach until the final buzzer, taking matters into his own hands and being a guiding force for his teammates to feed off of.
Given the success of the team, his own stats, and the completeness of his game, it would be a real shame if De’Aaron Fox did not join Sabonis at the All-Star Game.
“I mean you gotta think people would take into consideration your record,” Mike Brown noted after the game. “And because, again, even on a bad team, somebody’s gotta score and if you have guys just scoring then they’re obviously not doing something right to help their team win. And that’s why, to me, (Fox and Sabonis) are clear-cut All-Stars, but at the end of the day it’s not just my decision.”
Nobody will have to wait long to hear since the reserves are announced this afternoon at 4 pm PST.
Monk back on the 6MOY radar
Well, January may not have been the most productive month for Malik Monk as he averaged 9.9 points on 39.5% from the field and 28.8% from three. His assists remained at the roughly 4 per game mark, but the lack of scoring punch was a severe disadvantage for a team that benefitted greatly from his Sixth Man of the Year-worthy play earlier in the season.
As February gets underway, Monk has a chance to bounce back and produce a good statistical month. He got off to a good start.
In three of the final four games in January, Monk was solid. He had 13 against Memphis, then came the Toronto game that was disappointing for everyone, and that was followed up by a 13-point and 19-point performance in the two games against the Timberwolves. Through those four games, Monk shot 58.3% from the floor and 42.8% from beyond the arc.
On Wednesday, Monk went 8 of 13 from the field and 2 of 3 from deep for 22 points and 5 assists.
Naturally, his two-man game with Sabonis, whom was the beneficiary of 4 of Monk’s assists, was on point, but it’s hard to discredit how important it is that Monk is converting shots. He’s shown how passing opened up his shot opportunities, but when those shots don’t fall, even the assists can be harder to come by. They go hand in hand.
Plus, it’d be unthinkable if Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, and Malik Monk all struggled from three. The importance of Monk offering fill-in production highlights and shows the full advantages of Sacramento’s depth.
And it’d be hard to neglect how his mojo and thus his energy rises when he’s feeling it. That in turn positively affects his teammates. It was illustrated well when Monk nearly had the highlight of the year in the fourth quarter as he drove, spun, and drew back the hammer for a dunk over the imposing Jakob Poeltl; he didn’t convert it—just earning a trip to the line—but he fired up everyone.
“Malik’s ability to get downhill was something that we needed tonight,” coach Brown said after the win.
Because Monk is so vital as the primary component off the bench, he is able to take the Kings to another level when he has games like this and when everything is unlocked for him.
Admirable defensive performances
There were many instances where a Spurs player would penetrate into the paint, beckoning Sabonis to slide over to help, which often opened opportunities for dump offs, wide open lanes, or offensive rebound/put back chances. San Antonio ended the game with 68 paint points.
Even still, there were a lot of good defensive moments and stretches to admire.
Out of the gate, the Kings looked great defensively. Early on, Harrison Barnes—who lead the team in plus-minus—had some nice moments, including a vertical contest, a great use of hands, and some timely help. While he put up 17 points in the first, Sabonis was also providing great D from the start, staying active here with an effective contest. Even Terence Davis brought his tenacity, going hard into a screen to draw an offensive foul.
Into the second, Metu, Monk, and Lyles (no clip for him) all showed some fundamentally sound defense off the bench, and Fox lead probably the best team stop of the night. And Kevin Huerter, who had another slow offensive night, continued doing little things as he did in the first quarter, such as providing heads up closeouts.
Out of halftime, Sabonis displayed his defensive chops, getting in position to go straight up on a contest, using savvy hands, and contributing significantly to stops. Davis continued his high-effort play on that end, Monk did as well with his rotations, and Fox was heads up enough to draw a charge in transition.
And not too long into the fourth, Fox drew another offensive foul on top of forcing a turnover and taking control on offense. Sabonis also kept being the perfect model for rim protection that has nothing to do with traditional shot-blocking.
The defensive urgency looked adequate on Wednesday.
The team’s three-point shooting over last three
This was the third game in a row where the Kings shot 30% or lower as a team from beyond the arc. During the weekend, they went 9 of 33, and in the second game in Minnesota, they went 9 of 30. On Wednesday against the Spurs, Sacramento shot 8 of 27 for a 29.6% clip.
Still, Sacramento has managed to go 2-1 over these last three, utilizing much better defense in both victories in spite of the poor outside shooting.
In the previous 10 games prior to the road trip—a stretch they went 7-3 in—the Kings were shooting 43.1% from three with close to 16 makes per contest.
If anything, this is to say that the Kings are finding ways to win. And what’s more, it’s a lesson to show how important the defense is. If the defensive effort is lower over these last two contests, both easily could have been losses. Instead, Sacramento is off to a 2-1 start to this grueling seven-game road trip.
Indiana is the next stop for the Kings, and it’s a game that will be met with great anticipation.
After suffering a knee bruise late last March against Phoenix, Domantas Sabonis was unable to travel with the team to Indiana. Friday night will be the big man’s first homecoming return to his former team. It should be a big moment for him.
And of course, as always, there’s an added element to any Pacers-Kings game because both organizations made big and beneficial moves just last year, setting each on their own course to success.
Tyrese Haliburton has been out since January 11, but after fully participating in two practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, he’s expected to play tonight against the Lakers. He’ll almost certainly be ready for Friday’s game against Sacramento.
In the last eleven games for Indiana, which stretches back to January 11, the Pacers have gone just 1-10 without their special point guard. They’ll probably be bringing an added competitive flare despite it being the second of a back-to-back for them.