Fox Shows Why He’s an All-Star, but Kings Can’t Overcome Poor Start

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 08: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings controls the ball during the second half against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on February 08, 2023 in Houston, Texas. 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 Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Kyrie Irving and the Mavericks put themselves up by a large margin early on and the Kings were unable to overcome it, losing 114-122 in the first of a back-to-back against Dallas.

The Mavs hit a total of 18 out of 43 (41.9%) three-point attempts, 12 of which came in the first half. The also shot over 50% in the first half, with a 64.3% clip in the first period, which also featured 20 paint points. They lead in points of turnovers, second chance points, and assists.

In his second game with Dallas, Kyrie Irving scored 25 with 10 assists. Josh Green scored 17 with 7 assists, Reggie Bullock put up 13, and Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 15 with 7 boards. Off the bench, Jaden Hardy went 4 of 5 from three for 12 points, Christian Wood scored 13, and Javale McGee had 11 and 9 filling in a lot for starter Dwight Powell, who was in foul trouble.

That first quarter–and maybe a poor shooting night from beyond the arc–was the dealbreaker in this one for Sacramento. After all, the Kings shot 54.2% from the field and got to the free throw line 32 times.

All-Star De’Aaron Fox dropped 33 points with 6 rebounds and 5 assists. Fellow all-star Domantas Sabonis scored 18 with 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Keegan Murray went 4 of 5 from deep for 16 points, and despite going 0 for 3 from three, Kevin Huerter scored 15 points. Off the bench, Terence Davis scored 9 points on 3 of 4 from behind the line, and Malik Monk had 8 points and 4 assists in 15 minutes before exiting with a right ankle injury in the third quarter.

Like Mike Brown said after the game, “it’s hard to recover from” an opponent scoring 45 points in the first quarter, noting a need for his team to play harder from the start in the second game against Dallas.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Domantas Sabonis was aggressive to start, going at Powell who had two early fouls (one from Fox’s efforts), but the team struggled to hit shots and Kyrie Irving in the pick-and-roll was causing trouble, assisting four early baskets, including three easy looks at the rim. Even after Irving left the floor, Dallas went on a run. Sac struggled to hit shots and were sometimes being disrupted by the Mavs’ defense. And all quarter long, Dallas scored inside (20 points), and worse, they scored 45 in all, leading by 20 points after one.

Sacramento looked like a different team to start the second, going on an 8-3 run on the back of some effective defense and Fox’s aggressiveness, forcing Dallas centers into foul trouble. But Dallas recuperated, utilizing great movement (23 first half assists) and hitting their three’s (48.0% in the half for 36 points; their bench alone went 6 of 8). The Kings, meanwhile, shot 25.0% from deep and were -5 in turnovers. The Mavericks lead 74-56 at the half.

The Kings played better defense, but Kyrie and the Mavs were still finding ways to score. Keegan Murray did hit a couple of three’s, showing glimpses of hope from beyond the arc for his team, but the defense lapsed as the Mavericks found three consecutive scores in the paint, pushing the lead back up to 20. But Sacramento cranked it up, going on a 15-9 run to trail by just 14 points after three.

After Dallas hit a three on their first possession, the Kings went on an 13-3 run as they remained aggressive with their offensive attack and forced Mavericks misses. However, the Mavs went on a 7-1 run to go up by double digits again. De’Aaron Fox, on both ends of the floor, did so much to try and close the gap, scoring 11 points in roughly the final two minutes. Despite being held to 21 points in the period on 25.0% shooting with just 2 paint points, Dallas had the clock on their side–plus Sabonis fouled out–and the hole Sac dug for themselves early on proved, in the end, too large to climb out of.

Slow start defensively made all the difference

The first quarter decided this game.

“We just weren’t good at all on (the defensive) end of the court in the first, and I think that’s where we lost the game,” De’Aaron Fox assessed after the loss, adding that being forced to play “uphill for three-quarters of the game isn’t going to cut it.”

Asked about whether it could be attributed to defensive lapses or a game plan issue, Mike Brown indicated the latter, taking most of the fall.

The very next question regarded what was behind the surge in play on the defensive end as the contest progressed. (Note that Dallas was held to below 30 points in the final three quarters and lost each of them; they also finished with 44 paint points after scoring 26 in the first half.)

“We didn’t really change the game plan in the second half, we just played a little harder, or a little smarter, and we ended up getting some stops,” coach Brown responded. “So we have to come out with that same mindset at the beginning of the (next game).”

While it was a little humorous that he sort of had the coaching staff take the primary blame before going the other way in his next response and noting the players’ effort level and “mindset,” his initial head coach-like rhetorical strategy doesn’t hide the truth of his second statement.

The players knew it.

“We weren’t being physical,” Fox, the team’s floor general and leader, noted. “Like Mike (Brown) says all the time, in the first quarter, they didn’t feel us at all. I think, for the most part, the rest of the game they did.”

As coach Brown also says all the time, even if the defense is “not good,” the fact they’ve “shown flashes” of it is enough to give them hope. They just have to generate that level of play and sustain the competitive “mindset” from start to finish, which seems to come with time.

The players know that, too.

“I think when we’re having good stretches, I think we’re in passing lanes,” Fox noted. “I think, in pick-and-rolls, we have high hands, just trying to make passes sail instead of it being a straight line pass, or cutting off straight-line drives … And then there are too many times and too many lapses where there are backdoor cuts or they’re getting downhill too early and someone has to rotate and now it’s an open three. So when we have all five guys on a string, I think we look really good defensively.”

He may not be on the team anymore, but Donte DiVincenzo late last year referred to progress as forming “good habits.” The Kings are just trying to sustain those good habits on the defensive side, and habits form over time. 

It’ll be interesting to see if they can carryover their solid play late on Friday into the second of this back-to-back.

Fox the all-star, Fox the two-way player

Kyrie Irving is a future Hall of Famer and he showed that in this game. It was an absolute joy from an objective perspective to watch two of the very best point guards in the game today battle it out.

But focus goes to new all-star selection De’Aaron Fox, who not only lead all scorers with 33 points on 10 of 16 from the field and 12 of 14 from the charity stripe, but also supplied a necessary level of aggression and who actually played great defense from start to finish (Sabonis as well as they combined for 10 deflections).

He did the typical things like getting to the line, assisting his teammates, pushing the ball, having awesome finishes, hitting from his spots, and taking control

But that defense is what makes Fox so special. It’s really not hype when people say he’s a two-way player.

Early on, he was applying nice effort to stay on ball, fighting over a Dwight Powell screen to draw an offensive foul a few minutes into the game. Tim Hardaway Jr. had little chance trying a turnaround fade as Fox used his chest and extended arms to force a miss. Here, Fox played great on-ball defense against that aforementioned future Hall of Famer, ending up with a block. And he was engaged on the glass–on a night where Dallas grabbed 11 offensive rebounds–grabbing the board here to secure the stop and taking it to the other end for a layup.

Even as his team lost, his individual performance and what he did not make the margin just 8 points was perfectly illustrative of why he’s more than deserving of being an all-star, and on the day of his selection, no less.

Monk’s ankle injury

Late in the third quarter, Malik Monk penetrated into the paint and hit a finger roll layup, but he landed awkwardly, hurting his right ankle. His pain was immediately noticeable as he shrieked and slammed the hardwood with the palm of his hand. 

He eventually got up and walked to the locker room. It appeared there wasn’t the biggest of limps, but he was moving gingerly nonetheless.

After the game, Mike Brown confirmed that he’s getting tests on his right ankle, but had no further information. 

On three possessions leading up to his injury, Monk had it going, probing around with the ball getting to the rim for a score, and hooking Terence Davis up with two good looks from three. He had 8 points and 4 assists, and considering the crusade his team was trying to carry out to overcome the dismal first quarter, the injury was especially unfortunate.

Moreover, Monk is coming off a great road trip where he averaged 17.0 points on 55.7% from the field and 48.1% from three with 3.7 assists. He appeared to be getting it going.

The Kings have had plenty of luck in the health department this year, one wonders if it can last. Hopefully this injury isn’t too serious for Monk, but with a game slated for the next night, it’s unlikely he plays.

An injury that causes Monk to miss extended time could be very bad, but it makes one appreciate the presence of Terence Davis, who was not moved at the deadline.

Keon Ellis saw early time; Kessler Edwards soon?

Keon Ellis logged early minutes in this game. He’d looked really good in garbage time against New Orleans last Sunday, and one only wondered if he’d get a shot to crack the rotation given the need to bolster the consistency of the perimeter defense.

In this case, Ellis did not look all that great, which may be the first time that’s happened.

The undrafted rookie played 4 minutes, all in the first quarter. It was only a little bit of time, but he did not look comfortable out there, hence why his number did not get called after.

One moment in particular stands out and sums up his night. At one point, he was applying great, high-effort ball-pressure, but he had a miscommunication that allowed a wide open opportunity at the rim for Christian Wood. Keon Ellis crashed as hard as he could to make up ground, but having to catch up essentially, he was not able to defend it soundly, coming up with the shooting foul.

That obviously doesn’t discount the fact that Ellis should be a contributor for the Kings some day in the near future, but he does have some work to do.

The fascinating thing about the early minutes for Ellis was that Sacramento’s lone trade deadline acquisition Kessler Edwards did not get the nod. Of course, there are plausible reasons, one being Edwards is still adjusting to the team, the environment, and the language, and the second being that the rookie is already entrenched in it.

One day more with a team may not make a difference, but don’t be surprised if Edwards gets some time on Saturday. Not only did Ellis not look all too impressive, but the Monk injury creates a “next man up” mentality.

Mike Brown did say postgame that he just wants guys on the floor who can consistently “stay in front of the basketball and not have too many mental (errors) defensively.” Maybe Kessler Edwards can provide a little of that.

Going forward

The Kings play this same Dallas Mavericks team tonight as the final of their back-to-back. Just in this second game, the Mavs should have Luka Doncic.

Sacramento can bounce back. It’ll be the second game of a back-to-back, and many will tell you it’s hard to beat an NBA team twice in a row. And it could be the first game Kyrie and Doncic play together, which could obviously cause a lot of trouble, but it’s almost more likely that it could be a moment of adjustment for Dallas that is advantageous for the Kings.

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[…] was the first of back-to-back contests against Dallas in February and another was the final game before the All-Star break in Phoenix. Ellis played less […]


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