Kings Start Final Playoff Push With a Victory

SACRAMENTO, CA - FEBRUARY 23: Trey Lyles #41 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on February 23, 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 2022 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

After a snow storm delayed the Trail Blazers’ travel, their best players rested in their visit to Sacramento, and the Kings were able to take advantage of the situation, winning 133-116.

Despite some sloppy play (18 turnovers) and some suspect moments on the defensive end—especially to start—Mike Brown’s team brought a good energy as they begin the playoff push in the final stretch of the season. Making it all possible, they executed, shooting 54.0% from the field, 41.2% from three, and hitting 25 of 31 from the free throw line. By the end of the night, seven players were in double figures.

Domantas Sabonis got his seventh triple-double with 18 points, 18 rebounds, and 10 assists. Leading all scorers, De’Aaron put up 31 points on 11 of 15 from the field and 7 of 8 from the free throw line, marking his fifth straight game with at least 30 points. Rounding out the starting five, Harrison Barnes scored 15 while Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray contributed 10 points each. Off the bench, Terence Davis scored 20 and Malik Monk added 15.

Without Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, Jusuf Nurkic, and Justise Winslow, the Trail Blazers were forced to make do. Nassir Little had a season-high 26 points and Cam Reddish looked good with a 24-point performance. Keon Johnson and Trendon Watford added 16 and 15 points respectively. 

Sacramento’s stars and bench were great. Better, coming off the all-star break and taking on a depleted squad, it was a good start for the Kings as they seek to demonstrate that they are worthy of being among the top teams in the Western Conference.

Game summary (takeaways below)

The Blazers were playing like they were still in the air, taking off for a 19-4 start to the game. Sacramento missed a lot of open shots and it took Mike Brown an unusually long amount of time to call a timeout. The Kings got the offense going a little, but Portland’s three’s were falling (6 of 9) and Sac was turning it over (6 times). But the second unit closed it out strong with a stop and a Trey Lyles buzzer-beating three to cut the deficit to single digits, 29-37.

After giving up 16 paint points in the first period, the Kings allowed two straight dunks, but fortune quickly moved in their direction. Sacramento was able to go on a 12-2 run with the help of Fox, Barnes, and the lid that prevented Portland’s three’s from falling (1 of 8 in the quarter). The teams traded punches, but Sac closed the final three minutes of the half on a 16-2 run. With a Keegan Murray buzzer-beater put-back, they won the period 37-20 and lead the Trail Blazers 66-57. 

The Kings began the second half with good pace as Fox was attacking and getting to the line, but some good looks were missed and Nassir Little began to get it going with 9 points in the first four minutes. Harrison Barnes kept up his solid play, Terence Davis made a difference, and De’Aaron Fox was gearing up for late-game time, but Portland would not go away. Sac lead 100-91 after three as Fox almost added a third buzzer-beater for his team, getting fouled on a made jumper with a second left.

Fox was intent on wrapping up a victory, staying aggressive on both ends of the floor and doing a lot to expand the lead. Sabonis did the same, increasing it to 20-points. Before you knew it, the fans were chanting “Light the Beam” as the clock began to wind down.

Mike Brown’s expectations for the second half

“These guys have got to figure it out.”

That’s what Mike Brown said after the game when asked about his decision to wait on calling a timeout in the first quarter. Tony Harvey was curious about the strategy behind it, and Brown described how there’s only so much a coach can do at the end of the day.

“They got to figure out what they need to say to one another throughout the course of a ballgame when we have some sort of adversity and I can’t be the one always trying to solve the problem. And you guys know it, if you guys have a group of individuals and they’re able to police and coach and whatever themselves, that’s a lot better than hearing my voice all the time. My voice can only take them so far, and sooner or later it’s got to come from within.”

This falls right in line with what the head coach said at training camp.

“What excites me as a coach is when you feel like your group understands where the mistake happened and so they can coach themselves and realize that themselves,” Brown said at the start of October.

He went on to note that a strong team-wide understanding allows a head coach “to sit back like Phil Jackson or Steve Kerr with your legs crossed, watching your team play.”

This is vital for the big picture, but as the season winds down, it takes on a special importance in the short term, too. The postseason is not far off.

“Right now is the time because when we get in the playoffs, we gonna hit some adversity,” Brown added on Thursday night. “And I ain’t going to have enough timeouts versus those good teams in a seven-game series to fix all the problems all the time, so they gotta figure it out a lot of the time, starting now.

The bench was the spark

Fox and Sabonis were magnificent, but the bench made all the difference. 

Near the end of the first quarter—a period the Blazers won 37-29—members of the bench unit began to tug the game back in the right direction. All game, the Kings looked a little sloppy, but that was particularly true early in the first quarter; they looked off altogether. The performance of the bench unit shifted the momentum for the better.

“I thought our bench … overall did a nice job coming in and getting stops, getting the crowd back in the game, and playing with the right energy to get us over the hump,” coach Mike Brown said postgame

In the first, Terence Davis began to make his presence known, attacking the rim, applying energy on the glass, and playing solid defense. Trey Lyles brought a similar high-hustle impact and also hit a beautiful buzzer-beating three to end the period.

Into the second, it was much of the same. Alongside his college teammate, Malik Monk was showing he was more than back after hurting his ankle against Dallas a couple of weeks ago. Monk was getting to the line, playing well on defense, and remaining aggressive with every opportunity.

What took place in that second quarter was the primary reason for the turnaround that allowed the Kings to eventually run away with the game. It wasn’t just offense, it was the defense, and as seen here on Lyles’ help as Metu manned up a penetrator.

In the second half, Terence Davis reemerged, and really began to stand out and help put the game out of reach. On two instances, Davis provided excellent defense in transition, he also hit a couple of three’s and remained on the attack.

Davis continued his production, Lyles added some more defense, and Monk continued looking like himself. It was a great night for the bench as they helped the team turn a corner to get off to a great start in the second half.

Fox shines despite turning ankle

Not too far into the game, De’Aaron Fox appeared to turn his ankle while fighting through a screen. It looked as if there was some discomfort and after Mike Brown called his first timeout of the game, it seemed potentially worrying as Fox limped off the floor.

With him on the bench, there was a brief period of concern about his condition.

His exit was not too far off from the typical juncture where Davion Mitchell comes in for him, and he was not getting any unordinary attention while resting. The coast appeared clear when he got up to check in near the end of the period.

In the second quarter there was absolutely no sign that he was bothered. In fact, as the game advanced, it might have been easy to forget about the incident to begin with.

Fox scored 20 points in the second half, constantly attacking the rim either for scores or trips to the free throw line. Plus, he looked awesome on defense, showing yet again that his late-game abilities extend to the defensive end as well.

The bench positioned the Kings to win this game, but the all-star point guard played an immense—perhaps the biggest—part in pulling them beyond the finish line.

In all, Fox went 11 of 15 (73.3%) from the field, including 2 of 4 from three. He added 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and more importantly, a heavy dose of his ability to seize control of the game.

Even with the 31-point performance, don’t forget about that ankle. As Kayte Christensen noted on the broadcast, that could feel sore in the morning, and with a back-to-back, that’s something to keep an eye on.

Harrison Barnes: a hidden gem

Harrison Barnes had a great game. No, it did not stand out like the nights Fox, Sabonis, and Davis did, but the part he played in the second quarter proved invaluable.

In it, he scored 8 of his 15 points, earned all his total free throw attempts in the second period, and grabbed 2 of his 3 rebounds. But best of all, it was not necessarily the impact so much as how he impacts the game.

As the half began to wind down, Barnes was finding ways to score inside and disrupt on the glass. His heads up awareness got him to the line 5 times and allowed him to get in the right position to push the ball. His effort and execution was undoubtedly that of a professional.

Barnes’ efforts kept the foot on the gas as the Kings quickly transformed their slow start into a win with such a large margin.

Trouble at PDX for the Blazers

As many know, the Trailblazers had a hell of a time getting to Sacramento.

The low front up in the Pacific Northwest—which has inflicted all of California with this recent bout with winter weather as it moves southward—kept the team waiting up at Portland’s airport.

The team waited on the plane for about six hours Wednesday night before their original departure was cancelled. With all the delays that were caused, they finally got off the runway on the afternoon of the game.

And with that ordeal, the injury list for the night began to grow tall.

It really felt like there was a possibility the game would be postponed because of the weather situation. But really, as it turned out, it was better: the Blazers sort of forfeited.

With the travel implications and after the slew of names showed up on the injury report, the money lines began to foretell the story.

It was an unfortunate series of events for Portland as the try to make playoff run, but it sure worked in the Kings favor.

Going forward

The Kings will play the second of this back-to-back in Los Angeles to take on the Clippers on Friday night.

This will be the first game for LA coming out of the all-star break. They went 33-28 in the first half, currently sitting in the fourth spot in the conference, 1.5 games behind Sacramento.

It’s unclear whether newly acquired Russell Westbrook will play. It’s possible, but it’s also possible that they could be seeking more practice time to integrate him given that their plans are to eventually start the former MVP, which is fascinating because Westbrook was the frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year with the Lakers.

This will be a big game on account of the standings. The Clippers are really looking to make a surge with Kawhi Leonard looking more than in form, the deadline acquisitions of Mason Plumlee and Bones Hyland, and the signing of Westbrook.

So far, these teams have split the first two games of the season.

“We gotta come in and try to be on point for as close to forty-eight minutes as possible versus the Clippers because they’re right on our heels,” Mike Brown said after Thursday’s win. “So big test for us tomorrow night in a back-to-back situation.”

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[…] Brown has said a lot recently that he can only coach so much, and that the accountability has to come from within […]


[…] voice can only take them so far, and sooner or later it’s got to come from within,” he said, for example, after the win over Portland a few weeks back, which was the first game out of the […]

Dan Smith
9 months ago

Great win that game and a relief we didn’t have a let down. Got some good luck with Portland’s travel issues due to weather.