Kings Keep the Ball Rolling, Bolster Spot in Standings

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 26: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings windmill dunks the ball during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 26, 2023 at Paycom Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images)

After a historic win on Friday night, the Kings kept it rolling, traveling to Oklahoma City to beat the Thunder 124-115.

De’Aaron Fox posted his seventh game in a row with 30 or more points, continuing his stretch of magnificent basketball with 33 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists. Fellow all-star Domantas Sabonis once again flirted with a triple-double, posting 14 points, 15 rebounds, and 8 assists. Rookie Keegan Murray put up 20 points. And the bench was a huge help once again with Trey Lyles scoring 16 with 6 boards and Malik Monk adding 12 points.

OKC did a nice job of staying in it despite the fact that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander did not play. It helped that the Kings committed 19 turnovers for 20 points and did not play great defense for the full 48 minutes.

Josh Giddey, Jalen Williams, and Lu Dort combined for 51 points in the absence of the team’s all-star. After a 3-point first half, Isaiah Joe managed to finish with 24 points on 4 of 8 from three to lead the Thunder, and Lindy Waters threw on 3 of 5 from three for 12 points. 

Mike Brown said the victory “wasn’t pretty”—pointing to the turnovers and the third quarter defense—but commended his guys for finding a way to win.

“At the end of the day — especially on the road, coming off an emotional back-to-back victory that was a double overtime game — you take a win in that situation a thousand times out of a thousand times,” coach Brown concluded postgame.

Since the Suns, Mavericks, and Clippers all lost, the Kings hold of the conference’s third spot tightened. As of now, they’re a full three games above Phoenix in the standings and one and a half behind Memphis.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Oklahoma City was attempting to drive up the pace from the start, but Sacramento was engaged on both ends to get off to an early lead. For much of the first, the Kings were shooting well over 50% from the field and making their three-pointers with nearly everybody getting involved. And in spite of SGA’s absence, the effort level on defense was high, translating to a dominant ability to push the ball. Sac’s shooting percentages leveled out slightly, but they lead 36-26 after one.

The three ball did not fall at the same rate for the Kings to start the second, but they were more or less maintaining a double-digit lead. The Thunder did cut it to 6 points, but Sacramento’s discipline improved with the help of Fox and Sabonis’ decision-making, closing the half well. It was a slower offensive quarter, but the Kings defense held the lead in tact as they went into halftime up 58-50.

Sacramento had the same pep in their step out of halftime, going up by 14 points midway through the third. However, OKC seemed to always have an answer at the ready. And at one point, the Kings allowed them to break open from three, hitting five in a row at one point as the Thunder went on a and scored 40 in the third. Going into the fourth, Sac lead 94-90. 

The start of the fourth quarter felt like the beginning of the third as the Kings found some momentum. Bench members and starters alike were contributing, but Trey Lyles in particular was having a hell of a period. Oklahoma City continued to stay in it, though, cutting the deficit down to single digits again as the final three minutes began. But in those final three minutes, the Kings weathered the storm, beating the Thunder.

“Found a way”

On Friday, the Kings played 58 minutes of playoff-like basketball on the second of a back-to-back away from home. It was a full twelve rounds of one for the ages, which meant it was loaded with heightened emotion.

After such a game, and such a workload, it’s all about how you respond once you fall back to earth. In the dog days of the NBA season and having to travel out to Oklahoma City, that was a hard foul back to reality, and yet the Kings never skipped a beat.

Aside from the turnovers and the defense at various points, the Kings could not have played better given the circumstances. A lot of it had to do with the fact they were locked in from the moment of the opening tip-off.

Thinking about the win over the Clippers as well as the win over Dallas ahead of the all-star break, Sacramento has found themselves on the winning side of some of the biggest games. But unlike the followup to the win versus the Mavs where they lost in Phoenix, the Kings managed to remain collected in order to beat OKC.

The Kings have shown some resilience this season, and this win showed a lot of character given how hard the Thunder played without their all-star. This could have easily been the trap game, but Sac showed up on time and got their work done.

Obviously, consistent defense and discipline would do a lot more, but this ability to find a way could serve the Kings well come playoff time. 

Fox’s February

In the month of February, De’Aaron Fox failed to score 30 or more points just once out of the  nine games he’s played. On Sunday, he got his seventh in a row and ninth in ten games.

Fox is averaging 32.0 points on 56.7% shooting, 4.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 2.0 assists per game this month. He’s also averaging 9.8 free throw attempts per contest and shooting 78.7% from the line.

He never had a slow start this season, but it’s his time of the season where he has the speed of a big rig rolling down hill. Nobody can stop him.

And it was more of the same on Sunday. The all-star point guard was hitting beautiful looks, finishing at the rim, getting to the line, using the attention he attracts to open things up for teammates, and applying nice pressure on defense. 

“Big time players play big time games and he’s a big time player, and he’s doing what he’s supposed to do for us,” Mike Brown said of his guy after the win. “We need that from him, especially on the road, and he’s more than given it.”

Lyles leads the bench

Malik Monk provided efficient scoring (4 of 5 from beyond the arc), Davion Mitchell brought some defense, and Terence Davis offered timely three’s, but Trey Lyles lead a nice bench performance.

Lyles went 5 of 8 from the field, including 3 of 5 from deep, for 16 points with 6 rebounds and 3 assists in 25 minutes.

Not long after coming into the game, Lyles laced a corner three that forced a Thunder timeout and as one can see, his three ball made a major impact in this win. And that’s not only because it provides the extra point, but because for Lyles—as is the case with so many other players—when the three ball falls, everything else opens up.

He’s a talented three-point shooter overall, but when opponents actually see them go down, they have to—again, like anyone—crash a little harder. When that happened, Lyles was able to get to the rim, earning free throw attempts or feeding his teammates.

Perhaps most commendable was his defense. Not long into his night, Lyles drew a charge, using good defensive movement as well as a savvy sell. He also utilized his movement and size to force a miss with this expert contest. And his effort shined on this steal in transition as he never gave up on the play.

And of course, he used his size to be a force inside and on the boards.

Keegan Murray is radiating confidence

Before going on to hit 4 of 9, Keegan Murray started 0 of 3 from beyond the arc. His first score of the game therefore came after a slight ball fake and a decisive drive to the rim, which was topped off by a gorgeous finish that came through a foul.

After the rookie hit the and-one, the message was clear. It was one of those moments where anyone watching could tell the confidence level of the rookie was continuing its rise and that it had just hit a milestone height.

And it’s true, Keegan Murray is one confident rookie.

More than the increasing volume of drives and finishes, one of the big indications of his confidence is how he can make major impacts on various aspects of the game. On Sunday, he looked awesome on defense.

If Gary Gerould hadn’t been such a disciplined menace and worked so hard to call his 3,000th game—an unquestionably prestigious feat—then the rookie would have won the DPOG chain, but it went to the G-Man.

Murray showed no mercy to lazy passes, nor did he neglect providing help as he did here by just taking the ball right out of Giddey’s hands. Similarly, he blocked Jaylin Williams (no clip available) and forced a jump ball. On top of all that, he used his length to come away with steals and found ways to secure stops on the boards.

All season, Murray’s confidence has grown in every area of the game. Sunday night, he showed that he is only continuing to raise the bar.

Domas’ mini passing clinic

Speaking of Murray, it’s hard not to mention one of the greatest passes of the season, which came the rookie’s way before sinking a three.

With minutes left in the second quarter, Domantas Sabonis hit Murray with a no-look dime.

It’s sort of funny that the assists category was the one where Domas came up short for a triple-double because he hit that and so many other nice passes in this one. Just because it wasn’t the most voluminous night for assists at just 8, it was nevertheless a passing clinic for the big man.

Sabonis was hitting guys outside from the inside, finding guys in transition with sharp eyes, leading guys into the push, squeezing bounce passes through, and connecting with guys in stride.

Another silently productive night for Barnes

In 33 minutes played, Harrison Barnes went 4 of 10 from the field, including just 1 of 5 from deep, for 9 points. Despite the low scoring production, there’s a reason he finished with the highest +/- of 24. 

Accompanying +24 night was his 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

First of all, Harrison Barnes did a great job of guarding Lu Dort on his dribble penetrations, coming up with a block at one point in the fourth quarter. HB also provided help to others on that end as was the case here when his help allowed Sabonis to get in a good position for a contest. Padding a nice defensive night, he drew a charge in the first period as well.

Additionally, he had a terrific night on the boards. He secured stops with rebounds, both short and long. Plus, he grabbed a few on the offensive end, and on this occasion, he found Monk for three.

And in spite of a single-digit scoring figure, he made his offense known when the Thunder gave the vet too much space, thus beckoning a robust throw down.

Going forward

The Kings will stick around to play these same Thunder on Tuesday before returning to Sacramento for a four-game home stand that begins on Friday night against the Clippers again.

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Dan Smith
6 months ago

Great to see the team come out with energy and get the W. I was half expecting them to be a bit flat from the emotions of Friday’s game and how taxing it is mentally, and physically…playing an extra 10 minutes inn a B2B. It’s almost like playing a 5th quarter. So pleasantly surprised they got the job done in convincing fashion for this one. Let’s hope they bring their A game again tonight in OKC. I don’t think SGA is going to play again, so they should be able to take it! LIGHT-THE-BEAM!