Takeaways Regarding Barnes, Mitchell, and Metu After Kings Secure 3-0 Trip Without Fox

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBUARY 28: Tre Mann #23 of the Oklahoma City Thunder plays defense during the game on Febuary 28, 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)

Perhaps it was less pretty than Sunday night, but the Kings once again beat the Thunder, this time 123-117 and without De’Aaron Fox, who sat out due to his left wrist.

Sacramento surrendered 62 points to their opponents inside the paint, struggling to stop Oklahoma City’s downhill attacks, and committed 19 turnovers for the second game in a row, in this case for 19 points. Even so, the team found a way to work together—assisting 34 of 43 field goals made (.790 assist-percentage), and holding the Thunder to 51 points in the second half—in order to win the game.

The Kings benefitted from several performances, the most impressive of them coming from the starting five. Leading the way, Harrison Barnes scored an efficient 29 points with 9 rebounds while Domantas Sabonis was one assist shy of a triple double, scoring 22 points with 13 rebounds. Another double-double came from Keegan Murray’s 13 points and 10 boards, and Kevin Huerter had a versatile offensive night with a much-needed 20 points and 9 assists. Last but not least, Davion Mitchell scored 15 points starting in place of Fox.

As noted, the Thunder were in it pretty much the entire time even without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander once again, getting a great performance from Santa Clara product Jalen Williams, who dropped 27 with 8 assists. And OKC’s bench combined to make probably the biggest difference for their team during the times when Sabonis went to the bench. Dario Saric scored 21 with 8 rebounds, Kenrich Williams threw up 11, and both Aaron Wiggins and Tre Mann added 10 points each.

“I kind of challenged the guys before the game,” Mike Brown relayed after the win with optimism. “I said we gotta get greedy and when you’re greedy in situations like this, that means you have a chance to be great. Because we could have said, ‘Fox is not playing, SGA’s not playing, if we lose this game, it’s okay because we’re 2-1 on the trip, we’re still sitting comfortably in third … and let’s get back home,’ but our guys came with a little bit of an edge tonight.”

The defense appeared to have a wider volume of perforations in this game—at least in the first half—and the turnovers were once again too high for Brown’s liking, but the Kings are in a winning mode, and that does not mean every win will be pretty. At the end of the day, Sacramento went 3-0 on their road trip and are now 4-0 since returning from the all-star break.

“So they played greedy,” coach Brown added. “And that’s what excites me about this team is knowing what’s at stake and still coming and performing the way that they did and get the win and finish this trip off the right way gets me excited about the group.”

Game summary (takeaways below)

Without Fox, Domas got off to a fast start with 8 points and 5 assists while playing some great defense on the other end. Sacramento’s pace was roaring to start, and because they were hitting their shots—Huerter was getting early points and Davion Mitchell hit his first three three’s—it was causing the Thunder offense issues at first. Though, not for long as OKC managed to score 22 paint points in the period and used a 14-9 run to cut the deficit to a reasonable size as the Kings led 44-38.

Sacramento played better in the second without Sabonis, whose absence later in the first allowed OKC’s surge. They were more sound on defense and getting inside on offense. After Domas returned, Sac went on an 11-3 run. But then they allowed Oklahoma City to go on a 20-11 run to close the half, continuing to demonstrate their never-quit approach and keeping the game more than within reach against some iffy defense. At halftime, the Kings held a 71-66 lead.

Both teams came out attacking in the third quarter, but the Kings tightened up their defense a few minutes in and went on a 13-0 run. But with Sabonis’ fourth foul taking him off the floor combined with OKC’s zone defense that exacerbated the absence of both Sabonis and Fox, the Thunder went on a 12-4 run to close the period. Sacramento still led by 6 after three, but Oklahoma City would not go away.

Mike Brown got Sabonis on the floor to replace Richaun Holmes—who’d replaced Chimezie Metu—after a minute of play in the fourth. On a roll, the Thunder managed to tie the game at one point. But then Harrison Barnes began to get his hands dirty, hitting from deep, at the rim, and making himself known on the boards. He helped restore a double-digit lead that OKC tried to chip at, but to no avail as the Kings held on to win it.

Harrison Barnes confirmed it again: he’s the third most important player

In specific moments, Harrison Barnes has the presence of mind to make the right play, typically involving his probing inside the paint either to get a score at the rim or earn a trip to the line. In that manner, he is able to keep the team grounded at times when they get away from what works. And for that reason, he’s the third most important player on this squad.

Without De’Aaron Fox, Barnes had to do that for practically a whole game, thus substantiating his importance to an even higher degree. Obviously, Sabonis was still there to play like an all-star, but Barnes took it upon himself to push Sacramento over the top in a close ballgame with the second all-star out.

“Our vet carried us home,” coach Brown said of Barnes after the game.

In 37 minutes of play—the most minutes played of anyone—HB scored 29 on 8 of 13 from the field, 4 of 5 from three, and 9 of 10 from the free throw line with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. 

Sabonis, Huerter, and Mitchell were all involved early, and Barnes joined them by continuing to push a strong pace. Here, Barnes gets the ball early in the shot clock following an OKC score, and seeing that the defense was not set, he attacked, getting to the line. And here, off a miss, Sabonis grabs the rebound and is able to find Barnes, who got down the floor and into the corner where he hit a three.

Evidently, Barnes was doing what he always does: making the right decision. And he kept doing that all night.

In the second quarter, Mike Brown was quick to get his veteran back in the game. Barnes had left the game in the first and a bit after that, Domas was replaced by Metu; with both of them off the floor, OKC managed a 17-12 run. Once HB returned, Trey Lyles got to the line and then Barnes himself did the same. While the Kings did not begin stomping their younger opponent upon his, and later, Domas’ return, they certainly helped right the ship once again in order to get the team to halftime with a lead and an opportunity for adjustments.

In the second half, he began by finding open space, but more importantly, when things got slightly out of hand, Barnes stepped in. After scoring on two straight possessions, the Kings had a horrible possession that resulted in a shot clock violation, so the shrewd veteran got to the free throw line, which set the course for a double-digit Sacramento lead with the help of Huerter, Sabonis, some Davion Mitchell defense, and an HB slam. He added a three-pointer before exiting the floor twenty seconds after Domas left in the aftermath of his fourth foul.

With both of them off the floor, OKC went on a 9-4 run to cut the deficit to single digits, and for the last thirty-six seconds of the period that Barnes was in there, they slashed it to six points going into the fourth.

There, Barnes scored 10 of his 29 points, doing so with the help of some three’s and a trip to the line, providing that perfect hybrid threat on offense to help come out with the victory.

Asked about his player’s ability to get to the line and make the right play by Chris Bidderman, coach Brown had nothing but good things to say:

“It allows us to attack different matchups, it frees other guys, it takes pressure off of other guys, and he’s a willing passer, too, so guys gotta be ready to catch and shoot when that ball comes out because he is gonna find the mismatch throughout the course of the game which is gonna command a double team.”

Overall, with Fox out, Barnes once again showed his immense importance to the Kings. He is also continuing to demonstrate why fans should be hoping to see him stay in the same uniform come next season.

Davion looked pretty good, but it wouldn’t hurt to attack more

The last time Davion Mitchell got a spot start in place of De’Aaron Fox, the backup point guard failed to make his presence known. He was an absolute non-factor on offense. Not hitting from the outside and not attacking the basket. Of course, his defense was there, but his lack of resolve made things easier for the Pacers.

Fast forward to Tuesday night’s start, and Mitchell’s performance was the opposite of that game in Indiana.

“You gotta take your hat off to Davion,” his head coach said of him postgame. “(He) did a heck of a job on both ends of the floor. He was fantastic for us offensively, he was spectacular defensively, I mean he just set the tone and changed the game when he was on the floor.”

To get it out of the way, defensively, Mitchell was characteristically impressive. At one point late in the game, his defensive pressure drew two offensive foul turnovers fighting through two Thunder screens in a matter of minutes.

Offensively, Mitchell finished with 15 points on 6 of 10 from the field and 3 of 7 from three. He added 4 assists as well.

It helped that he hit his first three attempts from three, never hesitating when the opportunity comes his way and seeing it pay off as he got an early feel.

“The thing I like about Davion — I don’t care what he’s shooting from three or whatever — if he’s open, and that ball gets swung to him, he’s gonna step in and shoot it,” Brown later added about the second-year guard. “And as much as he works on his shot, all he’s gotta do is see one go in and from there, it’s a wrap because he is a good shooter.”

Also to his credit, in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, Mitchell administered the dagger, giving the Kings a double-digit lead with less than a minute remaining. On it, he pump faked with the defender crashing, dribbled with his left hand and pulling up for a mid-range shot with the shot clock expiring.

However, one has to ask: Was it all dependent on the three-point shot?

It shouldn’t be. There’s no doubt he had a great spot start and deserves praise, but a consistent thing with Davion Mitchell is he is equally hesitant to use his offensive strength: attacking the rim. He had just one field goal in the paint, and it came on a cut in transition.

Of course, with him hitting his three, he’s on the defense’s radar, which helps open things up for everyone, but there were still a moment here and there of stagnancy where Mitchell could have used his quickness to attack.

For now, everyone can agree he had a great game, but it’d probably be helpful if that confidence can grow into a more dynamic sense of confidence, regardless of whether he’s starting or not, regardless of whether his jump shot is falling or not.

The backup center revisited: Holmes came in for Metu

Coach Brown was in the middle of commending Davion Mitchell’s determination whenever an open three comes his way, saying he’s a great embodiment of the “no hesi” (no hesitation) mentality that is one of the many mantras for this team, but he trailed off momentarily to add a note about other guys. 

“We have a couple guys that hesi denied when they were open from three and we gotta hopefully fix that because we have great shooters from top to bottom and they have to let that thing fly when they’re open,” he said in his quick aside.

He was talking about Chimezie Metu; maybe other guys, too, but definitely Metu. And he made the same point again near the end of his postgame press conference.

For just short of two minutes between the final seconds of the third and into the beginning of the fourth, Brown went with Holmes to close out the final minutes of Sabonis’ relief. 

Metu was not having an awful game per say; in the first half, he displayed some earnest defensive attempts, ran the floor well, had his moments on the boards, and even got one to fall off the glass when given an isolation chance.

But he demonstrated an incongruent sense of confidence. That is, there were two very different moments where in one, over-confidence was damaging, and in the other, lack of confidence was equally so. 

With the shot clock expiring in the first quarter, he played outside himself. Metu picked up a loose ball with the shot clock striking from seven to six seconds. With Saric on him, he attempted an ugly hook shot attempt. The shot clock was winding down, yes, but there was enough time to swing the ball along the perimeter. With Dellavedova—who’d hit a three on the previous possession—Monk, and Lyles all standing along the three-point line, there was a better shot potentially available.

Maybe one could live with it—after all, he went on to have a pretty solid half after that—but come the second half, he did the exact opposite. Metu had stepped up in the Clippers game last week with Sabonis’ foul trouble, stepping up in increased minutes to have a great performance, but after Domas was assessed his fourth in this one, Metu did not step up.

One could say that—similar to the forced hook in the first—he got away from his role. At the end of the day, part of his role is taking open three’s, and he hesitated on a wide open attempt in the third quarter. Hesitation from the perimeter strikes no fear in the opponent, and it often speaks volumes about a player’s self-opinion, which does not bode well for subsequent attempts if they are to be taken. 

Not long after his hesitation, Metu fulfilled the prophecy by taking his next open opportunity and missing.

Some minutes passed in the period—and a lot of empty possessions came and went for the Kings along with a 12-4 OKC run—before Holmes came in for Metu.

Now, is Holmes going to be the backup 5 going forward?

It’s highly unlikely at this moment since it’s not like Holmes played all that well. He was on the floor for 113 seconds and provided nothing except a turnover on a blatant moving screen.

If anything, Mike Brown was doing what he always does: holding his guys accountable. The head coach was making it plain and clear that all Metu has to do is play his role, which is to say he has to not play outside himself, accentuate his strengths (athleticism, etc.), and adhere to his role, which includes taking wide open three’s. And if he doesn’t, Brown’s letting him know he has no issue going down the line to the next guy.

In the end, it was a considerable lesson for Metu and an example of Mike Brown’s experienced coaching chops.

Going forward

Now the Kings head back west for a four-game home stand.

Five of the next six games will be in Sacramento with one game being played in Phoenix. It will be the highest concentration of home games before the end of the season. After it, the Kings will play nine of their next fifteen on the road.

Looking ahead, the most prominent of moments might be the first game of this four-game stand because it will be another matchup between the Kings and the Clippers. The two teams played exactly a week earlier in one of the most exciting games of the NBA season. Moreover, they are both still pushing and shoving in the highly competitive Western Conference.

You don’t need a fortune teller to convince you that it will be a fun one to watch.

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Dan Smith
Dan Smith
27 days ago

Can’t complain with the outcome in this one, all the guys did a great job. Pumped for Davion to have a bounce back game, win the DPOG chain and getting his shot to fall! Happy Brown won WC coach of the month, but a bit upset Swipa didn’t get POTM. Although Joker’s team did a bit better, his stats weren’t that great, slightly less than what he averages on the year, lol. Fox on the other hand is on a real tear, and doing something no one since Jordan did in the 90s. And his team did almost as good for the month of February. I guess the NBA couldn’t live with themselves, actually giving Sac two awards in one month!