Lack of Defensive Intensity Affords Minnesota a Feast of Good Looks, Ends Sac’s Win Streak

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 4: Kessler Edwards #17 of the Sacramento Kings plays defense during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 4, 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 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Sacramento’s post-break win streak ended at 5 games with a loss on Saturday against the visiting Timberwolves by a score of 134-138.

The Kings had a valiant second half effort, but Minnesota’s 60.0% shooting from the field and 51.3% from three was simply too much. This was the second of a back-to-back for Sacramento, and in their previous contest, their defense looked a step behind, and in this second game, there was plenty for a coach to scrunch their face about in terms of lack of necessary intensity.

Domantas Sabonis got his 51st double-double (a new career single season high) with a 24-point, 14-rebound night and Kevin Huerter lead all scorers with 29 points. Though he could not extend his 30-plus point streak to nine games, De’Aaron Fox made a late-game push to finish with 25 points and 7 assists. Harrison Barnes contributed 20 points as well, and Trey Lyles added 15 points and 18 boards.

But the Timberwolves got a collection of impactful performances. Anthony Edwards lead his team with 27 points and 8 assists while Mike Conley hit 4 three’s to finish with 24 points. Rounding out their starting lineup, Jaden McDaniels scored 19 points, Kyle Anderson put up 18 with 7 boards and a team-high 9 assists, and Rudy Gobert contributed 13 and 14.

“You kind of hate to say this, but we weren’t stopping anybody tonight,” Mike Brown said postgame at one point, later highlighting the high comfort level his team’s defense let the opposition play with.

Still in third place, the Kings now stand 2.5 games ahead of Phoenix and 1.5 behind Memphis.

Game summary (takeaways below)

De’Aaron Fox was pushing a good pace early and Kevin Huerter was off to a pleasant start on both ends, but Minnesota was shooting slightly better and getting more trips to the line (14 in the first) to get out ahead early. Harrison Barnes was attacking the rim, helping the Kings gain a lead, but two straight turnovers from the vet allowed a 6-point T-Wolves swing to regain an advantage with three-point shooting and fast break scores. Worse, Anthony Edwards began to go off as the Kings left the first period down 30-36.

Three’s continued falling for Minnesota in the second quarter, but with Malik Monk’s energy and a few Harrison Barnes three’s, the deficit shrunk with a 9-0 run, but the T-Wolves unwound an 8-1 to extend the lead to 10 points. Sabonis chipped away at it, but the Timberwolves’ were hitting from the outside (11 of 19) and converting fast break opportunities (+10), often off of good defense. At halftime, Sacramento trailed 64-74.

Huerter scored 12 early third quarter points, scoring from all three levels. But in spite of efforts—both good and bad—the Timberwolves were still watching their three’s fall. And Anthony Edwards was merciless, pushing his team’s lead to 18 points. Huerter and company then went on a 17-3 run to shrink the lead down. A few more three’s for the Timberwolves preserved their lead, but the Kings were down just 102-105 with the crowd back into it.

Without Fox or Sabonis to start the fourth, the second unit—Lyles as the small 5 and with Kessler Edwards in alongside Harrison Barnes, the lone starter—did a nice job of getting various good looks, but three straight T-Wolves three’s forced an early Mike Brown timeout. Minnesota went on to build an 11-0 run, but an aggressive Fox helped the Kings respond with a 12-4 run, pulling the game back into close reach. Fox and Anthony Edwards went toe to toe down the stretch.

Edwards sunk a beautiful pull up mid-range to put his team up 4 points with a little over thirty seconds left. Fox came back on the other end and drew a foul on his all-star counterpart on a jump shot, hitting both free throws. Down 2, the Kings tried to force a turnover, but then fouled because, as coach Brown said after the game, “there wasn’t much confidence shown by our team to say, ‘okay, we’re gonna rely on our defense to get a stop.'” Conley hit both at the line, which pretty much sealed the game after Fox missed a step back three attempt.

Why did Minnesota go 20 of 39 (51.3%) from three?

The primary takeaway was the comfort level from behind the three-point line for Minnesota.

To recap, the T-Wolves hit more than half of their attempts to earn 60 of their points from beyond the arc. All of their players that attempted one, made at least one. The only guy that shot below 50% from deep was Anthony Edwards (2 of 8), who was getting his scores in the paint, in the mid-range, and at the free throw line. Mike Conley end 4 of 8 and so did Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Kyle Anderson went 3 for 3, Jaden McDaniels went 3 for 5, and Naz Reid went 2 for 3.

Nearly half their made three’s came from the corners, an area where a lot of good looks appeared as the Timberwolves were consistently able to attack, collapse, and force scrambles of the Kings defense using the pick-and-roll.

But it’s hard to ignore the fact that a lot of those three’s were juicy looks, which is why Tony Harvey asked for some more information on what the defense was and wasn’t doing to defend the “skip passes” out to the corners. 

Mike Brown explained defending the pick-and-roll, detailing how if the original on-ball defender “doesn’t bust his ass to get back in front of the ball,” and instead “just stays on (the driver’s) hip and let’s him down” low, then opportunities will be aplenty, adding the notable nugget that if the defense doesn’t show “high hands to force a hang time pass,” then the passer will be able to throw a dart to the corner, “where it’s going to be hard” to get back to.

It’s so easy to say “just run them off the line” when a team is going off from outside. Similarly, it’s so easy to prescribe a shot-blocker when the team gives up around 60 or more paint points. But it appears to come down to putting in that full effort level (i.e ball-pressure, active hands, getting back in front of the ball handler, etc.) in order to have that five-men-on-a-string success.

Kessler Edwards: “a bright spot”

“There was a bright spot: Kessler Edwards,” coach Mike Brown said in his opening remarks in his postgame presser. “I thought getting thrown in the mix and telling him to go guard Anthony Edwards — it’s one of the toughest assignments in the league, and you’re not going to stop a guy like that, but I thought he did a good job of making him work for his points.”

Brown called the decision to go to Edwards—and before that, Dozier—an “in-game adjustment.”

It wasn’t a surprising one. The head coach has said several times that he has to find the right combination defensively, and Saturday night was one of those games where that came to the forefront. The acquisition of Edwards and the resigning of Dozier hinted that they would have their opportunities. And with their length, defense, and fair share of experience (more than KZ Okpala), there was a good chance that one of them could step up for situations like this.

“I know I don’t want to go into the playoffs playing the way we are defensively, and so it’s my job to keep trying to find different combinations that can help us get stops,” Brown explained Saturday night. 

The head coach went on to note the reason why his hand was forced and need to put a different guy out there.

“Even in a pick-and-roll situation, our coverage is right, but there’s no ball pressure, we don’t get back in front of the ball to stop it, we just stay on the guy’s hip and let him drive down the floor and then they skip it with ease because there’s no ball pressure, because there’s no high hands, and we can’t get the shooters if they’re able to play as comfortable as they play tonight.”

Obviously, Kessler Edwards can’t fix all of that on his own, but he can be a productive working part of a team that does. 

Going forward, don’t be surprised by seeing #17 out there.

“He’s long, he’s athletic,” Brown elaborated on Kessler Edwards. “He has pretty good feet and so he can step, slide, and take a hit without being knocked off balance. He can space you just enough to where he can bother you if you raise up — Anthony (Edwards) raised up a couple of times because he thought he had a clean look from the three, and Kessler’s still long enough to bother him. So you like his physicality, you like his ability to stay in front of the ball and not give up (the) middle. And then if he’s open, he can knock down a shot, too.”

Kevin Huerter scoring from all three levels, passes 4,000 career points marker

Following the previous game before this, Kevin Huerter was proclaimed to be a resilient scorer. Another way to put that is he is more than able to score from all three levels. He demonstrated that against the Clippers and he did so again versus Minnesota. 

Huerter shot 6 of 9 from beyond the arc, converting step backs and deep ones alike. From the mid-range, he was equally automatic. And the red-headed guard was getting inside scores as well, in transition, on cuts, and on his own.

Notable for his career, his first make from three-land on the night put him over the 4,000 points marker.

His ability to score at all three levels has been readily apparent all season long; if anything; his three-point slumps were the only thing that maybe indicated otherwise. Huerter’s consistently found other ways to score with his elevated role with the Kings.

Since the all-star break, Huerter is averaging 15.7 points on 44.4% from beyond the arc in six games. He’s rolling it all into one as the final stretch unfolds.

Fox’s late-game surge and left wrist

In the first 32 minutes of regulation, there were only 9 points in the scoring column for De’Aaron Fox on 4 of 13 from the field. The Kings were down 

From the outset, Jaden McDaniels—a long wing that stands at 6’9″—guarded De’Aaron Fox, forcing an early turnover. It did not take long for him to be assessed with two early personal fouls, but Minnesota put an emphasis on trying to plug up that point of attack. When McDaniels was on the floor against Fox, he was pretty effective as his height advantage was able to get up good contests and be disruptive.

McDaniels’ defense was on display late in the game, too (see here and here where he forced two additional turnovers). However, at the same time, credit goes to Fox for initiating a push that nearly won his team the game late.

In the final 16 minutes of regulation, Fox went 6 of 9 from the floor, converting 4 of 5 trips to the free throw line for 16 points.

What made his final surge so impressive was that in the first half, Fox was reportedly appearing to nurse his left wrist. Recall that on Tuesday in OKC, Fox sat out due to a left wrist issue.

De’Aaron Fox did notably airball two shot attempts. He did not speak to the media after the loss.

It’ll be worth keeping an eye on whether anything further develops from this.

No second half minutes for Metu; Lyles put in as the small 5

When Domantas Sabonis was assessed his fourth foul at the five-minute mark of the third quarter, it was Trey Lyles who came in as his replacement, not Chimezie Metu. By the end of the night, Metu did not see any second half minutes.

Asked about the decision, Mike Brown noted his rationale, saying there’s “just a little bit more spacing” because Lyles is “shooting the ball at an extremely high level,” offering a “different look” that “takes Rudy (Gobert) out of the paint a little bit.”

“For us, to go to Trey — it’s just a luxury because at the end of the day, if they want to keep trying to punch the ball into a guy like Rudy, you kind of live with it and see what happens. And then, on the other end, with the way we shoot the ball from the three-point line, let’s get out and run, play drag pick-and-pop and see if we can hit a couple of three’s to get them disjointed.”

Lyles had a terrific game, hitting 3 three’s, getting to the free throw line, and adding 8 rebounds, including a pair on the offensive glass.

Keegan Murray’s silent night

Keegan Murray did not attempt his first field goal until about midway through the second quarter with a missed three. His second attempt—also from three—came at the start of the second half, and after that miss, that was it. 

The rookie finished with 0 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists in about 20 minutes. It’s the first time in his young career that he did not score a single point in a game.

Minnesota did a good job of keeping good looks from falling in his lap, and he did not seek out any on his own. That last point is not necessarily a bad thing; it’d be bad if the kid were forcing things. However, for the last week or two, all the talk has been about Murray’s ascendance into a more confident NBA player with some remnants of a do-it-yourself mentality.

Murray is shooting 50.0% from the field and 38.6% from three since the all-star break. It’ll be interesting to see what he does Monday night after a day off.

Going forward

The Kings get all of Sunday off, but at the start of the week, they’ll be faced with another worthy Western Conference opponent.

Monday, the tenth-place Pelicans come to town. The last time these two teams played, it was out in New Orleans and the Kings got kicked in the teeth. It was probably the lousiest performance of the last month as poor defense and sloppy ball protection proved to be the two main takeaways.

Sacramento has since gotten back on track going 8-3 since that contest while NOLA has hit a rough patch, going 3-6 in their previous nine games.

Still without Zion Williamson, New Orleans has only dealt with more injuries as Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum try to carry the bulk of a heavy load. They’ll be coming off two days of rest after losing in San Francisco to the Warriors on Friday night.

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Kings Talk – A Cap City Crown Podcast on the Sacramento Kings

Kings Talk: Episode 78

On this week’s episode of Kings Talk presented by Cap City Crown, Tony and John discuss the In-Season Tournament, Keegan Murray’s development and Harrison Barnes.

The post Kings Talk: Episode 78 appeared first on Cap City Crown.

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Dan Smith
9 months ago

Another good write up Tony! Lots of issues Kings needed to address in this one besides the ugly defensive effort. Kessler looks good on D, and smoother, more polished on offense than KZ. It’ll be interesting to see if Brown is able to find some more minutes for him. TD has been struggling to more than 5 mins per game recently, so I guess we will see.