In what appeared to be a blowout in the making at halftime, the Kings were forced to hold off a gritty effort from the Knicks to win on national television, and they did, winning 122-117.
The Kings began the game with excellent presence on both ends, but their lack of physicality let New York stay in the game. Worse, they let it happen in spite of a few things: Jalen Brunson exiting after the first half, the Knicks’ struggle to convert second chance opportunities, and their overall shooting struggles (.416/.260/.645). Yet the Kings remained resilient as they have so often, riding the backs of their all-stars to come out victorious.
Domantas Sabonis got his ninth triple-double on the season and second in a row with a team-high 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists while De’Aaron Fox added 23 points and 7 assists with his typical fourth quarter comportment. Off the bench, Malik Monk put up 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists, and Trey Lyles contributed 16 points. Additionally, Kevin Huerter added 14, Keegan Murray had 11, and Harrison Barnes scored 10.
Prior to exiting, Brunson lead all scorers at halftime with 19 points, but it was RJ Barrett who finished with a game-high 25 points. Julius Randle scored 23 with 10 boards, but shot just 8 of 22 from the field. Quentin Grimes was big for Tom Thibodeau with 19 points as was Josh Hart, who came up with 15 rebounds and 7 assists off the bench.
“It was a good win, our guys found a way to get the win, but we were not good,” head coach Mike Brown concluded to start his postgame remarks, going on to note that the only thing he like was the fact that they won.
As one can tell from the head coach—who said the win does “not sit well” with him—there are a lot of things to appraise here that were not flattering for the Kings.
Looking at the standings, Memphis beat Golden State on the first of two games televised by TNT, but with Sacramento’s win, they remain in second place over the Grizzlies due to their better conference record.
Game summary (takeaways below)
Sacramento looked sprightly and sharp out of the gate, attacking the rim with success and were collectively playing solid defense, forcing misses and turnovers. The Kings created a 13-3 run in the middle of the period, but New York’s three-point shooting kept them in it; they went 4 of their first 8, all from above the break. The Knicks also had some second chance scores and got to the line 6 times, but Sac’s 20 paint points and 65% shooting clip were major factors behind their 30-23 lead after one.
The initial moments of the second quarter—which was illustrated by a 6-2 Knicks run—prompted a quick Mike Brown timeout. New York seemed to have a chance to make a dent, but even as they grabbed offensive boards, they struggled to convert their second chances. The Kings then went on another run to get the lead to double digits. New York’s rebounding and trips could only do so much with such low shooting percentages. And with Julius Randle switching on pick-and-rolls, Sac managed a 20-4 run. With a 61.4% clip from the field compared to New York’s 35.3%, the Kings lead 69-53 at the half.
Late in the second quarter, Jalen Brunson sustained a setback on his left foot, keeping him out for the second half. Without their best player, the Knicks came out to play though, going on a 7-0 run at one point after the Kings had pushed their lead above 20 points again. Sacramento expanded it back out, but a massive Knicks run—built on rebounding, free throws, and fast break points—slashed the cushion to just 7 points going into the fourth.
New York began the final period with a 7-1 advantage, cutting the lead to a single point. Eventually the Knicks tied it up after grabbing a flurry of consecutive offensive rebounds, but De’Aaron Fox began to take over, producing a 7-0 swing and scoring 11 straight points for his team. The two clubs battled with a lot of ugly moments—New York’s turnovers and Sac’s lack of rebounding—but Sabonis and Lyles helped push the lead out to 9. As was characteristic in the game, the Knicks managed to get it to 2 points with less than a minute left, but a Fox finish, a Harrison Barnes poke away, and some made free throws locked up the victory.
A message for Fox and Sabonis from the head coach
One could say that, at the very least—aside from the win—the Kings got to show off their two all-stars to the nation.
De’Aaron Fox scored 15 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, absolutely taking over, especially as an RJ Barrett three tied the game with over eight minutes to play. He continued to demonstrate why he is the most clutch player in the NBA, hitting 5 of his 7 looks from the field, gaining 6 trips to the free throw line, and adding clutch defense as well.
Domantas Sabonis lead the team in points and had another triple-double. He, too, was good on both ends. The stat line paints the clear and typical picture, but he brought an added presence on the defensive end. And he was one of the few commendable performers on the glass.
All-star selections probably helped, but to win on the national stage put a spotlight on such talented players as well as the city and fanbase they represent.
“I think people know about the Sacramento crowd, but obviously we play late games. People on the East Coast or in Central Time, they’re sleeping, we’re playing, so for them to be able to experience — and obviously not everybody has league pass — so for people to experience this on TNT tonight I think was huge for this fan base and for this organization,” Fox said after being asked about how he envisages a playoff atmosphere at The Golden 1 Center. “And I think once playoff time comes — obviously, most all arenas are loud — but I think this is just a special place to play.”
At the same time, while highlighting Fox and Sabonis as the leaders of this team for the national audience, this game also allowed head coach Mike Brown to shine a spotlight on his two team leaders. As noted, they put up impressive performances individually, but the expectation is higher.
“I’m gonna put pressure on Domas and Foxy,” he declared in probably the most stern tone he’s used regarding his two best players. “They have to hold themselves to an elite level on every possession, but just as importantly, they gotta open their mouths and hold their teammates to a high standard because that ain’t gonna fly.”
Mike Brown has said a lot recently that he can only coach so much, and that the accountability has to come from within at some point. Thursday’s showing seemed to give the coach an opportunity to get more specific.
“We’re taking this win, but we gotta be better, and it starts with Domas and Foxy,” he added. “They gotta open their mouths and they gotta challenge their teammates to perform each possession at an elite level, but they have to do it themselves at both ends of the floor.”
Is the home floor taken for granted?
“The big lead, I think, we got in the first half is why we stayed in the game and then pulled out with it,” Malik Monk remarked after being asked how the team survived getting throttled on the glass. The Knicks finished with 23 offensive boards.
“That’s a lot of offensive rebounds, man,” Monk added with a laugh, well aware they got away with something. “It’s hard to win a basketball game like that, man, and I’m thankful we won it.”
The Knicks about scored their season average for second chance points with 17 on the night, but they had nearly twice as many offensive rebounds that they typical come away with.
Furthermore, Jalen Brunson did not play in the second half. In the first two periods, not only was he their best performer, he also one of three Knicks players that shot over 30% on multiple field goals in a half where his team struggled to convert their looks. Considering the game came down to the clutch and Sac narrowly won, it’s also worth noting that Brunson sits right behind De’Aaron Fox in total clutch points this season and would have been extremely useful for Thibodeau.
It would be lazy to say the Kings simply got lucky. That’s not what luck looks like. But it does seem to substantiate the inclination to ask whether or not this team takes the home floor for granted. And that is immensely more true considering this team had a sizable lead going into the half with the buzzing atmosphere of their home floor.
Do the Kings get a little too comfortable at home?
Of the top four teams in each conference, the Kings are the only team of the eight to not be in the top ten in home winning percentage. They are 21-13 (.618) at home. Peeking around the top of the West, the Nuggets are 30-5 (.857), the Grizzlies are 27-5 (.844), and the Suns are 22-10 (.688). Sacramento may be second in their conference overall, but the second place Celtics have a 26-9 home (.743) record.
Perhaps they get too comfortable, but it may very well come down to experience. All the teams listed above—throw the Bucks, 76ers, and even some others—have experience being a winning team. All of those teams have won at least one playoff series, which is something the group in Sac cannot say yet.
Brown: Josh Hart and the Knicks “kicked our ass”
Needless to say, Mike Brown was not happy with his team’s effort to box out.
“Josh Hart just kicked our ass,” he said, adding once more for the people in the back: “He kicked our ass.”
New York’s trade deadline acquisition finished the game with 8 offensive boards. With him, Mitchell Robinson had 6 and Isaiah Hartenstein finished with 4. Seven of the ten Knicks players that logged minutes finished with at least one.
Make it twice that the Knicks beat them on the offensive glass this season. In their first meeting, New York had 15 offensive rebounds. Amid an east coast road trip, the Kings were not as intent on boxing out as they should have been against one of the better rebounding teams.
To do worse on the home floor after two days off is enough to get a glimpse into the frustration sizzling in Mike Brown’s head.
There were constant instances of failures to box out throughout the night.
Chimezie Metu’s rough night
Some guys off the bench did not have the best nights. In the second half, Trey Lyles and Malik Monk did not match the level they played with in the first. But one guy stands out as not having made any impact.
Chimezie Metu did not put his best foot forward in this game and nor did Mike Brown exhibit the most prominent level of trust in his backup 5.
In 7 minutes of play, Metu came away with a single rebound and an 0 for 1 night from the field. The lone shot he attempted was his attempt to score off the dribble, and he easily could have passed it to Trey Lyles who had good positioning in the post versus a mismatch.
What’s more, Metu only played about two minutes in the second half, and he exited shortly after that shot attempt.
Lately, it’s sort of felt like he’s been taking one or two of those types of shots per game—i.e. one’s that aren’t lobs, dump offs, wide open three’s, or the kind set up for him—and he’s been missing the vast majority.
On top of the forced shot, he had two instances of mishandling the ball—once on a pass, the other on a rebound—and on top of other offensive boards, he twice allowed rebounds to the opponent off a Knicks free throw miss (some scorn should go Lyles’ way as well, but Metu was not not meet the physicality threshold needed against a big body like Hartenstein).
Sacramento will take to the road for one game to play the Suns on Saturday. The two teams last played in the final game before the all-star break when Phoenix won on their home floor.
The Suns are 5-1 since the break and sit fourth in the conference. However, Kevin Durant will not play. He was a late scratch on Wednesday and it was later reported that the superstar was diagnosed with an ankle sprain. He’ll be reevaluated in two weeks and could miss the remainder of the regular season.
Phoenix is 2-0 against Sacramento this season, and considering the implications regarding seeding, it is imperative that the Kings bring it.