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Kessler Edwards and the Bench Lift Kings to Monumental 40th Win

Basketball: Phoenix Suns Josh Okogie (2) in action, handles the ball vs Sacramento Kings Kessler Edwards (17) at Footprint Center. Phoenix, AZ 2/14/2023 CREDIT: John W. McDonough (Photo by John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated via Getty Images) (Set Number: X164313 TK1)

The Kings put forth a terrific team effort—from Fox and Sabonis to the entirety of the bench—to go into Phoenix and pull out a laudable victory by a score of 128-119.

Sacramento really locked in with the addition of Kessler Edwards on the floor to help the defensive side of the ball while remaining a useful part on the offensive side. Collectively, the team looked potent. Overall, in spite of amassing only 19 assists, the Kings dominated the free throw differential (37-22), won the second chance points battle (one game removed from getting scorched in that department), and pushed an excellent and continual pace.

Not one Kings player scored 20 or more points, but seven different guys were in double figures. De’Aaron Fox scored 18 with 6 assists, Domantas Sabonis put in 17 with 8 rebounds, and Harrison Barnes lead the team with 19 points. But it was the bench that stood out the most. Malik Monk dropped 18 points with 5 assists and Trey Lyles scored 13. Edwards did his work on defense while adding 12 points and 7 rebounds, and Davion Mitchell did much of the same, but with 13 points. And Chimezie Metu scored 9 to go along with 3 steals in a bounce-back game for him.

Without Durant—which may be the case for maybe the remainder of the regular season—the Suns made a worthy effort. Devin Booker did manage to score 28 points with 8 assists, Deandre Ayton dropped in 22 with 12 rebounds, and Chris Paul had 16 points and 16 assists. Josh Okogie contributed 15 points and Terrence Ross added 18 off the bench.

It was a hard-fought, competitive game that featured high activity and implications for playoff seeding. It was one of the most playoff-esque road game since the thriller in LA against the Clippers. And it was even bigger because how vital it was to hit the Suns back after they took the first two of the season series.

After this game, Phoenix is 3.5 games behind Sacramento, who remains in the second spot. Memphis won on Saturday, too, keeping their record even with that of the Kings, but Sac’s edge in the conference record gives them the tie-breaker. It’s worth noting that the Clippers and Warriors both won their respective games on Saturday as well.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Phoenix looked fine-tuned to start on both ends, but the Kings activity and aggression eventually forced an early timeout. Out of it, the Suns went up by 11; Sac was attacking and getting up high-percentage looks, but they were missing, and their defense was ultimately lacking. The game changed when Kessler Edwards entered as stops came the Kings’ way as a result. By the end of the period, the Sacramento found themselves down 1 point after a Phoenix buzzer-beating layup.

Trey Lyles hit three three’s, producing an offensive boost at the start of the second, and Edwards returned to the floor with Sacramento up by 4 points, immediately picking up where he left off. Complimenting the elevated defensive effort, the Kings kept getting to the line, earning 15 trips after the first and making it 26 at halftime. Add the element of Sabonis’ virtuosity, and it’s no wonder Sac lead 67-59 at the half.

The Kings pushed their lead to 10 points, but the Suns got some good looks from the pick-and-roll, including some spray three’s, making a severe cut into the modest lead. With a 13-3 run with the help of the Kings’ 5 third period turnovers (8 points off), Phoenix had a lead while Sacramento failed to score a field goal in about four minutes. Malik Monk brought the defibrillator, though, restoring a normal heartbeat and keeping it beating. Sac lead still lead, but it was by a point, and the horns were locked going into the fourth.

It was a slug fest in the fourth quarter with both sides landing blows. The Kings were able to extract a lead every now and then with a few stops—which were aided by a collection of guys—but Phoenix was exhibiting their mettle. With five minutes left, it was tit for tat, back and forth. Sacramento had a chance to push the lead to 6 points with 80 seconds remaining, but an Edwards turnover on the fast break allowed an Ayton three-point play to cut it to 1. Fox hit a clutch shot and then Booker committed an offensive foul turnover with a minute left. Edwards was able to hit the dagger and the Kings got their road victory.

Kessler Edwards’ big night

The Kings were playing with good energy and activity on both ends to start the game. Recall that Fox forced an early timeout with some excellent ball pressure. But Devin Booker requires a special effort if he is to be slowed in some capacity, and, boy, did he need some slowing down, scoring 10 points in the first five minutes of the contest. He legitimately seemed prime for a 20-plus point half, but was held to 17 after two quarters.

Readers may also recall the last time the Kings were in Phoenix, the last game before the all-star break, the Suns picked the Kings defense apart. Late in that one, Kessler Edwards got some burn, and he looked mightily impressive. 

More recently, the lone trade deadline acquisition this season looked wildly effective guarding Anthony Edwards in Sac’s loss to Minnesota last week.

It was a matter of time until Kessler Edwards forced his way on the floor consistently, and he may have put himself in the rotation or, at the very least, forced Mike Brown to consider it even deeper than before.

With all of that in mind, Brown noted that he and his staff knew they would “give him a shot” without knowing the extent of his impact or the amount of minutes he’d played.

In the first half after coming in, he clogged up the flow Booker had going, and better yet, he provided excellent team defense, seemingly being able to be everywhere he needed to be, whether to get in front of a guy, contest shots (forcing tough ones even if made), or grab some rebounds. And even better for his cause, he fit seamlessly into the offense, scoring 9 first half points on an open three, a layup after a steal, and a put back, showing he can do a little bit of everything on that end as well.

The Suns managed to find ways to get different guys switched on to Booker out of halftime, but Phoenix’s top scorer only managed to accumulate 11 second half points. Edwards nevertheless continued providing contributions to the team defense. But don’t think Booker was spared altogether, Edwards did force Book to double dribble with his ball pressure. Plus, after having a moment of butterfingers that could have put the final nail in the coffin, Edwards recovered by hitting the dagger three without hesitation to the delight of his head coach.

He was absolutely terrific, and of course he won the DPOG chain for the night.

Regarding his ability to stay ready, coach Brown praised him after commenting on the fact Edwards is the second youngest player on the team, adding that his length, athleticism, strength, focus, and activity on the boards was “fantastic.” He also commended his ability to “stay with it” mentally despite being traded to a place where he wasn’t promised minutes.

Of course, he’s still building his way into complete comfort with this team. He’s only been around for about a month and the rest of the team has been practicing and drilling since even before training camp. Here and here it looked as if he had a misstep in assignment or communication. They did not arise in a high volume, but they do show that he has some binding to do with the rest of the guys. 

However, he’s looking like a great option that could potentially be called upon on a nightly basis and provide much needed defense in the playoffs. And he’s definitely earned the endearment of a nickname: KE.

The rest of the bench: Monk, Lyles, Davion, and Metu

Don’t get it twisted, the whole bench unit had a great night, carrying on the immense production it’s added since the all-stat break. 

Sac’s bench outscored Phoenix’s, 65-34.

Malik Monk and Trey Lyles in particular were heavily responsible for this win.

For chronology’s sake, we’ll actually start with Lyles, whose 11 points at half time lead the team. The ever-reliable option came in and hit his first three three-point attempts, providing the boost that began the initial separation on the scoreboard. In addition to the outside shooting, he earned a trip to the line with a smart cut—hitting both free throws—and was great on the offensive glass, where he drew a foul with his effort and snagged a second chance for his team (that was not converted).

The second half was calmer for Lyles, but his efforts remained wholehearted as seen here on this contest and leak out where he was rewarded with a great De’Aaron Fox lead pass.

It was a bit of the opposite for Monk. Yes, he too made a huge impact, but it was his second half where he shined. In the first, while the statistical impact was not nearly as palpable, he was making heads up decisions, such as the break up of an alley-oop that was called a foul or his commendable effort to step in as the low man. He also got his feet wet in his typical ball distribution, leading Metu in for a trip to the line. And he hit his lone three-point attempt.

Come the second half, however, and Monk revived his team. Later in the third quarter, as noted in the game summary, the Kings looked like they were on life support, stringing together a large stretch of no field goals made. The first one hit to break that drought came from the Monk-Sabonis two-man game where Monk assisted the big man. The ensuing stretch proved critical; in it, Monk earned a subsequent trip to the line, remained aggressive (even as roadblocks emerged), and began feeling his jump shot, including this nasty outside make.

Monk kept it up in the fourth, putting in defensive efforts that either produced hard results or, at the very least, the respect of everyone watching. He also continued facilitating and being a valuable presence (+11 in the fourth period).

With them, Davion Mitchell provided a dynamic impact. It’s rare to see him not bring the defense, which he definitely brought in this one, but with 13 points—on a mix of three’s and paint penetrations—in his typical role of the bench, he may be gaining an influx of confidence at the right time.

“Just the growth he’s shown this year — it’s been amazing,” coach Brown said of his second-year point guard after the win.

And after a pretty sorry performance on Thursday night, Chimezie Metu looked just the way one would want him to look: playing relatively within himself, and thriving as a result of that balance. The highlight for Metu has to be his trio of steals: one came on a help attempt where he took the ball from Terrence Ross, another was in an nearly identical scenario as he poked one away from Ross and earned two free throw attempts, and on the third one, Metu picked Ayton’s pocket and took it to the other end for a dunk. Mike Brown said Metu was a close runner-up for the DPOG chain. Plus, Sac’s backup 5 also actually looked good taking what’s seeming to be his customary lone shot attempt off the dribble.

40 wins this year

Remember this? Of course you do.

It seemed wild to many at the time, but at it’s heart it embodied a legitimate belief in what was cooking in Sacramento. Besides, the truly wise are always initially viewed as mad and are pushed to the margins as outcasts before time swings back around. But here it is: win number 40.

Speaking to two of the three jubilant fans this past summer in the aftermath of its virility, Sean Chew noted thoughtfully that it’s more than 40 wins in terms of significance. At first, 40 wins just sounds like the first number that came to his head, but there was far more calculation behind it.

“40 is my go-to because the Kings have not gotten 40 since the 2005-06 season with Rick Adelman,” he explained in early July, highlighting the 39-win 2018-19 season under Dave Joerger.

“They were the ninth seed, they had a chance to maybe make the playoffs that year,” he said, referencing Joerger’s final run as Sac’s head coach. “That was a great season. We didn’t make the playoffs, but there was hope in Sacramento, like ‘we got something going here.'”

He added that the fanbase just “wanted something to be excited” about.

Well, it followed the course all parties in that conversation expected it to go, but with far better success than anyone imagined. And with such loyalty and pure desire for something to root for, the patient and meek are being rewarded, and that reward may be some more room for boisterous celebration.

It’s 40 wins and then some, 40 and counting. Sacramento still has business to finish with 16 games left. 

Who says they can’t win 50?

Huerter was quiet and Murray was nonexistent

Of the ten players to see minutes in this game, Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray were the most underwhelming performers. The two of them combined for 1 of 6 from three and each committed 3 fouls.

Huerter never really found a rhythm. He committed some early fouls as well as a turnover. He did finish with 9 points due to the help of his 4 of 4 from the free throw line.

Murray on the other hand was almost completely nonexistent. He missed all his attempts from three and even seemed hesitant on what looked to be an early opportunity. It did not help that he was getting beat defensively from time to time, but to be fair he had a nice help contest in the third quarter, earning a block.

Both have had some good moments since the all-star break. 

For Huerter, he was the hottest he’s been since the beginning of the season, but it was the second consecutive game where he lacked feel from beyond the arc.

And Keegan Murray has had some good shooting games, but it was his second scoreless game of the season and it came exactly one week after the first instance of a 0-point performance.

This is not a blaring alarm signaling panic. Huerter’s probably fine, and while Murray may be feeling some rookie fatigue with over 60 games under his belt, he has shown he can bounce back on a moment’s notice.

Going forward

The Kings will go back to Sacramento for one against the Bucks on Monday night before going on the road for four games. 

At 48-19, Milwaukee is the best team in the NBA. They’re 19-2 over their last twenty-one contests. 

MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo did not play in his team’s overtime loss to the Warriors in San Francisco on Saturday due to a sore left hand. It was the third straight game where he did not play. Will Monday be the fourth?

It would help Sacramento’s chances, but with the high ambitions of the Kings, it would be far better to see them take on perhaps the toughest competition in the league, which is Milwaukee with Giannis on the floor.

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