Bucks Remind Kings That Experience is Essential in Slugfest

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 13: Brook Lopez #11 of the Milwaukee Bucks and Trey Lyles #41 of the Sacramento Kings gets tangled up in a fight while teammates Jrue Holiday #21 of the Bucks and De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Kings attempt to come in between them late in fourth quarter at Golden 1 Center on March 13, 2023 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. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

In a melee of a basketball game, the Kings came up short on their home floor against the NBA-best Bucks by a score of 124-133.

Sacramento was impressive in a lot of ways, gaining a discernible edge in the first half. However, out of halftime, Milwaukee managed to slow the Kings for the moment while flipping the tables in the free throw attempt differential. Ultimately, their stars and experience edged out Sac’s.

The Kings had some nice performances. Domantas Sabonis was invigorated from start to finish, putting up a triple-double on 23 points, 17 rebounds, and 15 assists. With him, De’Aaron Fox led the team with 35 points and Kevin Huerter threw on 28 on 8 of 11 shooting from deep. Harrison Barnes drew a tough defensive responsibility, yet he finished with 14 points, but that was the extent of double digit scoring.

On the other side, after missing the previous three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo returned for Milwaukee to drop 46 points with 12 rebounds. Incurring further damage, Khris Middleton scored 31 with 9 assists, and Brook Lopez finished with 23 points and 8 boards. (Giannis, Middleton, and Lopez combined for 100 points!) Rounding out their core, Jrue Holiday added in 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists.

“I don’t want to sit here and sound like it’s all gloom and doom because it’s not,” Mike Brown said postgame. “There were positives out there, but at the end of the day, we lost and we didn’t execute down the stretch.”

With this loss combined with the Grizzlies win over the Mavericks, the Kings sit alone in third place, one game behind Memphis and three ahead of Phoenix, who lost to Golden State on Monday. 

Game summary (takeaways below)

The Bucks started off missing a handful of jump shots that weren’t the juiciest to start, but a free lane for Giannis in transition (no rotation as low man from Huerter) set coach Mike Brown off, initiating an early timeout. But even still, the three ball was falling for the Kings (6 of 11 in the first), helping usher the lead their way early. Milwaukee upped the competition as Antetokounmpo was going off (7 of 9 for 15 points). Fox hit a buzzer-beating step back three to put his team up 32-29, but the game looked like a good one out of the gate.

Giannis continued causing trouble, and quite efficiently, but Trey Lyles forced a pair of turnovers to help generate a 9-0 run that created a double digit lead. Lopez and Middleton trimmed it down slightly, but Milwaukee’s turnovers (9 with 9 points off at the half) were hurting them. They did manage a 7-0 run later in the second, but Sabonis and company—who shot 11 of 24 from deep—were able to go into the half with a 9-point lead.

Milwaukee came out of the half with ostensible control, tying the game with an 11-3 start to the half with a more comprehensive team effort. However, Sabonis wasn’t done as he led a 12-4 run in response. The Bucks answered with a 15-2 run as Giannis was creating for himself and others. De’Aaron Fox came to life to deliver some blows in return, but the Kings were still down after three, 87-90, after the Bucks committed just 1 turnover in the third.

It was clear the close of the game was building into a good one. In the fourth, both teams exchanged runs. Fox and Huerter looked flammable to begin the period. Sacramento was down 1 point around the midway point of the fourth and when Antetokounmpo returned to the physical ballgame. Huerter kept hitting three-pointers, but Giannis began to get his hands all over the contest once again. The Kings were down 4 when a miscommunication allowed a Middleton three which was followed by a Fox turnover. Suddenly, they were down 9 points. Sac tried to fight back—quite literally as Lyles and Lopez got into it—but the Bucks came out with a hard-fought victory.

A reminder about the importance of experience

The Kings played a pretty decent game. They battled with the NBA’s best team with their best player back on the floor, and had a play or two gone differently, they could have easily reversed their fortunes and won.

The factor that stood out the most was the different levels of experience between both teams. The Kings are near the top of their conference and are having a historical offensive season, but this will be their first playoff trip as a group. Meanwhile, the Bucks won a championship two seasons ago and they’re one of the premier juggernauts in the league.

It was illustrated best with roughly three minutes to play. Both squads had been jostling for the lead, but the Bucks had put themselves up 6 points, capped by a downhill charge from Giannis that finished with a slam, which was followed by coach Brown’s call for time.

Out of the timeout, Fox found a lane to the rim and finished a beautiful reverse layup to cut it to 4, but then the Kings got a bit shaky. First, a miscommunication between Fox and Barnes provided Middleton with a wide open three that he hit, and then on the other end, Jrue Holiday stole the ball from Fox, who tripped, and took it to the other end for a score. 

Suddenly, Sac was down 9 points with a little over two and a half to go. After the Kings failed to get a quick score, Middleton came to a nice stop to hit a turnaround fader to make it an 11 point lead. 

Those two mistakes secured the loss, but overall, as Fox noted after the game and as Brown has said countless times, the team has to do a better job of bringing it for the whole 48 minutes.

Middleton, as coach Brown noted postgame, was allowed to get too comfortable out of half time. He had 5 points at half time on 1 of 4 from the field, but in the next half, he went 8 of 11 for 26 points.

Brown admitted that it’s unsustainable to make things easy for such an experienced team.

This game showed a chasm in terms of the experience between the two teams: Milwaukee has enough experience to deliver a knockout blow with the slightest drop of one’s gloves, and Sacramento’s level of experience was such that it allowed their gloves to drop slightly.

Nevertheless, look how far they’ve come

Asked after shootaround the day of the game about the chance for the matchup to be a test, Harrison Barnes made a good point.

“I think it’s a good test to kind of see how far we’ve come,” he offered. “Obviously, we saw them at the beginning of December. We know how that game went, so I think for us as a group, we feel like we’re playing better, we feel like we’ve grown a little bit, and I think it’s a good chance for us to see where we match up.”

In that light, there are a lot of positives. 

The team in December looked like it had a chance to be a playoff team, the team here in March is a playoff team. The team in December looked like it may have a chance to hang on to a spot near the top of the conference, the team in March is a top of the conference competitor. The team in December looked out of place, the team here in March belongs.

The altercation at the end

The use of terms like dogfight, boxing match, squabble, skirmish, and brawl are often featured in sports writing to describe a hard-fought contest, but that is all in reference to the competitive nature of the game. Rarely does extracurricular roughhousing occur that merits the literal use of those descriptors.

It did on Monday night though.

As seen in the video, the frustration seemed to get the best of Lyles. First he made a swipe attempt at Giannis as they crossed paths—which is honestly harmless—but then he threw on the slight shove at the end of it, which is what brought in Lopez (or at least gave justification to his stepping in).

Lopez was loud all night, getting away with a lot of jawing at the referees, and his face was probably the last thing Lyles—again, already on edge—wanted to see. So when faced with the big man, Lyles did not back down, which is commendable, but then he did himself in with the use of his right hand, pushing away (with clearly an open fist) the face in front of him. Then the scrum formed as both players locked horns.

Mike Brown did not condone Lyles’ actions, saying instead that altercations like that are all about the “love” of the game, but did add later that it was a demonstration of how his team’s “going to have each other’s backs.”

Asked about it after the game, De’Aaron Fox said all Antetokounmpo had to do “was dribble the ball out … and nothing would have happened.” The implication there was that Giannis somehow egged it on, something that Lyles agreed with.

“If you watch it, I was just walking back with my head down and (Antetokounmpo) crossed in front of me, reached from behind, kind of clamped down on my arm, so I pushed his arm off,” Lyles described in the locker room after the game. “He sold it a bit, it was nothing personal, but a bigger guy walks down on me, I’m not really one for talking. I think I’ve showed it a lot, it takes a lot for me to get out of character and just not gonna go for that.”

Regardless of all the factors that built up throughout the night, it’s important, above all else, to maintain composure there.

In the end, there is the possibility of learning a very valuable lesson for him and the Kings as the intensity of playoff basketball nears (hell, it’s essentially already here).

And of course, Lyles is almost certain to receive a suspension. How long it will be is unclear right now, but it feels like a one or two-game suspension can be expected. The main thing that appears to be in Lyles’ favor is the fact that the game was already packed with intensity and physicality.

Lopez might get a one-game penalty, but don’t be surprised to witness him see nothing but a fine.

Fans will be able to know here once the decision is made.

Domas breaks franchise record fresh off of Player of the Week honors

After being awarded with Player of the Week honors for his conference, Domantas Sabonis came in against the NBA’s best team—which features the most unguardable player and the likely Defensive Player of the Year that also plays center—and met the challenge head on.

With his triple-double, it was his tenth of the season, but more notably, the double-double was his 54th of the season, which broke the franchise record set by DeMarcus Cousins (53) during the 2013-14 season.

In the first half, he was providing the maximum impact in all facets of the game. At halftime, he had 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists. The leading rebounder was buzzing on the boards, fighting his way to secure stops, and being a daunting nuisance on the offensive glass. He was also going right at Brook Lopez, finishing with force and skill, and even nailing a three-pointer. Additionally, he was moving the ball around, mostly to Kevin Huerter as their two-man game was an effective weapon. But best of all, he stepped up on defense—which is his most underrated skill—whether it was battling with Lopez on the glass, contesting shots, or taking a crack at stopping Giannis (which he did by drawing a huge charge).

The second half was a little coarser of a path for Sabonis as he went 3 of 11 for 6 points, but he did add in 10 rebounds, which included 7 on the offensive glass. He continued making a valiant effort, but the Bucks really tightened up when it came to handling the all-star big man.

Still, it was yet another awesome effort by Sabonis, which is the case practically every game. And the franchise history he’s setting in such a short amount of time with the Kings is foretelling of a very special relationship between him and this organization that already looks to be setting him up as a prominent name in team history.

And he’s only been a part of the Kings for thirteen months.

Kevin Huerter’s 8 of 11 from three

De’Aaron Fox had 13 points in the fourth quarter and is the league’s most clutch player, but the guy that really elevated his team was Kevin Huerter, who dropped 17 fourth quarter points.

Huerter’s first half was pretty solid as he went 3 of 6 from the field, including hitting 2 of his 3 attempts from deep. But as has been noted, the redheaded sharpshooter is a resilient scorer. 

In the second half, he went 7 of 11, including 6 of 8 from beyond the arc for 20 points, stepping up along with De’Aaron Fox to make a push late in the contest.

Since the all-star break, Huerter is averaging 17.0 points on 54.8% from the field and 49.3% from three. It’s been very clear that he’s getting hot at the right time, and based on this performance—that brought an added edge to his scoring late in the contest—he may have that element of being able to step up when the moment’s at its biggest.

First slow bench night since the break

In the first nine games coming out of the all-star break, the bench’s production was playing a huge role in pushing the Kings over the top to go 8-1 in that stretch. In that time, they were third in points (43.3), third in three-point percentage (46.6%), second in free throw attempts (10.4), and fourth in net rating (+4.6).

Over the last couple weeks, Malik Monk has at least returned as a viable candidate in the Sixth Man of the Year race, Davion Mitchell was displaying balanced confidence, Trey Lyles was continuing his diverse impact, Chimezie Metu had a few nice performances, and Kessler Edwards put himself on the map.

Against the Bucks, however, it was the first game where they did not have that kind of impact.

Granted, neither did Milwaukee’s as the Kings won the bench points battle 17-14. Still, 17 points from the bench after putting up an average of over 40 in the previous nine games is one hell of an abrupt pothole.

Monk wasn’t horrible as he posted 5 assists, but his 6 points on 3 of 8 from the field illustrated how Milwaukee was able to disrupt him. Lyles also wasn’t bad, providing a useful presence on defense—or about as good of one as a player can when Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the other side—and hitting a pair of three’s, but he too was disrupted, going 2 of 7 from the field and succumbing to his frustration after the game by feeding a fist into Brook Lopez’s fulminating mouth.

Davion Mitchell played some defense on Holiday and had a great moment where he got out and made a decisive push after a rebound before making a smooth pass back to Domas, who threw it down with a slam. But after going 0 of 3 on his first attempts, he never got off another. In all, he played just 11 minutes and posted a -13.

Chimezie Metu took on some responsibility to guard Giannis and hit a three, but he only saw 9 minutes. And Kessler Edwards was used quite a bit, making a solid impact in the first half, but he was not able to change much after other Bucks players got it going in the second half.

There was clearly a lack of production from them, but honestly, in a ten game stretch, if your bench plays incredibly well for nine and have one subpar performance, that’s nothing to scoff at. As anyone can tell, t will be important for them to bounce back though.

Going forward

The now Kings hit the road for the last trip of the season that will contain more than two games. This one is a four-gamer that starts out Wednesday with the first of a back-to-back in Chicago before going into Brooklyn.

Last month, the Bulls went into the all-star break on a six-game losing streak. Since the break, they’ve gone 5-3, sitting five games below .500 in the tenth spot in the Western Conference. 

When they came to Sacramento in December, the Kings came out on top.

Chicago is one of the more notable disappointments this season and they’re 2-3 in their last five home games, but they’ll be coming off of three days of rest after going into Houston to take care of business against the Rockets on Saturday.

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