In a roller-coaster ride that featured slow climbs, hard falls, as well as the typical twists and turns, the Kings managed to hold on against the Bulls in Chicago, 117-114, after De’Aaron Fox nailed a game-winning three after Sacramento almost blew it.
Despite coming out a little slow and ultimately getting pummeled in the turnover differential (19 committed for 23 points) as well as allowing 24 fast break points, the Kings managed to turn things on at the right time in order to overcome Chicago’s effort. The team collectively showed a few moments of responsiveness, but Fox—as he so often does—pushed them over the top in the end.
By no surprise, Fox lead his team with 32 points on 70.6% from the field, and adding to his triple-double count, Domantas Sabonis finsihed with 14 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists. Kevin Huerter continued his shooting streak, scoring 15 points on 4 of 7 from deep while Harrison Barnes, in spite of a poor shooting night (3 of 10), finished with 17 points with the help of a 9 of 10 night from the free throw line. Off the bench, Malik Monk provided some jolts, putting up 19 points which was facilitated by his 5 of 8 from three.
DeMar DeRozan lead all scorers with 33 after he converted a controversial four-point play late. Zach LaVine meanwhile scored 25 points with 6 assists and Nikola Vucevic had a double-double with 20 points and 14 boards. From Chicago’s bench, Coby White and Patrick Williams combined for 25 points on 7 of 11 from beyond the arc.
“Overall, I didn’t think we played well,” Mike Brown began before making a positive conclusion. “The neat part about it is those guys found a way to win, and sometimes as a coach, you sit back and you say, ‘Okay, you want to mess around with the game a little bit to start? You guys find a way to win.’ And those guys did because, at the end of the day … they’re going to have to lead the charge and go get it come playoff time because it’s about the players stepping up and getting it done during that time of the year.”
With Sacramento’s win and Memphis’ loss in Miami, the two teams’ records are nodded up, meaning the Kings again sit in second place given their advantage in conference record. Also around the West, the Clippers beat the Warriors in LA to replace them in the five spot.
Game summary (takeaways below)
The Kings committed some early turnovers as Vucevic promptly built a little groove. Chicago was shooting more efficiently and getting to the line with relative ease while those turnovers prevented much, if any flow for Sac. However, the Bulls were not necessarily able to take advantage as many were dead ball turnovers; in fact, the Kings lead in points off turnovers, 7-2. And as the period came to an end, the Kings finished with a 10-4 run to trail just 25-30.
Sacramento committed a turnover to start the second, and after an early timeout, they committed two additional ones in a row; all three were live ball mistakes. Another helped cap off a 15-2 Chicago run. Sabonis returned and the Kings got some scores, but their offensive rhythm was disjointed. Fox’s aggression restored some life, but they were essentially breaking even with the Bulls as halftime approached. After two, they were down 48-58.
Out of halftime, the Kings came with a better energy, beginning things with a 14-2 run to take the lead. LaVine was putting out a nice effort to prevent his team from sinking, but in the first half of the period, he was the only Bull to score. After Fox limped off the floor (he later returned), Monk fanned the flames beneath his team, helping propel them into a 85-80 lead after three following a responsive period of basketball.
The start to the fourth was nothing like the the third as the Bulls came into it swinging. They began it on a 17-9 run to regain the lead as the turnovers were afflicting the Kings again (4 in the first five minutes with 9 points off). Sac regained the lead as Fox began to get to work. After the Bulls mustered a 4-point swing to go up by 1 point, the Kings went on an 10-5 run with the help of some crucial stops and, of course, Fox’s standard fourth quarter effort, which sealed the game after a little bit of the foul game. But two 1 for 2 trips to the line allowed the Bulls to make it interesting, and they did as DeRozan was afforded a four-point play after a made three, which tied the game. But De’Aaron Fox erased the agony, hitting a three to win it.
Fox’s late game heroics
In the last second of this clip, one can see Fox trip over Patrick Beverley’s foot, appearing to turn his right ankle. The point guard left the game three possessions later. A grimace imprinted on his face, he received attention from the training staff.
It took place place around the midway point of the third quarter after the Kings came out of halftime mowing down the lead they allowed Chicago to build in the first half. Offensively, two Huerter three’s and Fox were humming, each putting up 6 points in the half’s first minutes. Fox subbed out, in between Barnes’ free throws that first tied the game before putting Sacramento up.
There was no further word on the ankle for a while as Matthew Dellavedova looked to be checking in with just seconds left in the third. Ultimately, Delly did not come in, and the good news for the Kings was that Fox started the fourth quarter.
It would be difficult for anyone to feign surprise that he scored 15 fourth quarter points on 5 of 8 shooting (3 of 5 from three) while also kicking up the intensity on defense. And the same applies to the notion of him hitting a game-winning three to spare a trip to overtime.
It was almost reminiscent of his three-quarters court heave that went right in the hole to win the game in Orlando way back in early November. That shot was crazy, but considering two Chicago defenders closed in on Fox as he pulled up and sunk the deep ball to win it.
Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said after the game that the idea was to take the ball out of Fox’s hands, hence why Dosunmu and Beverley closed in on him. But the all-star would not take “no” for an answer as he hit the bucket and sashayed the other way.
“When he shot it, I just felt it was going in,” Mike Brow said postgame. “And that has nothing to do with me because we didn’t do anything but tell everybody to get the heck out the way. That’s just the confidence that he exudes during that time in the game.”
His head coach has been rallying support—and he did so again after the game—for an All-NBA nod for both his all-stars, something that seems more and more likely by the day.
Mike Brown has also on multiple occasions urged the whole locker room to play more greedy, and De’Aaron Fox certainly lived up to that.
But the matter of his ankle still hangs in the balance, or at least potentially. It probably wouldn’t be a large concern if the Kings weren’t hopping on a plane to fly to Brooklyn for the second of a road back-to-back. Though, the silver lining there is that Fox spared not just his team from having to work overtime in the first of the consecutive contests, but also his ankle.
While it could certainly feel sore the next day, it was an encouraging sign that he was looking characteristically spry. Down the stretch, he looked light enough on his feet to be at risk of tripping over daisies. So maybe he’ll be ready to go.
The word comes up again: responsiveness
The word often applied to this Kings team, both in this space and elsewhere, is responsiveness. Whatever the case, challenge, or conundrum, there is a reflex for this group to come together, tighten the screws, and raise hell.
They did that twice in this game as a team before Fox put in the final word, circumventing the need for a third collective response (i.e. overtime). It may have a lot to do with the offense, but considering the game of basketball is played—and more importantly, won—on both ends of the floor, there are signs that this is a trait deeply embedded in their makeup.
The whole first half was, in Kevin Huerter’s words, “flat” as Sacramento struggled to establish a stable rhythm almost as if they were traveling through a patch of fog. Sabonis was quickly flirting with that triple-double again and Fox was getting involved early (as he seems to have been doing lately), but there was a lot of incongruous stretches. There was no shortage of silly mistakes and the lack of execution was out in the open.
This season, as an observer, there is not instinct to assume the team is out of it. A first half like that may foretell to some that the team is tired, and that is prone to happen every once in a while, but this team has often come out of halftime with sharpened fervency. Typically it’s mostly seen in terms of their defense, but this time it was a little bit of everything as Sac dominated the third quarter by a score of 37-22. In it, they brought out more energy, and moreover, got to the line 11 times after doing so 9 times in the first two periods and got efficient offensive efforts—the likes Kings fans must be used to seeing—from Fox, Sabonis, Huerter, and Monk.
It was a massive response as Sacramento had a 5-point lead going into the fourth after having trailed by 10 points at halftime.
But with their answer came another knock. The Bulls had forced the issue to prevent the game from getting away from them with the help of LaVine, and most notably, DeMar DeRozan. The score became quickly tied within the first two minutes before both teams traded blows, going back-and-forth.
The Kings put themselves up by three with about four minutes left, and then DeRozan hit a three with an additional free throw on a penalized closeout, putting his team up one. As he did earlier in the quarter, Monk sunk a big three, then Fox went to the line for two, and then Huerter answered a LaVine three with one of his own. Sac was up 4 points with a minute left before Fox made a mid-ranger to make it a 6-point lead, which was brought about with four defensive stops.
Chicago’s stars wouldn’t go away. LaVine forced his way to the line and got straight to the rim with less than 20 ticks left while Harrison Barnes and Kessler Edwards had went 1 for 2 in their respective trips to the line. With 15 seconds left and Sac up 4, the Bulls inbounded to DeRozan who hit a three and got a blessing of a foul called in favor of him—in spite of replay, even—that granted him the chance to tie it, which he did.
It was the type of thing that sucks the air out of your belly. Demoralizing and frustrating would be understatements as the Kings, after looking to be kneeling the ball to victory, were suddenly faced with overtime. But Fox brushed all that aside—as well as the defensive focus Chicago gave him with that last possession—to get the Kings on their scheduled flight to Brooklyn.
Both teams had a night of responses, Sacramento’s just happened to be better.
Edwards looks secure in the rotation
Kessler Edwards may have gone 1 for 5 from the field—converting a three and one out of two free throws—for just 4 points, he played the second most minutes out of those on the bench.
Of course, without Trey Lyles—a vital component of a consistently productive bench unit—the opportunity for more minutes was bound to be spread. But (as will be addressed further below) Brown tried spreading those minutes around and Edwards again had another considerable load of minutes.
Since his splash against Devin Booker last week in Phoenix that really put him on the map in the eyes of Kings fans, he’s come in at consistent intervals in the previous two games and played 18 minutes in both contests.
Not only does he provide essential support on the wing, his defensive prowess had him subbing in and out of the game late with Davion Mitchell as Mike Brown characteristically made savvy use of substitutions. Upon entering Wednesday’s game, he drew a charge against DeRozan before continuing to check him on defense.
That defense is a shot in the arm for this team, but it’s all the better knowing Edwards is not a complete liability on offense. He has a smart presence that will get aggressive when the opportunity arises. He hit his first three-point attempt—which came off a dribble handoff—and though he didn’t convert from the field after that, his attempts were more or less within the offense. As seen here, he may be going for some ambitious scores, but his fearlessness in the absence of Lyles (i.e. with the need to pick up the slack) is noteworthy. Unlike KZ Okpala, awareness of spacing has never been an issue, and what’s more, Edwards has shown talent in the rebounding department, coming away with an offensive board at one point.
He may not be the most appealing two-way player off the bench, but what he provides now is a luxury the team lacked beforehand as well as coming with an outlook of further development down the line.
Toying with lineups underscores Lyles’ importance
As noted, the Kings were missing an important piece of their bench, and that’s due to multiple reasons.
For one, Trey Lyles is such a star in his role, providing a discernible basketball IQ, tenacious rebounding, range, and a steady presence on defense.
But there is also the reason that there is little depth behind Lyles positionally speaking. When n the rare occasion Monk’s not there, there’s Terence Davis. When Davion Mitchell is pulled up for a spot start in replacement of Fox, Dellavedova is available. There’s not really anybody behind Lyles (there is Edwards, but it appears he, as noted, is a part of the nightly bench unit).
The closest thing is Chimezie Metu, who, way back in training camp, was viewed as a 4 on the depth chart. Well since then, he’s become the backup 5.
Without Lyles—and without Richaun Holmes, who missed the game with an illness—Metu was uprooted from that center position and actually played alongside Alex Len.
Part of the reason the first half was so muddy was the fact that there were novel combinations of players that had seen little to no on-court minutes together. Just writing Alex Len in a game recap feels odd.
Worse, though, none really seemed to be offering much.
Also seeing the floor was Terence Davis, who had played just 26 minutes in March prior to the Bulls game. As noted before, TD illustrates the depth of the team since he has so much talent, but without consistent play, it’s hard for him to bring a spark on offense right away. He did play with the aggression he typically brings to the floor, but again, the combinations were not gelling.
With the odd lineup configurations in the first half, it really underscored Lyles’ importance. He may very well be the glue guy for that bench group.
The Kings flew to Brooklyn after the game to take on the Nets in the second of the road back-to-back.
Without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, Brooklyn has weathered the storm for the most part. They’ve gone 8-10 since Irving’s last game, but Jacque Vaughn has his team sitting in the East’s sixth spot, one game behind the Knicks.
In 14 games since being moved there in the KD trade, Mikal Bridges is averaging 26.3 points on 50.6% shooting from the field and 45.8% from deep.
The last time these two teams played, it was one of the most explosive victories because it was a blowout win for Sacramento on national TV and early in the season. The Kings will look to make it 2-0 versus the Nets on the season.