Kings Squash Trailblazers, 16-Year Playoff Drought; Murray Etches His Name in History As Well

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 29: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings looks on before the game on March 29, 2023 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. 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 Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Kings traveled up to the Pacific Northwest to lay a beating on the Trailblazers, 120-80. More importantly, they finally put an end to the playoff drought that had taken hold over the previous sixteen seasons.

Sacramento came out with nice defensive activity and presence, and once the offense got into its full stride, it was essentially no contest, especially given the amount of talent not playing for Portland (i.e. Damian Lillard, Jerami Grant, Anfernee Simons, and Jusuf Nurkic). Taking care of the possession game—winning the differentials in free throw attempts (24-12), turnovers (8-14), and offensive rebounds (10-8)—the Kings took care of business, delivering a historic result.

The game had pretty much been decided early in the fourth quarter. Malik Monk’s 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists off the bench stood out, and so did Domantas Sabonis’ 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists. De’Aaron Fox scored 18 with 6 assists, Kevin Huerter put up 17, and Keegan Murray, breaking the rookie record for three’s made in a season, scored 13 with 5 rebounds.

Rookie Shaedon Sharpe looked good in his start, putting up 30 with 7 rebounds and 7 assists in 44 minutes of play. Also contributing for Portland was Kevin Knox’s 12 points and 12 rebounds as well as Jabari Walker’s 12 points and 5 boards off the bench.

“Obviously, we played a really good team game, I thought, on both ends of the floor,” coach Mike Brown assessed after the victory. Closing his opening remarks, he said that hopefully this can build momentum regarding the team’s defense ahead of the postseason.

The Kings handled the duty before them and clinched their playoff spot, but looking around the conference, they still sit in the third spot, two games behind the second place Grizzlies. Both the Suns and Clippers won as well; after beating the Timberwolves, Phoenix rests a half game ahead of LA. And Minnesota now sits in the seventh spot, one game beneath Golden State.

Game summary (takeaways below)

The Kings missed some shots in lethargic building, but they were engaged defensively, able to get some good looks off of them to get a lead. Sacramento got a bit sloppy, committing a few turnovers and allowing a second chance score to allow an 8-0 Portland run. Out of a timeout, Sac got some paint penetrations against the Blazers’ zone defense as well as some stops, but they trailed 19-20 after going 2 of 13 from deep.

In the second, the offense got going as the Kings got some nice play from Alex Len in the backup center role. Their defense remained active and a few three’s fell on the other end as Sac began to construct a lead. The connection between Sabonis—namely Kevin Huerter—was on full display as it exceeded 10-points. But with some empty possessions and some hustle on the part of Portland, the Blazers went on a 14-6 run as the Kings lead at the half by the mere score of 50-46.

Out of halftime and after a poor shooting first half, the Kings began the second with a 12-5 run. They were doing a nice job of moving the ball and getting inside, but they also got some three’s, including two from Keegan Murray, who broke the rookie record in three’s made. They increased the lead to 19 points, leading 83-64 after three.

After an early timeout in the fourth, the Kings embarked on an 11-0 run on the back of some three-point shooting, expanding the lead. Portland had not hit a field goal since the three-minute mark of the third and did not do so again until about the eight and a half minute mark of the fourth. Monk piled on some three’s and the lead inflated to 35 points as Mike Brown emptied his bench. And within no time, the playoff drought had dissipated entirely.

The drought is over

As everyone knows by now, the Kings made the playoffs. It had been sixteen years trapped in the morass of sports agony, and it’s all over for the fanbase that has suffered through perhaps the largest loyalty test imaginable given the context. 

Looking at the group of guys on the roster, the head coach, and the front office putting it all together, there’s honestly little surprise that they broke through. Of course the way they’ve done it and the place they stand among the conference may have been a bit surprising, but this outcome of ending the dreaded streak seemed on the horizon for the last thirteen or fourteen months.

The acquisition of Domantas Sabonis and the manner in which that indicated that GM Monte McNair was in the driver’s seat directing this wagon was the start back in February. The way Domas meshed with De’Aaron Fox—a borderline all-star for so long, held back by his team’s record—immediately produced the origins of a beautiful melody, one that is being sung across the fanbase.

Off of that, he continued to add to the team. More than Sabonis and a great role player like Trey Lyles, McNair essentially thieved Kevin Huerter away from Atlanta, inked Malik Monk to a contract, and drafted Keegan Murray, who has been an efficient starter for this winning club.

Furthermore, McNair brought in Mike Brown, a career winner who has been around greatness at various junctures of his time in the league. Brown has instilled a sense of accountability, sharpened the team’s hunger, and has created an environment where the term “losing culture” is the last thing that comes to mind.

And weaved together, these components unveil the product before you, the first Kings playoff team in over a decade and a half, the third place team in the Western Conference.

Of course, one can’t neglect Vivek Ranadive. Far more than the guy who threw down the wallet to keep the team in Sacramento, Ranadive went through the character arc of going from being the disrupter that puts every thing at risk of combusting to taking a step back into the shadows to focus on things like business deals with 50 Cent. Enough can’t be said about him taking that step back, or rather, that step down from his high horse; that must have been hard for the tycoon.

But seriously, look what was able to happen when the hand of Ranadive kept the mass of shade on the garden was taken away. Look at all that’s been cultivated.

Names like De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, Mike Brown, and Monte McNair will exist in the memories of so many. And so many more as well.

“We want to give (the fans) a lot more than we’ve given them so far already because they’re more than deserving of it,” coach Brown said after Wednesday’s win, adding later that the team expects “more” than a playoff berth.

Good activity and defense, especially from Fox and Davion

But back to the recap of the rout Sacramento delivered up in Portland…

After not bringing the necessary activity and physicality to the defensive end against the Timberwolves at home on Monday, the Kings made sure to get off to the right kind of start defensively. And on that end, they were great the whole night, compiling 19 total deflections.

“I thought defensively, the entire game, we were pretty good,” coach Brown applauded postgame. “Even in that first quarter, we only scored 19, but defensively, we did a really good job of holding them to 20. And then for the game, holding them to 80 points was, for us remarkable.”

The starters looked good out of the gate, Sabonis, Huerter, and Fox all had notable defensive moments in the first period. Keegan Murray had some moments, and off the bench, Malik Monk was high-energy while Alex Len earned the Defensive Player of the Game chain (more on him below).

The ball pressure from the various heads of the snake was really nice. In a game where he had 4 deflections, Fox had some terrific moments in that regard, including this steal and slam. Along with him and seemingly always a threat to walk away with DPOG honors, Davion Mitchell did his typical work, racking up 3 steals on the night as well as 4 deflections himself. Mitchell was decisive, sneaky, and quick

“We’re more than a capable defensive team,” Brown added. “And there were a lot of things that we did tonight consistently throughout the course of the game, and when we can do that for as close to 48 minutes as possible, good things will happen.”

Keegan Murray bolstered a historic night with more of it

In addition to the history of ending the longest playoff drought in North American professional sports, Keegan Murray etched his name into history by surpassing Donovan Mitchell for the most three-pointers made in a season.

“Breaking any type of records at the highest level in anything you do is absolutely amazing,” Mike Brown said of his rookie, making it the top priority in his postgame remarks. “And to see Keegan do that tonight with the way he’s played all year and how hard he’s worked was an amazing feat. You don’t take that for granted. That is hard to do when you’re talking about something in the history of something. That’s an amazing, amazing, phenomenal job that he’s done. He should be applauded for many years. Hopefully, he’s not done with it yet. I’m just so proud of him.”

It was kind of funny, but infinitely more cool that Murray’s head coach was so excited for him, especially after the Kings had just ended their glaring playoff drought.

After a 3 for 7 night from deep, Murray sits at 188, one above Mitchell’s 187, and with six games left, he is far from finished.

Alex Len provided great minutes, won DPOG chain

Frankly speaking, given the fact Portland’s biggest players were the 6’10” Drew Eubanks as well as Kevin Knox and Jabari Walker, who both stand at 6’7″, it was slightly surprising to see Brown go to Alex Len as the backup center. Len certainly played well on Monday, but the matter regarding the backup to Sabonis seemed to be venturing toward a platoon situation based on matchups.

Based on the matchup with the Trailblazers, it seemed like an opportunity for Chimezie Metu to get the nod, but it went to Len, and coach Brown never looked back.

Alex Len went in there, provided great defense, fit in on offense, and executed his minutes quite well as his feel for in-game action seemed only to strengthen.

Earning the DPOG chain for the night, he was terrific on the defensive side of the ball. He used his size well to go high with his hands and changed shots with his height. He recorded a blocked shot, but more importantly, he displayed awesome defensive fundamentals to go vertical.

Offensively, he provided a more surprising impact. Early in the second quarter—which means early in his minutes—Malik Monk threaded the needle to him, and then not long after, Monk did so again. The Kings’ de facto sixth man has done an excellent job facilitating all season, and Len benefitted nicely from it. Maybe they can form a nice connection in the second unit?

For now, Len appears to be the guy. Of course, there is the fact this backup 5 role has been loose around the edges all season, shifting from guy to guy, but Len had the least opportunity, and now that he’s getting it, he looks more than worthy of it.

Let’s see if he holds on.

No slump for Monk

For a second there, it seemed like Malik Monk may have been trending downward towards a slump. In the previous five games coming into this one, he was scoring 9.8 per game on 29.8% from the field and 22.2% from three with 2.4 assists. For reference, in the 13 contests before that, he was shooting 50.4% from the field and 50.0% from deep for 14.8 points with 4.3 rebounds.

On Wednesday night, Monk went 6 of 12 from the field, including an impressive 5 of 9 from three to lead his team with 19 points, which paired nicely with his 6 rebounds and 6 assists.

In short, it does not seem like the Monk plane will be coming down for a landing any time soon. Perhaps he’s making an ascent.

Going forward

The Kings will stick around Portland to play this same Trailblazers team on Friday night.

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Dan Smith
Dan Smith
2 months ago

The drought is finally over! Congrats to all Kings who’ve suffered the past decade and a half and held on strong! Now we’re rewarded for the loyalty! This team has the potential to be special and should be one of the top teams for the next 5-6 years anyway…barring any significant injuries or key subtractions. As a Canadian fan, I couldn’t be happier the city gets to experience the success first hand and hope they enjoy their first playoff game…have a blast guys!

Last edited 2 months ago by Dan Smith
2 months ago

Congrats Sacramento for clinching a play-off spot!