Kings Hit First, But Kyrie and Mavs Deliver Final Blow in Tale of Two Halves

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 5: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings looks on during the game against the Dallas Mavericks on April 5, 2023 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. 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 Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Kings went into Dallas and came up short against a desperate Mavericks team, 119-123, after the two teams’ offensive production split off in two directions in the second half.

They won the possession game, the paint points battle (58-36), and dominated in second chance points (30-14), but Sacramento’s engine showed some signs of smoke as it tried to finish out the game. Without downplaying a loss, the Mavs, to their credit, were clawing to win this game for the sake of their postseason chances, coming up big in the end.

The loss came in spite of De’Aaron Fox’s 28 points and 8 assists as well as another Domantas Sabonis triple-double of 19 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. Harrison Barnes scored 16, Kevin Huerter had 14, and Keegan Murray threw in 11 with 9 boards. Off the bench, Malik Monk had a 13-point, 4-assist night while Alex Len and Trey Lyles combined for 14 rebounds (9 offensive).

Kyrie Irving tipped the balance in this contest with 31 points and 8 assists after scoring just 6 in the first half. With him, Luka Doncic recorded 29 points and 10 boards while Tim Hardaway Jr. added 24 on 5 of 8 from three. Christian Wood also hit some big three’s, finishing with 14 points from the bench.

The night and day difference between the first and second half offense for the Kings stands out. In the first half Sac shot over 50% while in the second they shot below 35% from the field. Worse, as Mike Brown assessed, a drop in physicality and pace also came in the second half.

“Our sense of urgency, our physicality, our pace — all that stuff — was really, really good in the first half,” Brown said postgame. “(Dallas) came out in the second half and took it to us. The game was basically reversed in that area.”

Memphis lost to New Orleans in overtime on Wednesday, keeping Sacramento within two games of the second spot with two games left. With that and the Kings-Mavs game, the only other Western Conference action was the critical game between the two LA teams which has big implications for seeding; in it, the Clippers came out on top, lifting them to the fifth spot and putting the Lakers in the seven spot with the Warriors in between them in sixth. The Pelicans and Timberwolves reside in eighth and ninth. Dallas sits in eleventh, even record wise with OKC, but the Thunder have the tie breaker.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Kyrie and Luka were showing their offensive talent, attacking in the pick-and-roll while also finding teammates, but the Kings–unlike the start to the previous game–were aggressive going to the rim, maintaining nice pace that characteristically picked up with stops. While Sac’s three’s fell at first, a lid formed on the rim in spite of the quality of the looks being produced (4 of 14 in the period from deep). Monk’s presence reoriented the focus inside, but only slightly as Sacramento trailed 27-28 after one.

After going scoreless in the final two minutes of the first, Dallas found their offense. With Fox and Monk, the Kings were playing fast, always on the the attack, especially with the Mavs’ 5 third period turnovers. When they left the floor, it continued as Sabonis was finding cutters and Keegan Murray was hitting seemingly every attempt, whether from three or near the basket, pushing the lead to double digits. Fox and Monk returned to close the half, and Sac lead 71-60 at halftime after accumulating 11 assists and 30 paint points in the quarter.

The Kings were maintaining the lead, but suddenly Dallas erupted for an 14-1 run to take the lead, doing so with the help of Tim Hardaway Jr.’s outside shooting and a three minute Sacramento field goal drought. They got back into a decent stride, but the Mavs were on a roll, holding onto the lead they’d taken with the enhanced play of their stars. Sac held Dallas to no field goals in the final two minutes of the third and were able to tie it at 92-all after three.

It had morphed into a back-and-forth battle in the fourth with stars challenging stars and three’s answering three’s. But Kyrie Irving began to blister with some of the shots he was making, including over Davion Mitchell’s exquisite effort. Things momentarily slowed for Dallas’ future Hall of Famer with a timeout, but the Mavericks defense was pestering Fox, preventing him from taking control. Fox never quit, though, getting a few looks to fall, but Irving and others saw critical shots fall for them, driving the nail into the coffin.

Tale of two halves

The Kings looked great in the first half. They came out with a great intent to get inside and generate from there and, moreover, to use defensive physicality to wind up the pace. As such, they lead by 11 points at halftime, but out of the break, the Mavericks were quick to respond.

“They hit us first,” De’Aaron Fox said of Dallas’ second half performance.

That’s the main takeaway from the game: the tale of two halves.

“What I took away from this game … is they upped their physicality in the second half,” Mike Brown reiterated in his postgame presser after saying something similar in his opening remarks. “They reached an awful lot and I think some of the fouls — sometimes they reached they were fouls, but we didn’t get the call and deservingly so because we weren’t as aggressive or as strong with the ball as we should have been.”

It was sort of bizarre to see it happen because the Kings have been one of the best third quarter teams all season, especially as of late.

Without seeking out an excuse per say, perhaps the road back-to-back had something to do with the decline in effort and execution. That would not be a good excuse for a team that legitimately believes they can win at a high level, but it is good to know that this was the final back-to-back since there are none in the playoffs.

A lesson for the playoffs?

Dallas was a desperate beast, threatened with the prospect of a lost season. It’s in that state that any beast is most dangerous. It’s also a state that comes into being in the playoffs, when the stakes are at its highest, especially in an elimination scenario. 

Was this a good lesson for what lies ahead?

The Bee’s Chris Biderman asked Mike Brown about that notion after the loss, and the head coach made a point to highlight the solution to any game, whether the opponent is desperate or not.

“Watching the flow of the game in terms of which team brings the most aggression and/or physicality is gonna have a chance to win,” Brown remarked. “That’s a lesson that you can kind of take away from this because (the Mavs) surely were the aggressors and the most physical team in the second half.”

Biderman had asked Fox the same thing postgame, and the all-star guard essentially parroted Brown’s assessment, highlighting a team-wide understanding of what just happened and underlining a universal lesson.

“For us, it’s just about trying to keep our foot on the gas,” Fox declared.

Fox and Kyrie

The mutual talent and mutual respect of De’Aaron Fox and Kyrie Irving–two of the best and most exciting players in the NBA–makes for a hell of a spectacle to watch. It’s that talent and respect that seems to drive so much more out of them.

Both lead their team in points and both had the chance to win the game in their hands in the fourth quarter. It just so happens that Kyrie got the better of Fox, not only winning the game on the back of some huge makes, but also surpassing Sacramento’s all-star point guard for total fourth quarter points.

After a 19-point fourth quarter, Irving’s fourth quarter points total stands at 551 while Fox’s, following a 2 of 8 fourth for 7 points, stands right behind at 547. (Of course, Fox still has command of the total clutch points scored, on his way to winning the Jerry West award.)

“He got it going and you tip your hat to him,” De’Aaron Fox said of him.

Irving just got so hot that he was burning through every line of defense. Really, though, coach Brown did not think the urgency was there to slow him.

“We weren’t as aggressive as we probably should have been at the end of the day, especially with the way he started to get rolling,” Brown admitted.

Nevertheless, thinking objectively, that was a sight to see. That is, both the way a challenge from Kyrie Irving brings some high-intensity play from Fox and the way Kyrie illustrated why he’s such a generational talent.

Effort on the boards

The physicality, urgency, and pace may have altered after half time, but one things stayed consistent all night for Sacramento: their work on the offensive glass.

They finished with 22 offensive rebounds for 30 second chance points. 10 of those rebounds and 16 of those points came in the first half, demonstrating the steady dose many players helped provide. 

Overall, the rebounding was great, outdoing Dallas by 20 boards.

Alex Len was a beacon on the boards, snagging 9 in 13 minutes of play, 7 of which came on the offensive end of the floor. Similarly, Trey Lyles provided excellent effort on the glass from the bench, coming down with jut 2 offensive boards (5 total), but always putting in physical work down low. And, rounding out the rebounding from the bench, Kessler Edwards continued showing his underrated rebounding with two on the offensive side while Malik Monk recorded 5 defensive rebounds.

Of course, among the starters, Sabonis–the leading rebounder in the league–was his typical self, never quitting as seen here. Harrison Barnes posted 4 offensive boards, Kevin Huerter and De’Aaron Fox both had a pair, and Keegan Murray almost had a double-double with 9 total rebounds.

So there’s a bright spot for you.

A note on #77

Luka Doncic is talented, but he may be a moron.

After the game had been decided, the Slovenian threw up a heave at the buzzer that went down, which is the kind of thing that earns a competitor whatever they have coming to them, even if it didn’t count.

The attempt and the way Bally Sports Southwest cartoonishly celebrates it above is beyond absurd. Regardless of being a fan or not, that is what anyone would call poor sportsmanship.

Personal opinions don’t make it into these recaps so much–because they often mean nothing–but this is beyond the realm of opining. That was a blatant showing of disrespect that, in the days of actual baseball (not whatever they play these days that they call baseball) would result in a fastball to the ribcage. 

To give Doncic the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was not paying attention, busy smelling the daisies of his own anal cavity. That has to be the case because he’s among the top competitors in the league and should know better, but even still, that’s no excuse for that kind of stuff, and it will look even worse if Dallas does in fact not make the playoffs, something that is still possible.

Going forward

Friday night will be the Kings’ last home game of the regular season and it will be the fourth and final meeting with the Warriors.

Golden State won the first two contests, the second of which ended on a controversial–which may be an understated adjective–no-call when Kevin Huerter was clearly hacked on a last-second three-point attempt. Sacramento tied it together and beat the champs in the third meeting back in November, but they’re down 1-2 in the season series, so this will be a chance to even it up.

The Warriors will have the benefit of adequate rest. They beat OKC at home on Tuesday night and only have to make the roughly two hour drive east to Sacramento.

Steve Kerr is still shuffling through various combinations, but their best players have it going lately. Most notably, Jordan Poole has been getting it back and Draymond Green is at the door step of the period where he plays his most vital basketball: the postseason. It’ll be a competitive contest.

Not to mention the fact these two could very well face off in the first round of the playoffs, which would be the case if the postseason started right this instant.

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Dan Smith
7 months ago