Fox Explodes as Kings Take Series Opener: Game 1 Recap & Takeaways

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 15: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings is interviewed by Malika Andrews of ESPN after defeating the Golden State Warriors in Game One of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at the Golden 1 Center on April 15, 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 Loren Elliott/Getty Images)

In their first playoff game against the defending champions, the Kings played physically, relentlessly, and benefitted immensely from a hell of a postseason debut from both De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, holding off the Warriors in a fun one, 126-123, to take a 1-0 lead in the series.

It was a dog fight as one might have expected. To Sacramento’s credit, they closed out the third and fourth quarters the way one might have expected Golden State to. The Warriors were consistent with a lot of their output, but the Kings built things up, culminating to a 35-point fourth period where they hit 5 of 6 from deep. 

Golden State won the assist battle 31-18, doing a great job of pestering Domantas Sabonis (5 of 17 for 12 points with only 2 assists), but even with that, the Warriors allowed 17 offensive boards for 21 second chance points and were turned over a lot (15 times for 16 points). They committed 0 turnovers in the fourth, but there, they allowed second opportunities and gave the aggressive Kings 12 attempts from the free throw line. Overall, Sacramento scored 60 in the paint.

Fox went 13 of 27, including 4 of 8 from deep, for a game-high 38 points with 5 assists while Monk joined in for 32 points, including 14 of 14 from the charity stripe. Trey Lyles made the third biggest impact, scoring 16 on 4 of 6 from three to go along with 6 rebounds. Alex Len looked solid with 4 points and 7 boards, and Davion Mitchell provided nice defensive pressure. While he struggled to score and pass, Sabonis had a game-high 16 rebounds with 5 on the offensive end.

Steph Curry led his team with 30 points on 11 of 20 from the field and 6 of 12 from three, Klay Thompson scored 21 on 5 of 14 from deep, Jordan Poole had 17, and off the bench for the first time in his career in his return to the floor, Andrew Wiggins scored 17 with some nice defense. Additionally, doing some dirty work, Draymond Green had 9 rebounds and 11 assists, Donte DiVincenzo had 10 points with 3 boards and 4 assists, and Kevon Looney posted 8 points with 9 rebounds.

Mike Brown was proud of his team’s physicality and second half pace, as well as the paint touches that produced spray three’s in the latter half of the game, but he remained sober in his disposition.

“It’s one game,” he said near the end of his presser’s opening remarks. “Obviously, we’ll take it, but we understand that this is a long journey.”

Again, this was a close one with the lead never surpassing 10 points, and it was De’Aaron Fox and the bench who kept things together in the third before closing that quarter out and looking made for the big moment in the fourth quarter.

Game one summary (takeaways below)

The pulse of the building was pounding, and the Kings looked engaged and physical out of the gate. Fox and Barnes were setting a great tone, on defense and the boards respectively. The jumpers were not falling for Sacramento, but with some stops and ball movement, they were getting their share inside. Out of a timeout, Wiggins and Payton II came in, raising their team’s physicality. The Warriors were using it to get out and run, but Sac’s transition defense was looking ready. Thompson and Wiggins helped their team shoot a better clip, but Fox got the game tied at 29-all at the end of one.

Early in the second, Alex Len and Donte DiVincenzo were shining for their teams and on both ends; hell, both of them were making an identical impact on the glass. The game’s focus was oriented, as imagined, inside, as both teams were working to get there. The Warriors were seeing some three’s and jumpers fall, grabbing the lead. Even with three fouls, Malik Monk was bringing his fire, scoring 6 straight for the Kings offense. Looney was playing staunch defense while Wiggins was doing the same as well as what he did last year at this time on the offensive glass, and with that, they closed the half very well. Sacramento’s physicality was overshadowed in the half’s waning minutes, but they were only down 55-61.

Golden State kept up their intensity on both sides of the ball as they got their biggest lead of the game, but Fox was intent on pushing his team forward, scoring 11 of his team’s first 13 points in the third period. Sustaining that was difficult as the Warriors’ variety of weapons began to fire off. However, in the final four minutes of the third, a collective effort for Sacramento came through, led by Trey Lyles and the main bench guys. Ending the quarter on a 17-9 run, Sac led 91-90 after three.

The energy in the building was lifted with some big three’s from the Fox-Monk as Steph Curry waited on the bench. The Warriors got a few looks at the rim, saw some more Looney defense, and had a Curry three give them the lead. Monk kept his foot on the gas, and they continued putting up a valiant fight on the boards. The lead began to jump back and forth as Fox and Monk were working their magic and while Thompson was hitting consecutive three’s Sac continued pushing the ball ahead, going on a 10-2 run with some Warriors misses.

In the final minutes, it felt like Curry and Fox were just trading punches. Fox missed a couple potential daggers, but Golden State could not take advantage as the physical play surged forward. After Wiggins missed an open look from deep, the Warriors did not foul, allowing Sac to push ahead before Monk was fouled with about three ticks remaining, putting his team up 3 points. On the final attempt, Draymond inbounded it to Curry who missed a great look—by his standard—from three. 

Sac’s impressive, physical debut

Golden State lost the first game of their title defense in the postseason, marking the end to their streak of winning game one of a series seven straight times. And to who? A team that could not escape the focus on experience and inexperience for the previous week.

In their first playoff game against a team with a wealth of moxie, the Kings did just about everything they needed to win this game. And they were doing a lot of it from the start.

While meeting with the media earlier in the week, De’Aaron Fox had an air of seriousness surrounding him that stood out. As the head of the snake, he was determined to hit first. While the opening period was a stalemate, it was imperative that the Kings—even if they don’t land a clobbering jab out of the gate—not take a heavy blow to begin the game. Having to play catch up would be an issue.

And from Fox’s defense in the opening minutes to veteran Harrison Barnes’ poise and activity, the team made it known they were more than serious about and more than capable of winning game one, feeding into the crowd’s energy—which, according to coach Brown, was “deafening”—rather than merely trying to ride it bareback. Early in the contest, there were those things, but also some strong defensive efforts in transition, indicating this moment would not go over their heads.

After the game, Fox noted how he was eager to find out what the physicality would actually be like. Everyone knows it’s upped significantly in the playoffs, and he met it well with a great degree of intensity. And both he and Monk led an aggressive response to it after they’d felt it out.

In fact, those that were physical and/or aggressive played well. Trey Lyles didn’t just hit three’s, he continued being one of the most consistent in terms of getting his body on someone for a rebound, grabbing 6, including 2 on the offensive end. Speaking of the boards, Sabonis may have been limited in some of the many aspects of the game where he makes a difference, but his league-leading rebounding could never be denied as he never stopped fighting in that or any regard, snagging 16 total, 5 offensive.

Furthermore, Davion Mitchell never held back on trying to chase a guy like Steph Curry around, giving it his all. And Alex Len earned the Defensive Player of the Game chain for the night due to his play on that end.

Physicality has been preached all season long. When the Kings lost a game this season, it was typically due to a lack of physicality. But that does not make this game one showing surprising because after such games, the team would respond in resounding fashion. With such a big challenge standing in front of them—one that their head coach did not need to articulate—they were ready to respond.

Fox and Monk combine for 70 points

The manner in which the Kentucky connection secured this victory felt very much like the regular season double-overtime thriller against the Clippers. That is because De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk had historic playoff debuts.

Luka Doncic holds the record for points in a playoff debut with 42, so Fox (38) put himself right up near the top, tying John Williamson, who did so back in 1978 for the New Jersey Nets. And Malik Monk broke the record for most points in a playoff debut as a reserve with 32 points.

Fox was an impact player in all his 40 minutes of play. He admitted it took him “some time to get adjusted to it,” but he scored 29 in the second half to follow up just 9 in the first. As noted, his defense was in everyone’s face.

And the spark off the bench made a similar difference. Malik Monk, as his longtime buddy and teammate said of him, “carried” the team in the first half. Just as Fox had 15 in the fourth, Monk had 15 in the second quarter, penetrating to score at the rim or get to the line. He did more of that in the final period, too, coming away 8 for 8 from the free throw line in the fourth. 

They were sensational.

Going off topic and thinking more broadly about the Kentucky connection, it’s safe to throw Trey Lyles in there even as he attended much earlier than Fox and Monk. 

Possibly the second closest teammate to Fox behind Monk is Lyles. Lyles was one of, if not the first to speak out after Fox was initially snubbed of an all-star spot (when Jaren Jackson Jr. got it over him), and conversely, back in March, Fox had Lyles’ back after his altercation with Brook Lopez.

Postgame, Fox added on to a note from Monk about how the team stays together and laughs together.

“We also go out there and get on each other,” Fox said, noting that it’s all about accountability and nothing personal. The two players he cited that stay on him the most were Monk and Lyles, and all three players in this game glistened prominently.

But getting back to the primary point, Fox and Monk are a hell of a duo. They again showed that tonight with 70 combined points scored.

The Kings bench was beyond critical

The productivity of the bench won the game for Sacramento.

Of course, there was Monk who had the best playoff debut of any bench player in NBA history. While he wasn’t a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year, this feat was a great way to encapsulate the phenomenal season he had as Sac’s sixth man. 

As Fox had noted, Monk led the charge in the first half, particularly in the second period. All season, Monk has been the guy that fills in for the playmaking ability of Sabonis. As things would play out in this game, the playmaking ability of Domas was contained effectively, especially outside of the first quarter. So it was no wonder Monk had such a solid second, which kept the team afloat as the Warriors looked like they might be setting up for a chance to create significant separation.

Also a savior in this one was the all around output of Trey Lyles, who did his work on the glass and hit his shots, being that highly aware, highly intelligent role player that provides critical minutes. 

The biggest shift came near the end of the third quarter, and it was the bench guys noted here that led such an effort. In the period’s closing minutes, Lyles had three huge moments. The first was a terrific rebound to secure a stop, followed by a trail three from the top. Then he had a put back not long after. And with thirty seconds left in it, he hit a three, punishing the squeeze of Golden State’s weak side defense and capping off a massive closeout of the period.  

Draymond Green said Monk and Lyles were the reasons the Kings won the contest, but two other guys were highly involved.

As is typical, Davion Mitchell had some nice defensive moments. He also had 4 assists in a game where ball movement was limited for Sacramento. It was aggressive of him to pass the ball three-quarters length of the court up to Lyles for his first three-pointer, and he also looked decisive on this pass to Barnes after driving inside. Plus it was a positive sign to see his first three go down, not only because it was his first attempt from deep, but mainly because the Warriors left him as open as ever.

And a guy who was simply terrific was Alex Len. Coming into this series, questions about how he’d matchup against Golden State arose, but he looked great out there. Providing very productive minutes as well as a defensive presence inside, which earned him the DPOG chain. He continued his work from the last eight games of the regular season, being a presence on the glass as well as being a danger in the paint defensively, but being that with nice mobility, timing, and fundamentals more than anything else. 

Looney and others bothered Sabonis

Credit the Warriors for limiting Domantas Sabonis to just 12 points on 5 of 17 from the field for 12 points and only 2 assists. Domas looked great on the glass, but Golden State took away his scoring and facilitating. 

Kevon Looney in particular was great. Sabonis got the score on him on their first one-on-one opportunity. Looney sagged off and let Domas come to him, waiting to be met as a solid, sturdy, and vertical disruptor, something he basically did all game and which ended up working very effectively, especially with Sabonis going 0 for 3 on jump shots.

It’s difficult for Sabonis’ offense because the Warriors are challenging him to shoot, but also seeing great work from Looney, who was disciplined and hardy. He did a good job at bracing himself as he stayed back inside, being able to prevent Sabonis from whipping out his bag of tricks while being that statue, both wide and vertical. Not to mention he matched Sabonis’ relentlessness and toughness.

Draymond Green also made it hard for Sabonis to move with the ball given his hands and length, and his activity forced a second Domas turnover in the matter of seconds. 

This was discussed as being a likely focus for Golden State and a likely thing to be executed. What Sabonis is able to do going forward in this series could prove pivotal given how well the Warriors did on him and how many big shots fell for the Kings.

Box-and-1 on defense and a variance of defensive looks

With Steph Curry and the weapons Golden State possesses, Mike Brown and company knew they’d have to  try different things.

Funnily enough, leading up to the game, Marcus Thompson asked Curry if he gets surprised by anything in reference to coverages, making note of the box-and-1 they saw in 2019 as perhaps the last time.

“I probably wouldn’t be surprised if Mike B. does it,” Curry reflected. “We did a lot when he was running the defensive show here.”

And Curry was right, Brown did go to the box-and-1 at various points, and in this close game, it worked just enough.

Coach Steve Kerr was asked why certain pick-and-roll looks—often seen during the regular season late in games—did not come about so much to end this one.

“They played a lot of box-and-1 tonight,” Kerr replied. “So they tried to disrupt some of the pick-and-roll game, and so that forced us to do some other thing.

It got brought up in several guys’ postgame interviews—all starting from Brenden Nunes’ questions aside from Kerr’s note—including Curry.

Last year’s Finals MVP noted that he and his team will need better timing and spacing to counteract it.

However, don’t think this is some secret weapon that the Kings had been practicing in the past week. Coach Mike Brown said it was in the coaching staff’s “game plan,” but admitted it’s not something they “work on a ton.” 

The reason that the Kings “did a great job” with it, according to Brown, was because he and the staff thought it’d be more beneficial not to:

“I won’t forget,” he began recounting. “We were in a coaches meeting, and somebody said, ‘Hey, let’s work on the box-and-1, let’s work on this, let’s work on that.’ 

“And I said, ‘No, we’re not going to because the beauty of us going to a box-and-1 is we don’t really know what we’re doing, which that may confuse the other teams, so let’s just let them play.’

“And to back that up, when we were slapping the guys hands going around, Alex Len — the first thing he said to me — he said, ‘Coach. Hey, can we go over the box-and-1? Because I don’t know what I’m doing.’ 

“I said, ‘That’s a good thing, don’t worry about it.'”

In addition to the box-and-1, there were some zone looks used, plus the strong effort of guys like De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell, and Harrison Barnes to try and run around and guard Steph Curry.

Brown said this game showed what he’s already witnessed, which is that Fox has “embraced” becoming a two-way player. 

Davion was great at providing pressure, as well as fighting past screens to get up as good of a contest as possible.

And Fox noted of Harrison Barnes that the vet came to him to tell him he’d take on the challenge of guarding Curry for a bit to give him a break.

It’s important to offer a varying mix of defensive looks in order to throw a playoff opponent—especially this one—off just enough to win these dog fights, and they managed to do just enough in this one. More important, though, is continuing to mix it up, to evolve and improve because the Warriors will come back Monday having worked on those looks shown in game one.

Wiggins is going to be a huge factor

Andrew Wiggins missed his last four looks from three, including an open one that could have put his team up 2 points with ten seconds left. Not only was it wide open, it was in the left corner, where he’s shot about 44% from in his career.

But that shouldn’t excite Kings fans. This was about as good of a return as the Kings could have asked for. Wiggins had been out seven weeks, the bulk of which had him away from the team entirely. He came back and his instincts, as one Warriors reporter noted in a few questions, were sharp, and he, after all, went 7 of 12 from the field for 17 points in the first three periods, and played great defense the whole game, except when Monk went right by him here.

Even that blow by seemed indicative of a little burn out near the end as he seemed to settle on the idea of Monk settling for a three. That and the shooting drop off in the fourth illustrate what was probably imagined as a big possibility for a guy who had not played an NBA game in a while.

“I thought he looked really good,” Kerr said of Wiggins. “I thought first half, he was amazing. Second half, he maybe wore down a little bit, which is to be expected given that he hasn’t played in a game in over two months.

Wiggins confessed that he can see why people saw a little bit of wear down near the end, but as a competitor, he insisted “he felt good.”

Nevertheless it was a more than satisfactory return for a very key player for Golden State, and it should be expected that he’ll be a little better come game two and more so going forward. 

What might fans see in game two?

Listening to the press conferences of Steve Kerr and some Warriors players, they are not at all panicking. Nobody would expect them to. In fact, they’re confident. Kerr and others noted the offensive rebounding differential and Monk’s 14 free throw attempts as main reasons for the close loss. They also recognized that De’Aaron Fox, who is a 32.4% three-point shooter, simply had it going from the outside (he went 3 for 3 in the fourth quarter), understanding that they just can’t let him get that confident.

In reality, it was a close game that came down to the little things and big shots, the former of which can be adjusted while the latter is something you’re often going to have to live with.

For one, the Warriors—especially when it comes to Fox and Lyles on the perimeter—feel like they just let a few guys gain too much confidence. Mike Brown has said all season that you have to be physical to start because the last thing a team needs is opposing shooters seeing balls go in early. 

Fox hit 4 of his last 4 three-pointers, and the first of those came when he was left wide open in transition. Lyles hit 4 of 6 total, and his initial make came from a push ahead pass by Davion Mitchell that found Lyles unattended. Steve Kerr referenced that idea of letting those guys get confident, so that’ll be a point of emphasis going forward, especially when the game was decided by just 3 points.

They’ll also have to do a better job of boxing out, which Draymond Green highlighted after his team’s loss. He and his squad know they have to do what Sabonis and Lyles were doing, and that is getting their bodies on someone.

Furthermore, Green noted how the focus regarding Monk was on three-point shooting, not penetrations and passing. They must’ve had some idea about his aggressive nature not only to get inside for himself, but also for others in the case of generating dump offs and spray three’s. After their win, Fox said Monk’s one of the best playmakers in the league.

Even as Golden State struggled to secure stops on the boards and let a guy like Malik Monk work his magic, they know they did a good job of limiting Sacramento’s ball movement, namely by bothering Sabonis. Even as Fox came out of halftime seemingly being the one-man floating device, there had to be concern brewing among fans seeing him doing a lot of work on his own while losing the assist differential.

Simply put, if the Kings lost, the containment of Sacramento’s ball movement and assists would be a bigger topic of discussion.

Of course, Sac has adjustments to make, too. Figuring out how to weaponize Sabonis’ dynamic skillset will be important after his scoring and assists were held in check. Finding a way to get better ball movement after an 18-assist game will be important.

They also have to find ways to get guys like Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray—two guys that were not always noticeable on the floor, particularly the rookie—comfortable and productive. They combined for 8 points and collectively went 0 for 8 from beyond the arc. Just from an eye test, too, they seemed like the least physical members of the Kings.

But probably the biggest adjustment for the Kings will come when game two starts. Whatever the Warriors do, Sacramento has to be ready to adjust to the adjustments. As the guys probably well know, the horns are just getting locked and things are only getting more difficult.

Going forward

After a warm homecoming to playoff basketball for the Sacramento Kings, everyone’s attention rightfully shifts to the next meeting. 

Game two is scheduled for Monday night at 7pm Pacific time. Coverage of the action at The Golden 1 Center will be available on both TNT and NBC Sports California (and/or Bay Area).

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments