All season long, Malik Monk has embodied what a good sixth man is supposed to be. As Mike Brown put it after a win in New Orleans a couple weeks ago, De’Aaron Fox’s college teammate is “what a true sixth man should be,” highlighting how he can create a variety of different “advantages” for his teammates.
Throughout Sacramento’s regular season, it was Monk who—in addition, took on the responsibility of not letting the team separate—ascended as the primary creator when team assists leader Domantas Sabonis left the floor, and it’s no wonder that in game one of the playoff series against Golden State, with the Warriors working well to limit Domas, Monk exploded for a historic 32-point playoff debut off the bench.
On Saturday night, Fox explained how he was feeling things out in the first half of the series opener. He eventually went off for 29 second half points, but he rightly credited Monk for doing “a hell of a job carrying us through that first half.”
Both his second quarter and fourth quarter contributions proved imperative in the Kings game one win. He did what a sixth man should do.
“I always try to tell the (fellow bench) guys we got to come in and have more energy than the first group so they can come in and pick it up just how we did,” Monk said postgame Saturday.
It’s that understanding of what’s necessary for the team to succeed, that accountability both by words and example that partially explains Monk’s importance in his role and for Sac’s success.
Warriors fans may have been surprised at the dynamic effect Malik Monk made on the game. To many of them and to many who have watched little of Kings basketball this season, they probably just imagined him being a prototypical bucket-getter, mainly by way of the three-point shot.
Draymond Green appeared to admit that there was some remnant of underestimation regarding Monk.
“We got to stop Malik from getting downhill,” Green replied to a question about Monk’s impact. “He got downhill quite a bit, put a lot of pressure on our defense. We talked a lot about him as a three-point shooter and he got to the cup and he got some good finishes — he got to the free throw line, knocked those down, 14 for 14. So obviously, we could do a much better job on him and we will.”
Even as Monk has noted how he never had an opportunity to play this way until arriving under the wing of coach Brown, Golden State had to at least be aware that such a performance was possible. Right? He’s been doing it all year.
Perhaps the fact he was making a playoff debut would deter any extra concern for Monk. Or maybe, there was no consideration for what might happen if one mixes the energy of Malik Monk with the pulsating and ceaseless rhythm of a roaring crowd—witnessing it’s first playoff game in over a decade and a half—which is as deadly a blunder as unknowingly mixing bleach with ammonia.
For all the sparks Monk creates, for all the will he musters every time he hits the floor that fuels others’ will, and all the gluing together he does in the locker room, Sacramento’s other, more longstanding sixth man—the “deafening” crowd—was, in a similar manner, a pivotal factor in the result of such a close game.
“I think Sacramento showed out tonight,” Fox said of the home atmosphere. “I think it was Trey (Lyles) walked by and he was like, ‘Yo, that’s the loudest arena that I’ve ever played in.’ And we’ve talked about that before. We know what this fan base is about and what they want to do.”
The crowd was crucial. Picking up any slack. Not only matching the energy, raising it. Creating opportunities. They did everything a great sixth man in uniform does.
“I think when guys ran out for layup lines — I think how loud it got in there — I think everyone got chills,” Harrison Barnes said after game one. “I think that was pretty special just for us to see the excitement that everybody had. I think that guys were just playing off that adrenaline all night.”
And for all the love and support the sixth man of Sacramento’s home crowd provide, it’s that reflexive nature of returning that favor that comes of it, that keeps it going endlessly. That was evident in Barnes’ subtle show of emotion.
After being asked about the joy, as a team leader, of seeing the Kings get over the hump in this initial game, the veteran’s reflection spread the love.
“Man it’s crazy,” Barnes began. “When I very first got traded here, we were pushing for the playoffs and I had a vision of what it would be like to make the playoffs here in Sac.”
He moved forward with his thoughts and his grasp of the sweetness of the moment and the journey surfaced through the deep breaths and sudden coughs of someone trying to hold back that emotion, and not for lack of regard for it, but because the fella was trying to make a point.
“It was a lot of long, long days, just working and just being in the facility, being in these games. And so to run out there tonight and to see that and to see the fans, it was exciting, but honestly, it was a little emotional just being part of that and I’m really just happy for the fans.”
The mutual love, the mutual uplifting that goes back and forth like a seesaw, and the way it manifests the best out of a unit was on full display on Saturday night in the form of The Golden 1 Center crowd just as it was in the play of Malik Monk.
It’s undeniable. The Sacramento Kings have two elite sixth men—man’s?—and both were critical in pushing the Pacific Division champs over the hump in game one against the defending Finals champions.
Great game, gotta be happy for the fans and city of Sacramento! As a fan living in Canada, I wish I could’ve been there but feel so glad for everybody who’s lived there and supported the team throughout the long past decade and a half, that they could finally see their first playoff victory! Let’s keep lighting those beams guys!