Again, the Home Team Brings the Physicality; Warriors Make It 2-1: Game 3 Recap & Takeaways

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 20: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors is guarded by Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings in the second half of Game Three of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs at Chase Center on April 20, 2023 in San Francisco, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The Kings encountered a completely different animal at the Chase Center for game three, struggling to score and rebound in a 97-114 loss to the Warriors to make it a 2-1 series lead for Sacramento. 

After having the advantage in offensive rebounds, turnovers, and paint points in the first two contests, the narrative made a 360-degree flip with the home team demonstrating higher levels of energy, even without Draymond Green (suspension) and Gary Payton II (illness). Golden State had 19 offensive boards for 24 second points to Sac’s 13 for 12 points. Likewise, the Warriors scored 22 off 15 Kings turnovers while the visiting team scored just 7 off 11. And inside—where the offensive action is not as hot—the Warriors had a 2-point advantage in the paint. To top it all off, Mike Brown’s team hit only 38% of their field goals and shot 11 for 46 from three for a 23.9% clip.

De’Aaron Fox was his team’s leading scorer with 26 to go along with 10 rebounds and 9 assists. Domantas Sabonis scored 15 to go along with 16 rebounds and Harrison Barnes had a nice second half to finish with 17 points. Continuing his three-point struggles, Kevin Huerter still managed to score 13. Davion Mitchell played some defense and Trey Lyles had 5 rebounds off the bench, but it was not the largest array of players making an impact.

On the other hand, a bunch of guys showed up for the home team, playing like a group in an 0-2 hole. Posting a +24, Steph Curry dropped a game-high 36 points on 12 of 25 shooting and 6 of 12 from three with only 1 turnover. Andrew Wiggins had a nice 20-point, 7-rebound game and Jordan Poole—in a starting role—scored 16. But Kevon Looney was the biggest difference, finishing with 20 rebounds, including 9 on the offensive end, plus he had 9 assists. Similarly dynamic, Donte DiVincenzo had a bounce-back game for 7 rebounds and 8 assists. Klay Thompson and Moses Moody added 13 points each.

Sacramento was not without energy and physicality, but they seemed to pack less in this one compared to the first two, and making matters worse, Golden State was intent on responding, and they sure hit first, never trailing once in the game. 

“Our group had a chance to experience what a championship team does when their back’s against the wall,” coach Brown said after the loss. “So again, the physicality and their will to try to do things to help them win was evident, and they did all the small things that we’ve been doing a pretty good job of in games one and two.”

It’ll be very interesting to see how the Kings respond in game four. The Warriors are a different team on their home floor. Can Sacramento live up to their valiant efforts during the regular season to win 25 road games?

Game three summary (takeaways below)

Not a single point went on the board in the first few minutes. Golden State got the first bucket to go, off one of Sacramento’s 4 early turnovers (they finished with 5 in the quarter, allowing 6 points off while their opponent committed only 1). The Kings produced some good looks, but weren’t hitting from the outside. And after two great defensive games, they began this one fouling (6 times for 8 Golden State free throw attempts) and making mental mistakes. Plus, they allowed 6 offensive rebounds. The Warriors had the far better start, leading 29-20 after one.

Sacramento’s rebounding looked far better to start the following period. De’Aaron Fox looked poised in the second, hitting a three and then answering one from Curry not long after, but in spite of his aggression, Golden State was able to maintain, more or less, a 9-point lead. Near the close of it, Looney was disruptive on the glass and Curry looked like he was beginning to scold. The Kings tried to answer, but outside the aforementioned three’s, Fox was struggling to hit from the field. Encapsulating the close to the half, Looney grabbed an offensive board and assisted Curry for a last second three. After another 5-turnover quarter, Sac trailed 41-53 at the half. Both teams shot below 35%.

The Kings had some nice defensive plays early, but Kevon Looney was grabbing every board and loose ball, creating second chance opportunities that his teammates capitalized on. Golden State allowed a backdoor cut and a few leak outs, but their work on the glass was the primary difference maker, as it was in the Kings’ favor in games one and two. Additionally the defense and overall energy seemed to be on the Warriors’ side. That was only amplified by high-hustle plays and Curry three’s, pushing the lead to 18 points. Fox closed the period with a similar will, limiting the damage to trail just 72-84 after three.

It did not take long for the Warriors to push it pack out to an 18-point lead, getting four looks in the paint, creating lanes and fighting through the lone instance where Sac’s defense was set and playing physically. Sacramento continued battling, but the scoring differential in the fourth was one-sided as the shots—when they needed them most—would not fall for the Kings. 

Keeping it simple: offensive rebounds and turnovers decide the game again

It’s becoming clear that whoever can better value the ball, mainly in loose ball situations or scenarios where the stop can and should be secured with the rebound. For the Kings, when they bring the urgency and physicality to secure those stops, it allows them to get out and play with the kind of pace they want and, more importantly, need to win the game.

It’s similar for the Warriors, too. Steve Kerr put the talk of increasing Curry’s minutes to bed after game one, keeping things simple and saying that if they’d rebounded better, they would have won the game. In terms of valuing the ball, outside of opponent offensive boards and turnovers, Golden State rightfully felt they were in the game and not far off with coming away with the victory.

In game one, Sac was +8 in offensive rebounds and +5 in second chance points while being +2 in turnovers and + 11 in points off. Comparable to that was game two where the Kings finished +3 in offensive boards and +9 in second points while also being+6 in turnovers and +16 in points off.

It was entirely the opposite in this game with the setting changed. Golden State was +6 in offensive rebounds, +12 in second chance points by putting up 24. They were also +4 in turnovers and allowed only 7 points off their 11 mistakes.

Again, it really came down to physicality, and as Harrison Barnes put it, the Warriors “came out with a greater sense of urgency.”

Kevon Looney personified that effort, an effort that in returning home and in the aftermath of a suspension that had head coach Steve Kerr “extremely surprised” is not all that surprising.

“We wanted to hit first today,” Looney said postgame. “I think on the road, we were ball watching, they was running in, they was hitting us first, they was the aggressor. But I feel like Donte (DiVincenzo), Moses (Moody), all of those guys — Steph (Curry), Klay (Thompson), (Andrew Wiggins) — they was real locked in on that end of hitting guys first and then going to get the ball, and I think it made a big difference in our rebounding tonight. We gave up some offensive rebounds, but we didn’t give up a lot like we did the first two games.”

The big man grabbed 20 rebounds for the Warriors, including 9 on the offensive end. Despite Sabonis’ prowess on the glass, Looney was an issue for him in one-on-one situations (see here, here, and here). In fact, here, Sabonis didn’t even get a body on him.

Honestly, though, it’s hard to put it all on Sacramento’s all-star center. Looney is proving how incredible of a talent he is yet again, and in a lot of ways like his teammates, he was in state of unstoppable flow.

“Sometimes as a rebounder you can get in the zone just how Steph and them three-point shooters are get in a zone,” Looney described. “As rebounder, I feel the same way. Sometimes I know where the ball is going — every time I touch it, it seem to go my way — the tips go my way, and different things like that.”

But that flow, that “zone” has to be limited form the start so that it does not unleash itself at full strength. Once guys like that get it going, it’s hard to stop.

Mike Brown had a simplified and honest solution to the issue of that level of Looney when asked about why he’s so good on the boards.

“Because he’s smart, he’s strong, (and) he’s relentless,” Sac’s head coach said plainly. “So we got to gang rebound. We did a decent job of gang rebounding the first two games against him. I mean, sending a second body at him at times, but we can’t allow him to go one-on-one with Domas or Alex (Len) because he’s obviously — especially tonight — done a good job of winning that battle. So you got to send the second body at him a little more than we did as opposed to just kind of standing and watching and thinking that he’s going to come up with the rebound.”

As good as Looney is, this team scored 24 second chance points. There were other culprits on the glass.

“We have to try to help Domas, but also, knowing that guys like Donte (DiVincenzo) and (Andrew Wiggins) and (Jonathan) Kuminga are coming, and they’re crashing — from the corner, from the top, they’re crashing — we just have to be able to put a body on them,” De’Aaron Fox assessed of the offensive rebound differential.

Kings fans know from last year how good of a nose DiVincenzo has for the basketball and how he plays the game with high quality effort, so they would not be surprised to see him bounce back from game two—where played himself off the floor—and grab 3 offensive rebounds, and finish with 7 total.

Wiggins only had one, but last year his offensive rebounding, according to coach Brown—who, as everyone knows, was an assistant last season in Golden State—as a massive contributor to the championship with his offensive rebounds. The Kings ostensibly have a target on him, but here, he became one too many men vying for the board and for Trey Lyles, who was left alone to secure the stop, and it lead to DiVincenzo’s buzzer-beating finger roll to end the first quarter.

Furthermore, guys like Kuminga and Jordan Poole were able to get in there at times and throw off Sacramento’s ability to play with the rhythm and pace they thrive in.

“If you’re taking the ball out of the net every single time, you’re playing in front of a set defense every single time, it’s going to be tougher as the series progresses, throughout the whole playoffs, to get your guys good looks,” Harrison Barnes succinctly offered postgame.

And it starts with physicality, which presents a situation that isn’t new.

Yes, the Kings are experiencing something new. Las Saturday, it was their first playoff game, then their first playoff game with a 1-0 lead. This game was their first road playoff game, and Sunday will be there first ability to respond to a playoff loss. And the loss came at the hands of something that has forced such a result multiple different times during the regular season.

Brenden Nunes highlighted the best example. He asked if the message after this loss was similar to the win over the Knicks on national television in early March.

Following that contest, in spite of the outcome, Brown said that while it was a good win, “we were not good,” mainly because of the 23 offensive rebounds allowed.

Moreover, he went on to challenge his stars, saying that Fox and Sabonis “gotta open their mouths and they gotta challenge their teammates to perform each possession at an elite level.”

He did not say that following game three, but he made a similar point—one he’s made all season—that the challenge to respond has to come from within.

“I think I’ve said this before a couple of times — you do a lot of your hard coaching during the regular season,” he said before laying out that the team knows that the opponent they have to deal with have a winning track record.

If parallels are the focus, Kings fans can take solace knowing that after the win over the Knicks that came in spite of their lack of physicality, the team followed it up with a defensive victory in Phoenix where the Suns only had 7 offensive rebounds for 7 second chance points.

At the end of the day, defense and securing stops—and also preventing turnovers—has been key for the winner of each of these three games. It’s beginning to funnel down to a specific area. As Kerr said, in essence, after the first two games, they felt they were within range of a win if not for their rebounding. And as Fox said after this one, it’s pretty much impossible to win on the road allowing so many offensive boards and 24 second chance points, even when Golden State didn’t shoot all that well (40.0% from the field, 32.0% from three).

The team that controls the rebounds controls the game. In other words, the one who brings the physicality to command the game will command the series.

Three-point struggles

The Kings again had a poor poor performance from behind the arc. 

After going 12 of 32 from three in game one, Sacramento shot 23.7% and 23.4%, respectively, in games two and three. Overall, in the series, they’re shooting 30% from deep after posting a 36.9% clip in the regular season, good for ninth in the league.

But the Kings don’t have a single guy hitting more than a third of his looks from three in the playoffs. Two guys in particular are the two guys that shot over 40% from that range this season: Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray.

In game three, Huerter, Murray, Malik Monk, and Terence Davis—who played about 10 minutes—combined for a 3 of 18 showing from deep.

Getting good shots was difficult with the inability to secure stops and not be forced to “play the ball out of the net,” as Harrison Barnes put it, so three’s were going to be a big part of the offense. And despite plenty of good looks, there was nothing to be found out there (aside from Barnes’ 3 of 7).

“When we go back and watch the film, give them credit, but we’re missing some open threes,” coach Brown noted. He added that the Warriors were “trying to make certain guys shoot open threes and we definitely didn’t make them tonight.”

Part of that reference was how good Golden State’s interior defense was. Sacramento went 19 of 35 in the painted area. Looney and others prevented the Kings from winning the paint points battle, which is not vital to the outcome of the game, but it was notably the first time the Warriors—a team in the bottom three in points in the paint—scored more inside than there first round opponent.

With the challenge to hurt them from the outside, the Kings could not execute.

And this is all on top of the fact that the Warriors have put an emphasis on defending dribble handoffs, which plays massively into how Huerter and Murray get a majority of their open looks.

Plus, in terms of Sabonis, they don’t care if he shoots, and not only has he not been effective, he’s seemingly been reluctant to shoot. It makes sense he’d look for the better shot, but shots aren’t falling for many guys.

It’s a lot of compounding issues, and it’s in the third seed in the West to respond and adjust accordingly.

Murray again had another rough night

What would help is if Keegan Murray could find a little bit of the stroke that broke the rookie three-point record in the regular season.

As coach Brown said a few times postgame, Murray’s had some good looks. They’ve just not fallen. He went 1 of 5 on Thursday night.

Making matters worse, the rookie picked up three early fouls as it seemed the Warriors were targeting him.

But the concept of Keegan Murray pulling it together is one brought up a lot. Many around the organization recognize he’s different from other rookies.

“Not many rookies are starting for a playoff team and playing a significant role like he is,” Mike Brown said of his first-year forward after the loss. “So this is great for him to go through. We want him to stay aggressive, we want him to keep shooting the ball. We feel like he’s getting some pretty good looks, they’re just not going in, but I think they will go in. That’s why we want him to keep shooting it and then try to play defense the right way and and see if he can get out and get some easies in transition. 

“So this is just really new for — it’s new for a lot of our guys — I mean this is really new for him. And we love him, we’re going to have patience with him, and we’re going to give him a chance to succeed, but he’s got to go through these growing pains in order to figure it out.”

The support system and opportunity to make a discernible impact is there for Murray. He just has to follow through.

Luckily, he had a pair of positive moments in the second half to clutch on to. First, nose down, he got a rebound after putting up some active hands, and took the ball to the other end where he earned a trip to the line. His decisiveness illustrated his unwavering confidence.

And likely adding to that confidence, Murray hit his first postseason three-pointer with about four minutes left in the game and the outcome essentially decided. Nevertheless, it’s hard to overlook the value of actually seeing one go in.

Perhaps the fourth time will be the charm for Keegan Murray after showing a glimpse of life amid a rough welcome to playoff basketball.

Golden State’s role players stepped up

Speaking to the TNT guys after the game, Steph Curry mentioned the pep talk Draymond Green gave his team, saying that his message was just doing what it takes to win and potentially shift the momentum. And the confidence facilitated that.

“They say Draymond’s got a history,” he said, referencing the reasoning behind his teammate’s suspension. “So do we. So we know how to bounce back.”

Part of that ability to bounce back was the fact that guys like DiVincenzo, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, and even JaMychal Green—guys that, in the case of the former lottery picks, did not have a huge role in last year’s title run, or guys like the other two that were not along for that ride—stepped up to the plate. 

Without the defensive stalwart and leader available in Draymond, the Warriors needed some guys deeper into the rotation to do that, and those guys stepped up in spite of either having down games on Monday or not getting much, if any, play.

The question was whether that could actually happen or not. It did, so now Sacramento’s role players have to step up.

Kerr avoiding Curry vs. Davion?

When Davion first checked into the game, Steph Curry exited shortly after. It was the same thing when Davion came in during the third quarter.

Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee mentioned this, asking coach Brown about it postgame.

Of course, Golden State was without a starter in Draymond Green and without Gary Payton II, so that must have altered the rotations to a considerable degree. But, as one reporter covering the Warriors noted, it’s odd for Curry to exit at those times and for more than one period of time per half.

Did the Warriors try to avoid the matchup of Curry being hounded by Davion Mitchell?

It would make sense given the second-year man’s impact in game two. Again, keep an eye out on that and a potential adjustment.

Going forward

Game four in San Francisco will tip off at 12:30 in the afternoon on Sunday. Golden State will look to tie it while Sacramento looks to set up for a potential series clincher back at home in game five.

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Dan Smith
Dan Smith
1 month ago

Damn, tough ass loss…but GS was really bringing the physicality and extra defensive pressure. Really disrupted alot of what Sac was trying to do. They have a good game plan to blitz and bring the kitchen sink at Sabonis, as it’s forcing them to play through Fox & Monk, something they’re not that accustomed too. Hope they are ready to step up the intensity for Sunday, the guys gotta start making their jobs and doing a better job executing offensively! Let’s go fellas, I’m ready to see another beam! We’d have a great shot at taking the series, if we go up 3-1!