Kings Can’t Protect the Ball or Home Court as Warriors Go Up 3-2: Game Five Recap & Takeaways

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 26: Malik Monk #0 of the Sacramento Kings look on during Round 1 Game 5 of the 2023 NBA Playoffs on April 26, 2023 at Golden 1 Center 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Well, a road team finally won, and it wasn’t the Kings as they fell 116-123 to the visiting Warriors, who now stand at 3-2 with a chance to close out at home on Friday.

Like game four, the physicality seemed somewhat matched with Sacramento +1 in offensive rebounds and -2 in second points. Also similar to the previous game, both teams shot similar percentages from three, just this time, instead of both shooting above 40%, both were sub-30% from the outside. However, deciding the possession game and the game overall, Golden State won the turnover differential (+5) after the Kings committed 19 of them with 5 in each of the final three periods.

In spite of a fractured fingertip on his shooting hand, De’Aaron Fox managed 24 points with 7 rebounds and 9 assists, but he went just 9 of 25 from the field. As Fox’s finger injury began to be felt late in the contest, Malik Monk stepped up, finishing with 21 points. Domantas Sabonis scored 21 with 10 boards. Harrison Barnes finished with 13 points, Keegan Murray had 10 with 6 rebounds, and Davion Mitchell added in 10, but all three had inconsistent showings.

For Golden State, Steph Curry put in 31 points despite going just 2 of 10 from three, adding in 8 assists. Klay Thompson scored 25, Andrew Wiggins had 20, and off the bench again, Draymond Green showed up for 21 points and 7 assists. Like clockwork, Kevon Looney had 22 rebounds, including 7 on the offensive end, as well as 7 assists. Also, Gary Payton II made a large impact on the glass and with his energy.

Golden State averaged 17.5 turnovers in those first two games in The Golden 1 Center, so to limit those mistakes to a total of just 14 was critical, and even worse, the Kings let their foot of the discipline pedal just a little to allow 19 points off their 19 turnovers. With that as well as the Warriors’ success making the extra pass and the Kings’ woes from beyond the arc outside the first period, the game was decided.

This is not a corner any team desires to be in, but the Kings had put themselves in a good position to win in their previous game at the Chase Center. Knowing that this game was also within reach, they have to maintain their confidence and continue competing, which is something they’ve done well for the whole series. Keep in mind that responding to adversity is also something they’ve done all season.

But it will be tough trying to prevent the avalanche of the Warriors—who have smothered so many teams over the years—from overwhelming them in a hostile environment. It’s easier said than done, but such is the reality of playoff basketball.

Game five summary (takeaways below)

The Kings generated early stops and saw Keegan Murray’s confidence in transition as he pushed it three straight times. Also encouraging was Fox hitting an early three. But even as the Warriors committed some turnovers, they were playing effective defense in transition and inside in general. Murray kept up his excellent play and Fox hit another pair of three’s, forcing an early lead with a 9-1 run with Curry resting. But with Curry’s return, they found some good looks (18 paint points in the first). With a franchise record 8-made three’s, Sac lead 36-33.

It was a sloppy start to the second for both teams, as 5 early mistakes took place, but Fox and Curry were making for a compelling back and forth. But a difference in Sac’s transition attacks could be felt as they were making sharp decisions. Yet Golden State was taking better care of the ball in the period and doing nearly as well on the run. With a trio of three’s from Thompson and an and-one make from Draymond, it was a 12-0 Golden State run. Ultimately, the Warriors won the turnover and second chance points differentials in the second, plus Sac went 0 for 9 from three, so the Kings trailed 56-60 at the half.

Fox continued his play and Huerter hit a three, but Golden State used nice ball movement and pace to embark on a 7-0 run to stretch their lead back out. Harrison Barnes earned a few trips to the free throw line to get the team back on track as he so often did all year. In another impressive third quarter performance, the Warriors got some quality looks out of the pick-and-roll, scoring 20 paint points in the third and committing 2 turnovers to the Kings’ 5 in the quarter, the latter of which provided 6 points off. Sac trailed 90-99 after three.

Early in the fourth Keegan Murray appeared to hurt his hand or wrist, and then not long after, Malik Monk hit the ground clutching the back of his left thigh, but both continued playing. GPII was providing lots of energy on the glass and his cuts. However, the Kings created a 13-2 run with some nice defensive stops and with Golden State over the limit. And after being on the good side in this department, the Warriors were beginning to get careless with the ball. Meanwhile, Malik Monk was stepping up as it seemed Fox was struggling to hit shots. Only up 3, the Warriors scored 5 straight, putting the contest away as Monk and Fox missed a pair of three’s.

Sloppy night on the home floor. But why?

Overcoming a 19-turnover night is difficult and it was arguably the deciding factor that set Sacramento back just far enough from being able to reign in a victory on their home floor.

It was absolutely key that the Kings win the turnover differential, that they put themselves in a position to force their opponent—who has been susceptible to sloppy play all season, finishing dead last with 16.3 turnovers per contest—into those sorts of mistakes. That simply did not happen.

Some of it had to do with the Warriors having a great game on defense. It could be argued that the first 4 turnovers committed by Sacramento were, more than anything, results of the defensive efforts they were subjected to. For instance, both Donte DiVincenzo and Draymond Green had nice poke aways. The one exception, though, was the first turnover, where the sage Harrison Barnes dribbled into traffic trying to push the ball, appearing to seek out a call, something he does well at achieving, but also something Mike Brown noted as a major issue in game four’s loss.

That’s essentially the split: either the Warriors were forcing turnovers, or the Kings lack of discipline—and/or experience?—caused them.

The second quarter was filled with the latter kind of mistakes. Whether it was bad lobs, an inbounding violation from Alex Len, Monk stepping on the baseline, or Sabonis just losing it, there were a lot of errors that really should have been avoided.

In the third and early in the fourth, Golden State’s defense was glimmering. Wiggins defended Fox well in transition—Fox did push it into traffic, but one gets the sense that the same rules do not apply to the league’s fastest player—Jordan Poole had two poke away’s in the matter of seconds, Looney clogged passing lanes up down low, and Draymond had another steal while also drawing a charge.

But within the four-minute mark, the final two turnovers came. The first was a pass from Davion Mitchell that was stolen by Draymond, but Green had his back turned, simply maintaining a defensive position with his arms out—”playing big” as Mike Brown would say—so the pass was lazily executed. And then Fox—with his finger likely ailing him (more on that in a minute)—lost the ball on the very next possession, down by 5. 

Kind of topping it off was the shot selection in the final 65 seconds after cutting the deficit to a single score twice. While not horrible or as bad as some of the careless decisions in the previous contest, the fact the Kings could barely hit a three outside the first quarter probably indicates that a better shot could have been found when Monk went up with a three early in the shot clock while down 3 points. It was an open look—one where Mike Brown’s mantra of “let it fly” holds true—but given the situation, the stakes, and razor thin margin, a better shot probably could have been had.

Obviously, as laid out, Golden State’s defense was good, but they needed some kind of score there. Right after the miss, Wiggins hit a tough turnaround, fad-away mid-range shot over Murray, making it a 5-point game with under 50 seconds to play, which forced Fox to jack up a quick three that he missed, essentially icing the game.

Of course, the game can not be funneled down to one missed shot, especially when there is a fat number 19 in the turnover column. The Warriors played great defense, but that has to be expected from the defending champions. Sacramento competed and fought, but the turnovers were too much to bear.

Pick-and-roll defense

In game four, Golden State scored 50 paint points after averaging under 42 in the first three contests. In this one, they put in 60, which was critical with them shooting 11 for 38 (28.9%) from three.

A large reason for that was the extra pass out of the pick-and-roll, which De’Aaron Fox described as something the Warriors have done expertly for years.

“We took away a lot of three’s,” Fox assessed postgame. “They made some tough ones, but as a team — with a team that’s been together so long with Draymond, Steph, Klay, and Looney — they’ve mastered coming off of a screen and hitting the roller and then playing two-on-one on the back end. So as we’re trying to take away the three, we also have to be able to take away some of the rim attempts.”

When asked about it Mike Brown described how much attention Curry and Thompson attract with their movement, which forces defenders to step up and gives the big’s—Looney and Green—the opportunity to make the right play or pass, something they do well.

The Warriors were terrific at executing their two-on-one advantages on the back end. Here, Curry commands the attention, gets it to Draymond, who lobs it up for Wiggins to throw down. In similar fashion, here, Jordan Poole got the ball to a rolling Looney, who lobbed another one up for Wiggins. On another occasion, Looney cut in the middle after an off-ball screen for Curry drew a double, and while Murray stepped up to try and maybe take a charge, the baseline was wide open for a Gary Payton II cut. Later, off another off-ball pick that freed Curry up to receive the pass, both Curry’s defender and Alex Len stepped up to meet him while Looney filled in the empty space with a hard cut to the rim that Len’s recovery speed could not make up for.

There were other variations of this. Thompson, here, got the pass to Looney over two guys, and the big man kicked it out to DiVincenzo, who smartly made the extra-extra pass back down low to Draymond for a layup. Also, at one point, Poole hit Looney in the middle of the floor, and he had a wide lane with Harrison Barnes left between him and Draymond, so the former UCLA Bruin bypassed the pass and—making the right play—went up for an easy layup. 

Not all 60 points came from that scenario, but it put a huge dent in any capacity to get consistent stops. 

Sometimes, such as this Draymond layup versus Domas, the Warriors just made a good shot, but there were also other lapses for Sacramento’s defense other than handling those two-on-one scenarios. For instance, on this play, Murray totally let GPII take the wide open cut to the rim because of the necessary attention that has to be paid to Curry; by the time the rookie noticed, the pass was already out of Draymond’s hands. Here, Golden State’s movement allowed a far too easy dunk for DiVincenzo. And topping it off, there seemed to be a few points, such as this, where the Kings could not get a body on Payton II, who finished with 4 offensive rebounds.

The Warriors—a team that averaged 44.9 paint points (28th) during the regular season—feasted inside against the Kings.

On Fox’s broken finger

On the issue of the fracture on the tip of De’Aaron Fox’s index finger, the point guard looked fine until he suddenly appeared to be bothered by it.

At halftime, Fox had 17 points on 6 of 13 shooting, including 3 of 7 from beyond the arc. He also had 5 boards and 5 assists, looking like his typical self. Hell, if someone fell asleep after the final buzzer of game four and did not wake up until tip-off of game five, they would have no idea about the fracture just watching the guy play.

He said after practice on Tuesday that, in terms of adjusting to the protection he’d wear on his finger, passing and dribbling were “fine,” but there were some questions surrounding his ability to “shoot as pain-free as possible.”

All signs were pointing in a positive direction after two quarters with the way Fox was shooting. Even in the third quarter, he went 3 of 6, missing his lone three, but not showing a clear sign of slowing down.

But in the fourth quarter, his 0 of 6 was difficult to ignore as he scored 0 points in the period.

Fox insisted his finger “was fine,” saying that Golden State’s defense was good and that he simply has to take care of the ball and play better in the second half.

To think athletes tell the whole truth in these pressers is beyond silly, and it likely doesn’t seem too far off the pulse to speculate that it was not fine. After all, it’s broken.

Coach Mike Brown was asked if he thought the finger bothered his point guard. 

“Yeah, no doubt,” Brown admitted

In that post-practice interview the other day, Fox noted that the concern with shooting—more than adjusting to the splint—was getting shots up in a manner that’s “as pain-free as possible.” There reasonably could have been a point in the second half where he reached a certain threshold in terms of using that fingertip.

However, the biggest concern—from him to his head coach to his teammates—was what would happen amid the intensity of playoff basketball. The nature of contact sports presented the very real possibility of him banging that fractured finger in some way during the game, and from just watching the game, there were a few potential instances.

Early in the fourth quarter, Fox made a great effort to recover and poke the ball away from Steph Curry for a steal. But he stepped away from the play, clutching at his finger in a manner that was more than obvious to most, especially with commentators making note of it.

After that instance, he closed the game 0 for 5. But could it have happened beforehand, at the end of the third when Fox nearly drew his second technical foul?

On that play, Fox was sudden with his lunge toward Draymond Green, who had been winding down some clock, knocking the ball loose, which lead to both players going to the deck. Before a scrum could form for the loose ball, the officials whistled Fox for a foul which evoked a demonstrative rebuke of the call.

Thinking about the finger, though, he made the swipe for the ball with his left hand, and in the would-be scrum, he relied on his hands to avoid landing flat on the hardwood. 

It’s hard to settle on any one moment. Any of those—-could be the culprit, or perhaps the discomfort built up over the course of the game. In any case, Fox was ultimately inhibited by it in some manner.

Still, don’t expect him to shy away from putting in a similar effort on Friday and, if necessary, beyond that.

As Steve Kerr said of him, De’Aaron Fox is a “gamer.”

Huerter remains in the shadows

Has anyone seen Kevin Huerter?

Of course, you’ve seen him, but in basketball, it’s not necessarily always about being seen as being felt, as being discernibly impactful. Unfortunately for the Kings, Huerter has not been that on either end of the floor.

Outside of hitting his fourth three of the series, a few other shots, and this rebound, Sacramento’s starting shooting guard was not particularly effective, which has been the case all series. And the stat that stands out the most for a guy who shot over 40% this season from three is the fact he’s gone just 4 of 25 on his deep attempts, good for a 16.0% clip.

To his credit, Huerter bounced back in game two after a weak showing in game one, and while he went just 2 of 9 from three, he managed 15 points overall, doing a nice job of finding ways to score closer to the rim. Going 1 for 6 from three in game three, he had a similar performance with 13 points. But he’s never stepped up, really only regressing from there if anything. 

He scored 2 points in game four on 1 of 4 from the field, playing 20 minutes. And in 16 minutes in game five, he had 9 points on 10 field goal attempts.

Not only has his three-ball been sorely missed, he’s not doing much of anything else to stay on the floor. All series, his defense has not been great versus the likes of Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, and others.

In fact, in this game, Poole exploited his shortcomings in on-ball defense and lateral quickness.

In transition, there were two moments where Huerter did not get in front of Poole to stop or even slow the ball, and on the first he landed a foul on Poole’s face. And in the half court, it wasn’t much better. Golden State’s guard was simply too quick here, getting right by Huerter with ease, but Sabonis was there on the second line of defense to block the shot. Here, perhaps the game plan was to trap Looney like he’s a splash brother, but in doing so, Huerter had no chance to try and stop or even catch up with Poole, who cut along the baseline where Looney found him for an assist.

As most Kings fans are aware, Huerter can’t be relied on as a defensive stopper, but the blow-by’s burn way worse without the crimson-haired one hitting his three-pointers. 

So far, he’s yet to emerge from the shadows for a considerable period of time, and these last few games are making it plain and clear how much Sacramento needs Huerter to have a bounce back game. The desperation will be at an unmatched height on Friday evening, so perhaps that’ll be the time.

Fans will have to wait and see.

2 for their last 22 from three

Three-point shooting was a huge catalyst in not only Sacramento having a successful season, but also in allowing them to have an offense that belongs with some of the best in history. They made the fifth most on the sixth most attempts with the ninth highest efficiency from that range.

But here in the postseason, outside of game four, it’s been a struggle for the Kings thus far. The best three-point shooter in terms of consistency and volume has been De’Aaron Fox, which is not a great sign.

After game one, where Fox shot 4 of 8 from three, all 4 of which came in succession in the second half, Kerr said the point guard is the kind of player where “if he’s gonna shoot three’s like that, it’s gonna be a tough night,” pointing to Fox’ three-point percentage this season and saying that “you have to play the odds.”

There was apparently a similar calmness after Sacramento went 8 of 12 from three in the first quarter.

“Stay with it,” Kerr said after game five when asked what his message was after that kind of shooting in the period. “They’re not going to shoot like this the whole game.”

And that coolness was more than warranted. After all, Fox started 3 of 3 and Davion Mitchell started 2 of 3. Murray hit a pair and Lyles hit a big one, but outside of Sacramento’s point guards, there was not much to be concerned with since there offensive strengths are not three-point shooting.

Kerr and company is content to let those kinds of shots go from guys like Fox and Mitchell. As for the other guys—Murray, who hurt them in the previous game from three, and Lyles, who did the same in game one—the Warriors kept them in check, preventing them from getting off another from the outside in the final three quarters. 

Murray did not score again after putting up 10 in the first. Fox and coach Brown both alluded to the fact the Warriors did a good job of limiting the rookie. The point guard attributed it to “the flow of the game” while Brown simply said his team has got to “continue to move the basketball.”

It’ll be interesting to see if the Kings, with their backs against the wall, will continue taking these open three’s to live and die by them or if they’ll reorient their offense to look for other looks. 

Neither sound particularly appealing.

To rely on the three-ball in a playoff series is never good, but Mike Brown noted both pregame and postgame that his coaching staff has told him that, per analytics, the Kings are generating the cleanest looks from three. So they have to continue “letting it fly,” but other offensive adjustments seem necessary, especially with the uncertainty of Fox’s finger and the nature of a potential elimination scenario.

Going forward

Game six will provide the first opportunity for a clinch in this series, and because that’s an opportunity for the Warriors, it will be a considerable challenge for the Kings. It will tip-off Friday night at 5pm Pacific time inside San Francisco’s Chase Center with television coverage on.

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