Kings Go Small and Force a Game 7 Back in Sac: Game 6 Recap & Takeaways

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 28: Malik Monk #0 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after making a basket in the second half Game Six of the Western Conference First Round Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at Chase Center on April 28, 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 Sacramento Kings defied so many expectations that were not giving them a chance, playing freely and briskly to carry out a commanding victory over the Warriors, 118-99, leading for pretty much the entirety of the final three quarters and completing one of the best postseason victories in franchise history.

Even as they committed 19 turnovers, their defense helped force Golden State into 19 in their own right for 6 more points off while also limiting the Warriors to just 20 assists. Not only did they have more discipline than their opponent, they had more physicality and featured better pace. The Kings recorded 18 offensive boards for 18 second chance points and, continuing with the numeral continuity, also scored 18 in the fast break. They also hit 17 three’s, which was a critical component. Discipline, physicality, and speed is an unstoppable combination, and it was produced through both an ability to respond to adversity as well as a rotational change that had Sac playing smaller.

The Kentucky connection had another show-stopping night; De’Aaron Fox scored 26 with 11 assists while Malik Monk put in a team-high 28 points. Making great contributions all game, Keegan Murray had a double-double with 15 points and 12 boards, and Trey Lyles come close to one with 12 points and 9 rebounds off the bench. Kevin Huerter appeared to find a touch in the second half, hitting 3 of 8 from deep to finish with 12 points. Terence Davis played 19 minutes and fouled out, but provided 7 points and defensive pressure.

Steph Curry was awesome for Golden State, scoring 29 points on efficient shooting. But nobody else’s night pops off the box score. Klay Thompson went 8 of 20 and 2 of 9 from deep for 22 points, Andrew Wiggins scored just 13, and the next highest scorer was Moses Moody with 9. Kevon Looney recorded 13 rebounds and Draymond Green was in some foul trouble, finishing with 4 points and 10 assists. Probably the most palpable standout performance was Jordan Poole’s, and not for good reason; he went 2 of 11 from the field for just 7 points while making a litany of mistakes.

“I think that the only critique that I really have about our game is my turnovers tonight and then them shooting 35 free throws,” De’Aaron Fox appraised postgame. “Other than that, I feel like we basically played a perfect game.”

As noted, this was a win for the ages as the young Kings came into a tough place to play against the defending champions and maintained a tight hold of the game for much of its duration. The group was smart and fearless, more than earning the right to win this series back on their home floor this Sunday.

Game six summary (takeaways below)

Sabonis was absolutely spectacular to start, playing excellent defense, pushing the team’s pace, and even hitting a corner three, all to force an 8-0 start. Curry responded with 6 straight that helped generate a 10-3 run. The Kings were displaying nice half court pace, making hard cuts that created some nice looks, which paired well with the fact their physicality looked great (9 offensive rebounds). In addition to Sabonis’ start, Murray also had a great first quarter on both sides of the ball, hitting shots and drawing charges. But Sacramento committed 8 turnovers to Golden State’s 5, thus trailing 23-25 after one.

The Kings were going small, Monk appeared determined, and Lyles’ three-point shooting and floor running among four perimeter players was helping the team play at their desired pace. Monk, Lyles, and Murray were shining as the Kings pushed their newfound lead forward. Meanwhile, upon finally making a return, Sabonis got an elbow to his cheek bone on a jump ball that the officials missed. The Warriors hit some shots, but the offensive pushes for Sacramento were looking much more controlled and disciplined (15 fast break points at halftime), and that statement’s truth swelled when it came to Fox’s speed. And they weathered the Warriors ability to finish quarters strong, leading 58-51 at the half.

Offensive pushes in the full court were coming more from the Warriors to start the third, but Sacramento was getting their share and, better yet, kept recording an advantage on the offensive glass, which produced second chance opportunities, including a Huerter three, his first field goal of the game. Sabonis, however, was assessed two early fouls, his fourth and fifth, taking him from the floor. Golden State cut it to 5, but the Kentucky connection was making big plays to push the lead to double digits with three Monk three’s. Sacramento made some mistakes, but there were some big plays on the defensive end, particularly from Monk, Murray, and Lyles. The Kings led 90-80 after three periods.

Sacramento’s foot remained on the accelerator, but Curry was feeling it early in the fourth, beating some really nice defensive efforts—the best one could ask for—with his superhuman shooting ability. Monk and Fox maintained the necessary pace, and the defensive pressure remained, as the effort to deliver a game six knockout trudged forward. But actually, it surged forward; the defense never let up, nor did the offensive pace. As the fourth began to wind down, the lead became a bloated 19 points as the Warriors withdrew their starters. 

Responded to the biggest challenge yet

Responsiveness has been a word that’s been used a lot over the last six or seven months to describe this team. Their character is such that they answer, at one point or another, any challenge that stands before them. It was this reason, this ability to defy all odds that kept those who’ve watched this team from writing them off in this contest.

Outside of the context of knowing the culture of this locker room, it’s easy to see why people would have expected a different result. Adding to that is the fact this Warriors team has a history and, as Mike Brown says, a DNA that is encoded with championship mettle on top of the fact their home court advantage is just as daunting as anyone’s.

But people are learning pretty quickly about this team.

Malik Monk was asked by CBS 13’s Jake Gadon after practice on Thursday what this team’s desperation will look like.

“You’ll see tomorrow,” Monk replied without skipping a beat.

Gadon brought that query up again after the game six victory, asking if this is what Monk had in mind.

“Yeah, this is exactly what I expected,” Sac’s sixth man declared.

That’s all anyone needs to know. From their play and from their mouths directly, there is little question about how much this team believes in themselves. And with a historic win—again, on the road against the defending champs—it’s getting to a point where the believers are just growing in numbers.

“I can go fifteen rounds with the champ / And bother a b—, like some cramps,” Mac Dre once uttered, but those words easily could have come from the mouth of any Kings player on Friday night. (After beating the Warriors on their ground in the playoffs to force a game seven, co-opting a lyric from the best rapper to ever come out of the Bay Area to relish a Sac victory is more than allowed for now.)

Now it’s all a question of whether or not they can respond to a bigger challenge, another daunting first for them: a game seven scenario.

Small ball created space and pace

It was evident the Kings needed to make an adjustment. Not only were they coming in to face elimination on the road, they had a ghastly game five in terms of taking care of the ball. 

So they went small, utilizing a lot of Trey Lyles as the small 5, relying more on Keegan Murray’s upward playoff trajectory, and giving significant minutes to Terence Davis. 

In short, it opened the floor up for guys like Fox and Monk to get downhill and produce spray three’s on the outside and also allowed the Kings to maximize the fast pace with which they like to play (i.e. they revved up the speed of play). And that last part is critical because of the amount of responsibility that falls in the lap of the perimeter ball handlers to get the ball moving around, mostly out of pick-and-rolls. 

Pair it with an excellent sense of physicality on defense and a coming out party for Kevin Huerter from three—whom very well may have benefitted from the extra space—and there is little to wonder about in terms of what impact this had.

They committed 19 turnovers again, but there were much fewer points off. Moreover, they had 25 assists. Like the last time they had that many assists—the highest total they’ve reached in this series as a team—they shot well from beyond the arc, hitting 17 total three’s, which is unlikely to be a coincidence given the emphasis on spray three’s. And probably most importantly—since it regards pace for a team that’s been preached “next play speed” all year—they scored 18 points in the fast break.

“It’s something we haven’t shown them yet, so I’m sure they’ll have adjustments just like we’ve adjusted to things they’ve done in this series,” Kevin Huerter said of the small-ball success. “It was a good look for us, just trying to create more space on the court, giving them a different look.”

It wasn’t a shot in the dark either. One can never underestimate an adjustment that was thought through well, but which still provided a completely different look to the opponent. Instead of a desperate throw of the kitchen sink, the coaching staff produced this methodical set of adjustments.

“I got two guys on my staff — they drove me freaking crazy in our last meeting,” Brown said postgame of the game six adjustments. “Robbie Lemons is our analytics coach, he was the one that kept (beating) my freaking head to do this… and Luke Loucks. And we were all on on board with it, but those two guys were probably the most adamant, and not necessarily with Trey (Lyles) — we all felt we wanted to go to Trey — but just mainly, just: ‘Hey, let’s just keep shooters on the floor, touch the paint, and spray it.’ And we felt that (Kevon) Looney’s been kicking our behinds, so it’s not like going to Trey or going to somebody else from time to time would hurt us on the glass because he’s been already doing work.”

“But I give my my entire coaching staff a lot of credit, but Robbie Lemons, our analytics coach, and Luke Loucks, who’s our fourth assistant, they’re the two that really got on my nerves about (doing) it.”

Expect more of this in game seven, but as Huerter noted, expect further adjustments from Golden State as well.

Energy advantage with quick turnarounds?

Between games five and six, Mike Brown noted an advantage in the scheduling of the contests.

“For us, we like it. We like a quick turnaround,” he explained. “We want to play as soon as we can and we got what we want, so we’ll see if we can go get it done.”

Well, they got it done and the turnaround between games six and seven is even swifter with tipoff set for just after noon on Sunday.

Why might they like the quick turnaround? Is it the lack of experience, which indicates that there’s less time to think, less time to get stuck inside one’s own head? Or is it the youth factor, which, compared to the opponent, is much younger?

It’s probably both, but the latter seems like an undeniable factor worth noting because it pertains to both teams. 

Does Sacramento have an advantage in energy reserves?

The fact the Kings came in and provided the first punch with an 8-0 run to start out the game before essentially maintaining control for the whole game might suggest that. Thus the shorter the break ahead of the next one, the better.

Malik Monk noted that “starting strong, starting early, and running on them” was a “big emphasis” for this game.

“Last couple of games, they had a two-day break, so we knew we can run them a little bit and we took advantage of that tonight,” he said.

So it might be more of a question of how the Warriors—led by Curry (35 years-old), Thompson (33), and Green (33)—can respond to the fresher legs of a team that has an average age of 25.7 years on such a quick turnaround.

“We limited them getting in the pocket”

Another reason the Kings lost the last game was because of the ability for Golden State’s big men to get the ball out of a pick-and-roll and essentially have a two-on-one scenario in the pocket. That led to the Warriors to make 25 of 33 (75.8%) from the restricted area due to the amount of open shots they got from weak side cuts, amassing 60 paint points in all.

“We limited them getting in the pocket and we limited shots at the rim, too, a lot,” Malik Monk noted postgame. “That was a big emphasis and Draymond had a big game last game and we knew if we held him to not having a game like that, it’ll be a chance that we win and that’s what happened.”

It was a night and day difference inside for Golden State as they scored just 36 paint points while going 7 of 17 in the restricted area.

“They’ve been killing us in the pocket the whole series and they got a lot of back doors and stuff like that, and we just said we’re gonna try to take that away as best we can,” coach Brown relayed after the game. “And I give Domas a lot of credit because it started with him, and then Trey a lot of credit too. We tried as best we can to do it and our guys did a fantastic job executing the game plan with the changes we made and it was part of the reason why we got to win.”

Huerter rising from the ashes?

“You got no idea,” said Kevin Huerter after James Ham asked how good knocking down a few and contributing to this win felt.

Huerter continued his struggles throughout the first half, going 0 of 4, including 0 of 2 from deep in 14 minutes of play. How long his leash would be in the closing half was a big question, and Huerter answered that question, going 3 of 6 from deep to put up 11 second half points.

Finding a rhythm takes time, especially when it comes to shooting. Any shooter will say that to overcome a slump, they have to remain confident and keep putting them up, which is something Mike Brown has urged all series.

In reference to Keegan Murray’s struggles—which feel like an eternity ago given his double-double in 45 minutes of play—the head coach always said a problem would only arise if the kid stopped shooting. So it’s no wonder he maintained patience with Huerter.

Another reason why is that Brown must have known how critical Huerter’s success is to the team’s success. And now, with Huerter seemingly back in the saddle again, it lends a lot to the potential success in game seven.

Despite tough series through six, Domas deserves some credit

Again, Sabonis did not have a great game. He shot 3 of 12 from the field, had only 4 assists, and was in foul trouble all night. But this was to be expected for a series matchup that was suspected to take the all-star big out of his comfort zone.

And yet—even with the struggles, even with the team doing more than okay with Lyles out there instead of him—he earned some credit in this game as he fought through a lot to continue battling.

This isn’t to excuse the fact he’s lacked the kind of play that makes him the third best center in the league, but given the circumstances, he earns plenty of respect, from getting an elbow to the face with no whistle to accumulating 9 offensive rebounds. 

Plus, he set a tone to start game six with the way he played on both ends of the floor, acquiring the momentum before the small lineup ran with it and never gave it back. Overall, his defense was great, whether helping defend smaller shooters or going down low to contest or even block shots.

If the Kings can successfully win this series on Sunday, NBA fans will likely see a different Domas in the succeeding series, but even with the lacking impact in this one, he’s never quit and continued being one of the toughest guys on the floor. 

Going forward

They earned a game seven and even before doing that, they earned home court advantage in this series by winning 48 games in the regular season. So the Kings will have the opportunity to close out this historic all-Northern California series—that’s grabbed the attention of fans from all over—in front of their fans this Sunday. Tipoff is scheduled for 12:30pm that afternoon with television coverage available on ABC.

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7 months ago

Light the BEAM!!!