On their home floor, the Kings collapsed in the second half at the hands of the Warriors and Steph Curry’s historic performance by a score of 100-120, dropping game seven and putting an end to a hell of a season.
After leading by 2 points at halftime, Golden State dominated the second half 64-42. Outside of Curry, the main reason was the Kevon Looney-lead effort to grab 18 offensive rebounds for 24 second chance points—the clear indication of the more physical team—with 16 of those (and 18 second points) coming in the final two periods. The turnovers were more balanced with Sacramento committing 8 to their opponent’s 7, but the Warriors scored 11 points off compared to Sac’s 5. Topping it off, the Warriors had 25 assists after having their ball movement limited while also holding the Kings to just 2 fast break points. Oh, and Sac went just 16 of 27 (59.3%) from the free throw line.
For Sacramento, Domantas Sabonis was the leading scorer, which says a lot; he had 22 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. Off the bench, Malik Monk scored 14 with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Terence Davis hit 3 three’s in the first half, but couldn’t provide much in the second, finishing with 14 points in 26 minutes. De’Aaron Fox scored 16 with 6 assists, but he and Kevin Huerter combined for just 7 of 28 from the field. Keegan Murray also scored 10 with 7 boards.
As noted, Curry broke the record for most points scored in a game seven scenario, putting up 50, hitting more than half his 38 attempts from the floor to go along with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Equally as marvelous, but in a different way, Looney had 11 points with 21 rebounds, including 10 on the offensive end. Draymond Green scored 8 with 8 assists. And they needed all that, too, because Andrew Wiggins (17 points), Klay Thompson (16), and Jordan Poole (8) combined for a 12 for 44 clip. (Don’t get it twisted though: Wiggins and Thompson played good defense while Poole was—you know—Jordan Poole.)
It was a disappointing way to end such a tremendous season for the Kings, succumbing to the avalanche that Curry and the Warriors are prone to drop on playoff opponents throughout the years. And with the best offensive player ever doing all of that, it was odd—if not concerning—to see that Davion Mitchell played just 8 minutes (more on that later).
“The reality of it is (Golden State) showed their experience,” Mike Brown assessed after the loss. “They absolutely kicked our behinds on the glass.”
Nevertheless, if there is a team in the NBA that can be most confident in their future—both for next season and the seasons beyond that—it’s the Sacramento Kings. The NBA world saw Fox’s greatness, they understand—to an extent—how critical Sabonis is, they sense the promise of young players like Murray and Mitchell, and they are aware of the environment coach Brown and company have created.
This is likely just the beginning.
Game seven summary (takeaways below)
Sacramento was looking spry and vibrant, moving with fervor both in the full court and, notably, in the half court, where Huerter managed to find open shots. However, Golden State was generating looks at the rim and open attempts from deep due to their ability to make the extra pass out of the pick-and-roll, something that happened in game five and was limited in game six. The Kings fell to just 1 of 8 from three, but Terence Davis, Fox, and Lyles put in four, which helped counter Steph Curry’s 10-point first and got Sac a 31-30 lead.
The Warriors were handing out fouls like playoff t-shirts, putting the Kings in expedited fashion. Meanwhile, Malik Monk was looking great as a scorer and playmaker, linking up with Domas in various ways once the big man returned to the floor. And Davis was looking like an x-factor. Curry, of course, was able to put up points in a flurry, preventing a lead from being developed; plus, Golden State was doing a better job moving the ball, amassing 14 assists at the half after reaching just 20 in game six. But Sac nevertheless lead 58-56 after a 16-point half from Sabonis.
After a 1 for 10 start, Klay Thompson had 5 early points, looking to get going while Curry continued his wizardry. And after a score off two offensive rebounds, the Warriors were up after a 13-4 start to the second half. Not long after, Fox picked up his fourth foul and the team’s fifth in the third, putting the Warriors in the bonus less than five minutes into the period. Also, Looney was just picking up more steam on the offensive glass as his teammates worked to help him on loose balls; the rebounding differential was more like a chasm. Fox put in a nice effort to keep his team afloat, but the fouls and rebounding trouble had affected the game as Golden State lead by 10 points after three.
Looney got some offensive rebounds to start the fourth, but Curry was being Curry, which was the biggest thing for Golden State by no surprise. He was hitting everything—near the rim, beyond the arc, wherever. The Kings just lacked any rhythm to generate points from behind the perimeter, sinking deeper and deeper behind their opponent on the scoreboard. Soon enough the game became out of reach and Curry hit the 50-point marker (with Davion Mitchell playing a total of 8 minutes). And that ended the season for Sacramento, but even so, the fans continued to show their appreciate.
Third quarter collapse
The third quarter in game seven was reminiscent of game four. In the contest where Golden State tied it 2-2, the main reason for it was the 33-24 third period they posted on their home floor, which was the deciding quarter that pushed the Warriors over the hump just enough.
But game seven’s was worse. In game four, the Kings remained in it, losing the game by a thin margin as Harrison Barnes happened to miss an open three at the buzzer. In game seven, the third quarter became an uncontainable electrical fire: Steph Curry’s offense was waring down the wires and Kevon Looney’s offensive rebounding broke them, causing the catastrophic blaze.
In the third, Curry scored 14 points, Kevon Looney had 7 offensive rebounds (the team had 13), and Golden State scored 11 points in second chance opportunities. Also, the Kings committed 11 fouls, handing out 16 free throw attempts. In all, the Warriors dominated the third, 35-23.
In the first half, the Kings were seeing contributions from all over, but the faucet shut off.
Curry was a big factor, but as Draymond Green said postgame, “everything started with Kevon (Looney).”
Not only does he secure second—even third—chances for his teammates to score, but in producing those extra attempts and thus allowing for more offensive conversions, it prevented the Kings from forming an overwhelming pace as it forced them to try and push the ball after it comes out of the net, which is far more difficult than doing so off a missed shot.
Securing those makes allowed the Warriors defense to be set which came together in effective fashion with their experienced understanding of knowing what they need to focus on most (i.e. getting back).
Also, offensive rebounds for an opponent is demoralizing. The Golden 1 Center crowd was groaning in despair every time Looney, Wiggins, or somebody else grabbed one. Imagine what it did for the Kings.
“Not only does it stop us from getting out running, but it also takes the air out of you,” coach Brown described postgame. “It takes the air out of you and it gets them confidence. So every offensive rebound that they got, their confidence just kept rising rising and rising, and it started to — in my opinion — it started to creep doubt in what we were trying to do because we couldn’t control the boards.”
It wasn’t even Curry’s “barrage,” according to Brown, that lead to this loss as much as the rebound disparity and, to a slightly less extent, the teams sub-60% free throw percentage.
Even with the free throws and even with the Warriors moving the ball around well out of the pocket—something they did extremely well in game five and were limited in during game six—Looney ruined Sacramento’s chances. And with yet another 20-plus rebound game, it’s clear that Looney—even more than Curry and Fox—was the most vital performer in this series.
Only 8 minutes for Davion Mitchell
Around the early to middle part of this series, a huge factor was how much Steph Curry was having to work. Starting 0-2, he was working; tying the series, he was working; the trip to a game seven, he was working. And yet, in game seven, he exploded, having his best game.
He’s hard to shut down in any capacity, but is it any wonder that the 50-point performance happened while Sac’s best defensive player—not to mention the guy almost entirely responsible for making Curry work, for bringing up fatigue concerns in Bay Area sports media—played just 8 minutes in this critical game?
Kings fans everywhere seem proud of their team’s valiant efforts to put on a hell of a season, but many felt a sting to see them lose with their best defensive weapon loaded and lying on the sideline unused.
As noted here and elsewhere, the Warriors have a tendency to avalanche and Curry is the biggest catalyst behind those smothering periods. So in refusing to play Mitchell very much at all, this appears to be as big a blunder as belting out a yawp in an avalanche zone after a snowstorm packed the top of the mountain the night before.
Terence Davis offered a different look in game six, being a tenacious bulldog, using up all six fouls, and adding his offensive range to open the floor. Early on in game seven, going to Davis again, it looked okay; he hit 2 of 3 from deep in the first quarter and 1 of 3 in the second, looking characteristically aggressive. But really, his ball pressure was not quite as good as game six.
Look at how the first quarter ended with TD on Curry. There were instances where he let up his pursuit of the world’s most dangerous offensive player (like leave Gary Payton II out there, who cares?), moments where Curry barely felt him, and where he allowed too much cushion for Curry. Outside the context of guarding Steph, he also failed to step up as the low man, allowing an easy layup for Draymond on his cut.
In spite of those glaring mistakes, his 9 first half points in 16 minutes admittedly looked pretty good. Aside from a three in the final seconds when the ink was just waiting to dry on the loss, he provided little to nothing offensively, yet he still played 12 minutes compared to 3 minutes for Mitchell.
Nobody was expecting Davis to shut down Curry. Nobody can do that, not even Mitchell; coach Brown and many players have said that all series. One does not simply stop Curry.
But in the same breath, they’ll also say it’s about showing him different looks, making him work. And yet Brown never thought to switch it up on Curry as he began unloading in the second half. All the more mind-boggling considering—and pardon the repetition—that the best defensive player and the guy who actually made Curry work saw little time on the floor.
What’s more, not a single reporter asked about it after the game. Brenden Nunes gets half credit for asking Brown if there’s anything he thought he could do differently to stop Curry, but it would have been more prudent to make a query about the fact Mitchell played 8 minutes.
Mitchell played 11 minutes in game six as Davis commanded a lot of those minutes. But the Kings had control of that game, and if anything, it seemed like a good way to have a better rested Davion for game seven. Yet he saw less minutes, not more.
(But on a completely different note—and perhaps a more speculative one—for Davis’ sake, this might help advertise him in free agency this offseason. Maybe Sac tries to re-sign him, but it’s felt more likely that’ll he command a bigger role elsewhere, likely on a one-year deal. And he got to show at least a little something on the playoff stage.)
With that broken finger, Fox had a rough game, but still…
It was a really great series for De’Aaron Fox, one that rightfully put him on the map as he was able to shine atop a great team rather than be shrouded by a bad one.
Yet his 5 of 19 performance with 5 turnovers was not good.
Game seven’s require a team’s best players to step up. Obviously, Steph Curry did that. Fox could not.
But to be fair and to look at this with equal objectivity, Curry has also been here before and was free of any fracture on his shooting hand.
Down 10 after three and with a chance to win still within reach, no fourth quarter Fox meant there was little hope in restoring the confidence that had been depleted by Golden State’s 13 offensive rebounds in the third period.
Obviously, it’s hard to chastise Fox for it. He had a hell of a series and played nine quarters of basketball with a broken fingertip. Still, his limited production was another component that pointed to a convincing Warriors win.
And even though they lost, it should not be lost on everyone how great Fox was, which is a big reason why people are waiting with appetite to see what this Kings team can do in the coming years.
Sac fans may not like the source, but Draymond Green offered some great words of respect for Fox.
“I’ve been in a lot of playoff series against a lot of different guys, and if I’m honest, you leave most with less respect for a lot of guys,” Green imparted after his team’s win. “Whether it’s how they act in the moment, how they step up to the pressure — I’ve lost a lot of respect for guys over the years in the playoffs. And then there are some that you gain respect for. There are some that you see and you know they’re cut from that same cloth you feel like you’re cut from, and Fox is one of those guys.”
Valuable experience from “the sting”
From the free throws to the rebounds, the Kings did not do a great job of trying to control what they are able to control.
Still, this ability to gain experience was always anticipated and will be invaluable.
“I think we obviously have a chance to be really, really good in the future,” Mike Brown noted after the contest. “This obviously stings — it’s gonna sting for a while. It should. It’s supposed to sting and hopefully we’ll be able to use this and remember what this feels like so that, when we get going this summer, we can crank it up a notch so we don’t feel this sting again next year.”
As Davion Mitchell said, “it’s only up from here.”
But De’Aaron Fox probably put it best without being overly verbose:
“I mean this is definitely a building block,” the point guard explained. “Obviously being able to play a team like this, who we all have tremendous respect for, we’ve (now) been there, done that. This is definitely just something that you build on.
“I mean we had a good season. We were the third seed, we stayed relatively healthy. I think playing against this team in the first round was a blessing and a curse. You could learn a lot, you’re not the favorite to win. We fought every game, but they did what champions do.
“And for us, I feel like a lot of the guys — whoever’s back next year — obviously, we still relatively have a younger. I feel like we learned a lot this series, and like I said, that’s why this is a blessing and a curse to play against this team in the first round.
“But no, I mean we, like I said, we learned a lot, and you just try to build off that. Obviously, this is a lot of our first times in the postseason — you got a taste of it, you got to feel what it was like to play against a team who’s a championship contender just about year in and year out, and you take that and you build off of it.”
That’s it. In spite of a sudden end to it—and a tragic one for some—this was a tremendous season of basketball, one anyone who got to watch it won’t forget. Covering it was a pleasure.
Now the offseason awaits with decisions to be made about Harrison Barnes, Trey Lyles, and others.
More to come.