Four Takeaways: Keegan Murray adjusted and contributed in various ways

Oct 30, 2023, 2:13 PM | Updated: 2:15 pm

Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after a three-point basket made by teammate Kee...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 29: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after a three-point basket made by teammate Keegan Murray #13 in the fourth quarter L at Golden 1 Center on October 29, 2023 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. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

In their third game of the 2023-24 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 132-127 in an overtime thriller. De’Aaron Fox suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter but attempted to battle through. Yet, second-year player Keegan Murray successfully adjusted mid-game, to the delight of his coach, and Malik Monk masterfully orchestrated an overtime offense without their two stars.

Trey Lyles (left calf strain) was unavailable for Sacramento, while the Lakers were without rookie Jalen Hood-Schifino (right foot soreness) and Jarred Vanderbilt (left heel bursitis). The size of LeBron James and Anthony Davis present unique problems to opposing defenses, but the Kings managed to end the night victorious.

It’s early, but Sacramento’s highly emphasized areas of improvement have been encouraging so far. Finding ways to win games against divisional opponents will be crucial in a deep, talented Western Conference. Here are my takeaways from Sacramento’s Sunday night victory.

1. Adjusting their physicality throughout the game

Physicality, physicality, physicality. Head coach Mike Brown and his players have tirelessly emphasized improving their physicality and acknowledged that additional fouls are an expected part of the process. Through one half of Sunday’s matchup, Los Angeles attempted 23 free throws but converted just 15.

That left the Kings with some foul concerns headed into their locked room. McGee had racked up three fouls in six minutes, while Fox, Sabonis, Keegan Murry, and Chris Duarte had two of their own.

“We just try to play physical. We knew that we might be in games where we have a lot of fouls, and we just have to adjust our physicality in that way,” Keegan Murray said postgame. After allowing 23 free throws in the first half, the Lakers attempted 11 in the remaining 29 minutes. “I feel like, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime, we did that.”

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Atypical rotations arose as foul troubles continued. By the end of quarter three, Fox, Sabonis, Murray, and McGee each had committed four fouls. Sabonis managed two more before the end of regulation, leaving him ineligible to participate in added time. Luckily, Monk embraced the challenge, while Kevin Huerter and Sasha Vezenkov increased their contributions. But Sacramento has to find ways to remain physical while limiting personal fouls and opponent free throws.

“We still have to understand that in certain instances, physicality doesn’t mean reaching at the last second,” Brown said. “Physicality doesn’t mean having one hand up and one hand down. You’ve got to lead with your chest at all times, you’ve got to go vertical at all times, and if they make tough shots, then they make tough shots. So, we’re headed in that direction, but the 34 free throws were a lot. That’s what kept them in the game.”

Yet, they found a way to accomplish their goal: win the game. The Lakers scored 44 points in the paint to Sacramento’s 56, which was encouraging considering their downhill threats. Harrison Barnes checked James, with Chris Duarte filling in as needed. Sabonis and Davis continuously battled down low. The Kings also held them to eight offensive rebounds, another example of winning on the margins.

It’s no secret that Sacramento lacks ideal defensive personnel. But, if they can continue to acclimate to increased physicality and disciplined hands, improvement could be on the horizon.

2. Timely “Dagger” Triples

One of the most efficient shots in the NBA is a catch-and-shoot triple after an offensive rebound. Sacramento’s coaching staff refers to those looks as “daggers,” and their team had two timely ones in overtime. Tied at 117 with four minutes remaining, a hobbled Fox threw up a semi-contested stepback triple, which rattled off the back rim. As the shot went up, Keegan Murray forcefully dove from beyond the arc, chased the miss and quickly assisted Malik Monk for a wide-open three. 120-117.

Nearly two minutes later, a similar instance occurred. Up one with 1:44 on the clock, Monk drove left of a McGee screen. Guarding Huerter one pass away, D’Angelo Russel crept towards the nail to aid their perimeter containment. Monk quickly found Huerter on the wing, whose attempt circled the cylinder and rimmed out.

Once again, Murray, from the weakside nail, successfully pursued the board and tipped the ball to Barnes, who gave a simple drop-off to Monk — a demoralizing dagger triple extended their lead to four with 96 seconds remaining in overtime.

Keegan Murray led the way with three offensive boards, while Fox, Sabonis, and Monk added one a piece. “We didn’t get a lot of offensive rebounds, but every time we got one, it seemed like we made them pay,” Brown said. Managing 20 second-chance points on six offensive rebounds (nine team rebounds) was an impressive feat for Sacramento, and their second-year forward was critical.

3. Malik Monk stepped up in the absence of De’Aaron Fox

Mid-way through the fourth quarter, Sacramento’s All-Star point guard stepped on the foot of Gabe Vincent on a drive and rolled his right ankle. Golden 1 Center fell quiet. Not long after being helped off the court, to the surprise of most, he was back in the game. He displayed his resilience as the reigning inaugural Clutch Player of the Year tallied 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Yet, he was still clearly laboring, and the coaching staff elected to sit him down, but Fox had other plans. As the coaches came out of their huddle before overtime, Brown noticed Fox on the floor and attempted to communicate his decision.

“He was ignoring me,” Brown said. “And I said, okay, he’s ignoring me, so I guess I got to leave him on the floor. So, we left him on the floor, and then he continued to limp, and we ended up subbing him out, but it wasn’t a lot of conversation. He felt he could go, so he stayed on the floor, and when I felt he really couldn’t go, we took him out.”

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Fox’s desire to compete didn’t go unnoticed. Brown loves his competitive spirit and desire to win. His teammates found it motivating, and when Fox was no longer fit to return, Monk filled his void with 11 points in the fourth quarter, along with a crucial late assist to Huerter.

“For [Fox] to give it a go in overtime, it was really cool to see,” Murray said. “Honestly, if he’s out, it’s going to be a big hole to fill just as a group collectively. We’re just going to have to play together and replace that.”

Monk can repeat his performance from Sunday night, but, as Murray pointed out, everyone will have to step up in Fox’s expected absence. The lone positive from injuries is added opportunity down the roster, with Vezenkov’s recent impact without Lyles being a prime example. Who knows? Maybe rookie Colby Jones will get his first regular-season chance sooner rather than later.

4. Coachable Keegan Murray

A few minutes had passed in the third quarter. Keegan Murray pulled down a defensive board, quickly threw an outlet to Fox, and made his way up the floor. The Kentucky alum took three dribbles toward Austin Reaves, touched the paint, and returned the ball to Murray. After breaking the NBA record for made-threes by a rookie last season, converting 41.1 percent of his looks, he found himself wide-open beyond the arc.

Yet, he didn’t shoot. As Reaves began his lengthy closeout, the 6’8 forward hesitated before pump-faking, then traveling while attempting to attack. Coach Brown was livid, calling Vezenkov from the bench and loudly notifying the officials of his waiting substitute.

“He’s got to shoot the ball,” Brown said postgame. “He’s one of the best shooters I’ve been around, and he didn’t shoot it. And I told him the only reason he’ll probably come out of games when he’s not supposed to get some rest is if he doesn’t shoot the frickin ball.”

Los Angeles had inbounded the ball before Vezenkov reached the scorer’s table and quickly missed on the other end. Once again, Keegan Murray secured a rebound, found Fox, and relocated to the same spot as the prior play. The Lakers lost track of him, Fox noticed their lapse, and Murray decisively pulled it. Splash.

“It was great because the next opportunity he got, he shot it, and I think he looked at me and said, ‘F you,’ which I loved,” Brown said. “He can shoot. He better shoot the frickin ball, or he’s coming out of the game. If he feels like he’s open, I’m going to ride with him.”

Brown is a tough coach who focuses on the details and potential areas of improvement. Constantly challenging the young forward isn’t out of frustration. It’s an attempt to aid his development and a sign of their belief in his potential. “The sky is the limit for him, and he’s just scratching the surface.”

Keegan Murray successfully adjusted on the fly and found various ways to contribute to Sacramento’s second win in three games, an encouraging sign for his longterm projection in the NBA.

More Reading: Following rough start, Kevin Huerter comes through in big moment

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

Did somebody ask for more Kings vs. Warriors?

For what seems like the 100th time over the past 101 games, Sacramento and Golden State will meet once again on Wednesday night–the second time over the first four games of the regular season.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Warriors coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown San Francisco.

Upcoming Sacramento Kings Schedule

  • Wednesday, November 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Saturday, November 4th – Sacramento Kings @ Houston Rockets – 5 PM PST
  • Monday, November 6th – Sacramento Kings @ Houston Rockets – 5 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 8th – Sacramento Kings vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 7 PM PST
  • Friday, November 10th – Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder** – 7 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play

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Four Takeaways: Keegan Murray adjusted and contributed in various ways