Three takeaways: Sacramento struggle defensively in win over San Antonio

Feb 23, 2024, 1:59 PM | Updated: 2:40 pm

De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings shoots against the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quar...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 22: De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings shoots against the San Antonio Spurs during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on February 22, 2024 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The 11-44 San Antonio Spurs came into Golden 1 Center Thursday night to face off against the Sacramento Kings. With a healthy squad outside of Sasha Vezenkov (right ankle), the Kings were heavily favored for good reason.

With the All-Star break directly in the rearview, this is the time of year when teams lock in, emphasize the importance of every game for seeding purposes, and try to reach their ideal form heading into the postseason.

For Sacramento, who came into the night eight in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, failing to beat stellar rookie Victor Webanyama and the Spurs would have been unideal, to say the least.

While their defense had its ups and (mostly) downs, efficient and effective offense carried them to a victory.

Here are three takeaways from Sacramento’s Thursday night 127-122 victory.

1. An underwhelming defensive showing

Following their recent practices post-ASB, Mike Brown and his players were transparent in hopes of improving defensively, specifically on the perimeter. The Kings currently allow the highest opponent three-point percentage (39.8 percent) among all teams.

Conversely, the Spurs have the lowest conversion rate from range (34.0 percent) — the significant variance in those numbers made it an intriguing aspect to note coming into the night.

Yet, the underwhelming number for Sacramento held up rather than San Antonio’s. Converting 44.0 percent of their three-point attempts was the fifth-best rate of the season for the Spurs, albeit on low volume (11/25).

In a similar fashion to what is often seen from Gregg Popovich, whom Mike Brown was an assistant coach for three seasons from 2000-2003, Sacramento called a timeout after their third defensive possession of the game, just 109 seconds into the action.

“I took a quick time out when they hit that three in the corner in front of our bench because we made a mistake defensively, but then we stopped playing, and we can’t have that,” Brown said postgame. “Because, trust me, you’re going to make mistakes nobody’s going to play a perfect game of basketball on both sides of the floor, it’s what do you do when you make the mistake.”

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Providing multiple efforts has been one of their five defensive staples since Brown took over last season, and it will need to continue to be emphasized and executed consistently in their final 27 games of 2023-24.

Not only did the Spurs excel from three, but they also tallied 72 points in the paint, 13 fast break points, 12 points off eight Sacramento turnovers, and 11 offensive rebounds, leading to an equal number of second-chance points.

That led to an uphill battle with heavy reliance on their offense, which luckily worked out in their favor.

2. Stellar, well-rounded Sacramento offense

Four Kings players scored more than 20 points, and Keegan Murray’s 16 points were also crucial in the win. Take a look at some of these ridiculous stat lines that somehow managed to co-occur.

  • De’Aaron Fox: 28 points, nine assists, five rebounds, two steals, and one block on 12/18 FG, 2/6 3P
  • Domantas Sabonis: 11 assists, 11 rebounds, and one block on 11/15 FG
  • Kevin Huerter: 21 points, five assists, and four rebounds on 8/14 FG, 5/8 3P
  • Malik Monk: 21 points, two assists, three steals, two steals and two blocks on 8/15 FG, 1/5 3P

As a team, they converted 13/33 (39.4 percent) from three. They managed to capitalize on some of the details mentioned above that their opposition also made — 70 points in the paint, 17 points of 12 Spurs turnovers, 13 fastbreak points, and seven offensive rebounds led to 14 second-chance points.

Sabonis, who was a game-time decision due to an illness, didn’t let it affect him much. While the rotations were slightly altered to account for that, he excelled in his 33 minutes. His streak of 38 straight double-doubles is the fourth-longest such streak since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976.

“We’ve talked about it before. You don’t want to become numb to what he’s doing. That’s not normal.” Fox said of Sabonis. “That’s not normal. It’s only been done a few times in this game, and the fact that he’s available every night is big for us because he plays so hard. He plays so physical. He could easily be one of those guys that take a few nights off, but, like I said, he came in today, and you couldn’t get him to not play.”

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“He was a game-time decision, but he wasn’t he wasn’t not going to play,” he continued. “That’s leading by example. If something’s hurt, he’s like, ‘No. I’m fine. I’m going to go out there and play give him my all,’ and then you live with the results, and that’s what you want out of somebody who’s one of the best players in this league who should be an MVP candidate. I don’t know how many of those guys haven’t missed the game yet, but he’s definitely up there.”

Sabonis deserved to make the All-Star team and be awarded the $1.3-million incentive in his contract, but he has the same financial opportunity if named to the All-NBA team again.

Huerter’s continued success shooting the ball has also been essential to Sacramento’s offense, specifically in terms of their spacing and pace — not only in transition but also in the halfcourt. After his 5/8 night from three against the Spurs, he’s up to 45 percent from three on 6.5 attempts in his last 17 games.

You could keep going down the line. Monk provided his usual playmaking and creation, and Fox, the reigning Clutch Player of the Year, scored 11 of his 24 points in the final quarter, including a huge block and mid-range jumper to ice the game.

3. Steller, late defensive play for De’Aaron Fox

With roughly 50 seconds remaining and Sacramento holding a three-point advantage, Devin Vassell (who played extremely well), guarded by Fox, appeared to prepare for a dribble handoff from Jeremy Sochan.

After a convincing fake towards the ball, Vassell cut backdoor and left Fox in the dust. But his deserved label of one of the fastest players, if not the fastest, in the NBA, shined in his ridiculous recovery and subsequent block.

“That was a ridiculous play,” Huerter said. “Only a handful of guys in the league can make that play. Just a crazy defensive play.”

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After the shot, Fox calmly walked down the other end and knocked down a causal-looking mid-range shot to ice the win for his squad. While his emergence from three has been crucial to his growth as a player, his elite, efficient mid-range looks have been blessed, but he appeared again versus Wembanyama and the Spurs.

Thurday’s win keeps Sacramento in eighth place within the Western Conference, with just a 1.5-game difference between themselves and the fifth-seeded New Orleans Pelicans. Moving into the top four to avoid the play-in becomes the focus as the postseason approaches with each passing showing.

What’s next for the Sacramento Kings?

Sacramento will board a short flight to Los Angeles this weekend as they will play the first game of a road home-back-to-back against the Clippers at Arena.

The Clippers have had the Kings’ number this season, as Los Angeles has secured the first two regular-season matchups by an average of 17 points per contest.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Clippers coverage, beginning at 5:00 PM PST on Game Night before a 6:30 PM PST tip-off from downtown Los Angeles.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Sunday, February 25th – Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers – 6:30 PM PST
  • Monday, February 26th – Kings vs. Miami Heat – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, February 28th – Kings @ Denver Nuggets – 6:00 PM PST
  • Friday, March 1st – Kings @ Minnesota Timberwolves – 5:00 PM PST
  • Monday, March 4th – Kings vs. Chicago Bulls – 7:00 PM PST

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