Three Takeaways: Second half-improvements from the Kings pave the way to victory

Nov 29, 2023, 1:50 PM

Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors competes for a loose ball against De'Aaron Fox #5 of...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors competes for a loose ball against De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter during the NBA In-Season Tournament game at Golden 1 Center on November 28, 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)

Tuesday night’s matchup between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors had many implications. From the In-Season Tournament to regular season head-to-head matchups, it added to an already exciting matchup that lived up to the hype.

The Kings were without Keegan Murray (lower back) and Alex Len (ankle), while the Warriors were at full strength. However, Gary Payton II and Chris Paul becoming unavailable throughout the action proved vital.

Malik Monk’s game-winning heroics stole the show, but a handful of impactful aspects allowed Sacramento to overcome a 24-point deficit en route to a 124-123 victory.

Here are my takeaways from a night where Draymond Green was booed by the Golden 1 Center crowd every time he touched the ball.

1. A tale of two halves

Golden State had a 72-55 lead heading into the midway point, including 12/25 from beyond the arc. It’s not the first game where the Kings waited to turn it up defensively. But, better late than never.

Most of Sacramento’s players and coaches who spoke postgame acknowledged the difference between their first and second-half defense, primarily when it came to defending the three-point line.

“This was about our second-half defense,” Coach Brown said. “Our second-half defense was very good. Against the Warriors, they scored 51 points in a half. Not only did they score 51 points in a half, they had 20 turnovers. We needed every single point of the 26 points we had off their turnovers… to say you walked away from the second half with those guys scoring 51 points is huge.”

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The Warriors went from 12/25 from beyond the arc in the first half to 7/22 in the final 24 minutes. They focused on limiting Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, making the other guys beat you. That seemed to be a successful recipe, partially due to the aforementioned Paul injury.

Thompson managed 17 points in the first half but made just one field goal from that point, ending with 20. Curry still contributed 13 points in the second half, but it came on 3/9 shooting, which is all you can ask regarding one of the league’s best scorers.

Multiple players, from Chris Duarte to Keon Ellis and Fox, were thrown at Curry. And Fox specifically shined on the defensive end of the floor.

2. De’Aaron Fox impacting the game in various ways

On a night where he missed eight free throws, the Kings’ star guard found different ways to leave his mark. He defended Curry, limited his turnovers (as he has most of the season), rebounded effectively, and made plays left and right.

“I tried to affect the games in other ways even though I think every miss I had tonight was short,” Fox said postgame. “So, I would say offensively it wasn’t my best game, but I was out there for 40 minutes, and I feel like my imprint was still on the game. I’m not super disappointed in it, but obviously, anybody in my position would want to shoot the ball better.”

His final tally was 29 points, seven assists, nine rebounds, two steals, and two turnovers on 9/20 from the field, 2/9 from three, and 9/17 on free throws.

Again, the free throws shouldn’t be glossed over (especially considering the narrow margin of victory), but the best players in the league find ways to aid their squads even when struggling to convert. The Kentucky alum did just that.

After the game’s conclusion, Mike Brown joked that Fox’s second-half performance belonged in Webster’s as the definition of a two-way player.

“Not only are we asking him to score,” he said. “We’re asking him to score, push the pace, get guys involved, make plays for yourself and others. We’re asking him to do that at a high level. But, if you want the definition of a two-way player, you look at that second half tonight.”

While Fox was phenomenal for the Kings, they would not have come out on top without crucial bench production.

3. All the Kings’ horses

The Kings played 12 of their 15 available players, with Jalen Slawson, Jordan Ford, and Colby Jones being the only healthy scratches. While starters are often highlighted, the more consequential rotational decision is always who closes.

On Tuesday night, Sacramento’s closing five primarily featured bench players. Trey Lyles, Sasha Vezeknov, and Malik Monk were rolled out alongside Fox and Sabonis.

Monk in that group isn’t atypical, but his production can’t be ignored. In 26 minutes, he managed 21 points, one assist, three rebounds, one steal, and one block on 8/15 from the field, 3/7 from three, and 2/2 from free throws.

“It seems like (Monk) is being super aggressive when he comes into the games now,” Huerter said. “His ability to make plays and make things happen for us, and we always want him to be aggressive getting downhill.”

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His game-winner stole the show, but even small aspects from the sideline play a difference. With overwhelming whistles, the coaching staff engaged with the officials when Monk approached them and reminded them to keep their heads in the right place.

Beyond Monk, Lyles’s energy and effort on both ends of the floor has been apparent since his return. “(Lyles) is a vet. He’s been playing the game for a long time,” Monk said. He knows what’s going on out there. He knows what spots to put us in.”

“Whether it’s his voice or him doing something on the court, he always helps us out. But, it’s great to have him back, a big piece.”

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Coach Brown highlighted Ellis and Vezenkov’s contributions in the postgame. Ellis gave Curry another defensive look and hit a substantial momentum-stalling triple in his six minutes.

Vezenkov’s elite shooting is well documented, and his spacing was valuable Tuesday, but it may have been his best defensive performance in the NBA. He had four rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes of play while blitzing Curry as the Warriors targeted him in the halfcourt.

“He’s just smart,” Sabonis said. “He knows how to play the game. He puts himself in the right position. He’s not a (EuroLeague) MVP for nothing.”

It was a group effort from the Kings to emerge victorious over Golden State and overcome a 24-point deficit. With it being the first night of a back-to-back, while the Los Angeles Clippers come into Golden 1 Center tonight, their depth will likely be needed again.

When is the next Sacramento Kings Game?

Sacramento will return to Golden 1 Center in less than 24 hours for the second game of a back-to-back as they will face a struggling Los Angeles Clippers team that has lost eight of its past 12 contests.

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

Upcoming Schedule

  • Wednesday, November 29th – Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Clippers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, December 2nd – Sacramento Kings vs. Denver Nuggets – 7:00 PM PST
  • December 3rd-10th: NBA In-Season Tournament Week (Schedule TBD)
  • Monday, December 4th – Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans – 7:00 PM PST**
  • Monday, December 11th – Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets – 7:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, December 12th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Clippers – 7:30 PM PST
  • Thursday, December 14th – Sacramento Kings vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – 7:00 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Knockout Round

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