The Sacramento Kings walked into the locker room Monday night up 53-47 on the Denver Nuggets. At the half, head coach Luke Walton said he showed his players some clips and pointed out adjustments that needed to be made in the second half and then they made their way back out onto the court. The Kings were, in fact, out on the floor early, according to Walton, to get warmed up and ready to try to get their first win of the season against one of the elite teams in the Western Conference.
Showing film at half may have been something Walton picked up while serving as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors over the last several years were known to come out in third quarters swinging as they would use the first half to size up their opponent and then watch film at half to make appropriate adjustments. This often led to devastating runs that took the other team out of the game. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr also said last year, that teams would tire themselves out in the first half against them, which would allow the Warriors to make their push.
The Kings aren’t the Warriors of recent years though, and watching film at half didn’t help the Kings against the Nuggets as they would end up getting outscored 17-30 in the third quarter Monday. This was the third time in four games the Kings were either up or tied at halftime and got beat by double digits in the third quarter.
It should be said there is nothing magical about the third quarter when it comes to winning an NBA game. In fact, a 2018 Harvard Sports Analysis study concluded that no specific quarter is relatively more important than another in terms of significantly increasing winning probability. What is concerning about third quarters when it comes to the Kings, however, is that it seems to be the point in the game when they lose sight of the positives they created in the first half.
Walton identified the following as the problems in the third quarter on Monday: missing open shots and Denver switching on defense from 1 through 5. With Denver’s big lineup the Kings got stagnant. Walton said the team addressed that in practice on Tuesday.
Following practice, Trevor Ariza had this to say about the third quarters: “We just were relaxed a little bit instead of staying hungry and thirsty to keep the foot on the gas.” Ariza would go on to continue to stress there was a lack of overall effort in the first three games of the season.
After the game on Monday, De’Aaron Fox acknowledged the third quarters are something they must remedy.
”I don’t know, we try to go out there, warm up, I don’t think there’s anything that you can just say. Some teams like the Warriors in the last few years were great third quarter teams and that is something that we have to try to figure out,” De’Aaron Fox said. “I think we only made like five shots in the third quarter [on Monday], that’s one thing. So, I don’t know how you just figure something out, you try to get ready, you try to stay focused, but it is something we have to try to fix.”
Richaun Holmes says the third quarter “is kind of a weird time” in a game and it is mostly a mental thing, but they have to be ready to prevent their opponents from going on runs and jumping out to leads.
”We want to come out and control that third, that’s our goal and that’s something we have to continue to get better at. So that is something he [Walton] continues to stress, and it is something that we’re going to get better at. We’re going to continue to work at it,” Holmes said.
The Nuggets certainly jumped on the opportunity.
”We had a bad stretch where we didn’t execute late in the third quarter and they made a run,” Buddy Hield said. “We all know the NBA is full of runs. It’s all about who makes the right run and who makes the last run. They made the right run at the right time.”
There is clearly some work to do, but Walton stresses the need to not let it become a mental thing.
”We need to be aware of the fact that the third quarter has been our worst quarter, but it feels like it’s starting to take on a little bit more now. Like we’re too worried about it,” he said.
His message to the team at the half on Monday was this: “Good half, that half is done. It’s about this quarter coming up, it’s about these plays, this play. Having the same intensity that we played the first half with.”
While the third quarter has been a problem so far, the Kings aren’t 0-4 simply because of it. Harrison Barnes noted that a few of the issues in the third quarters, such as turnovers and offensive rebounds, actually are present throughout games.
”It’s always highlighted in the third quarter, but these types of things happen throughout the course of the game. When you keep letting teams get second chance looks after 20 seconds of good defense, that’s tough,” Barnes said.
To their credit, the Kings did look better overall against the Nuggets and made it competitive in the 101-94 loss. They get another chance to get their first win of the season and an opportunity to perform well in the third quarter tonight against the 1-3 Charlotte Hornets.