Entering Monday night’s game against Indiana, the Kings were coming off two of their more dispiriting defensive efforts of the season. Toronto dropped 144 points on Sacramento Friday, and the Kings responded by letting Portland cruise to 125 the next night.
It wasn’t so much the point total as it was Sacramento’s lack of resistance defensively, as both the Raptors and Blazers waltzed to the basket and got whatever shots they wanted. On Monday, the Pacers may have scored 122 points, but they met resistance. Much of that came in the form of Richaun Holmes.
Holmes has been the saving grace of the Kings defense thus far this season, leading the rotation players in defensive rating. He’s forcing opposing players to shoot 6.2 percent worse than expected based on shot location, and against Indiana, Holmes did that by mercilessly blocking whatever the Pacers attempted at the rim.
The Kings center set a career-high with six blocks, once again recording the team’s best defensive rating of the evening and helping Sacramento secure a win with some game-saving rejections down the stretch.
Let’s take a look at all of Holmes’ blocks in his record-setting performance.
In the first half, Holmes’ first rejection came on Victor Oladipo, the Pacers’ third-leading scorer. The Kings had a poor start to the game, but they came out with renewed energy in the first timeout, and Holmes exemplified that. Oladipo gets by Buddy Hield all the way to the cup, but Holmes has his teammate’s back and not only blocks the shot but saves possession for Sacramento. Later in the half, Domantas Sabonis thinks he’s beaten Holmes in the pick-and-roll, but Holmes recovers to take away the easy finish.
The Pacers escaped Holmes during the third quarter, but he ended the game with a flourish with four more rejections in the final seven minutes.
Blocks no. 3 and 4 came on consecutive possessions, with Indiana needing a score to tie the game or at least close the deficit, Instead, Holmes stands up Sabonis and blocks him in the post on the first try. Then, when Aaron Holiday comes at the rim on a drive, Holmes gets a full volleyball spike on the Pacer guard’s attempt. Doug Christie’s instinctive shriek, followed by a chuckle on replay, makes this even better on rewatch.
The time and score were even more precarious for Holmes’ fifth block. Indiana is up two with under three minutes to play and another score would put a lot of pressure on the Kings. Justin Holiday appears to have beaten Harrison Barnes backdoor on this play, but Holmes absolutely stuffs him, rejecting the shot and sending Holiday to the floor in one fell swoop. Buddy Hield would reward Holmes’ effort with a 3-pointer in semi-transition to give Sacramento the lead.
The final block of the game was the most critical, and the most spectacular in real time, even if the referees originally ruled it a goaltend. Sabonis appears to be clear of Holmes after getting the ball from Oladipo, but Holmes not only makes up the ground to catch up to the play, he also maneuvers around De’Aaron Fox in the paint to meet Sabonis at the hoop and send his shot into Fox’s hands. The Pacers could have gone up one on that play. Instead, the Kings regained possession and extended their lead to four when Hield hit another 3-pointer created by a diving offensive rebound from — you guessed it — Holmes.
It might be unsustainable for Holmes to clean up all of his teammates’ mistakes at the basket moving forward, but against Indiana, he was able to. His lateral quickness, recovery speed, and strength were all on display in a superb defensive showing, and the Kings needed every one of his rejections to win the game.
The Kings are trying to create a culture as a competitive, high-energy team that disrupts its opponents. Holmes embodies those characteristics perhaps more than anyone else on the roster. His performance Monday was just the latest example.