The Sacramento Kings got their lick back against the Denver Nuggets with a little help from their All-Star and the dynamic duo from Kentucky. After being down as much as 19 points, the Kings were able to rally back and win 127-126 after a game-winning free throw from Malik Monk with just 0.7 seconds left in regulation.
Here are six takeaways from game two of their back-to-back.
Ice cold start
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” an untrue statement. Tonight the Kings started the game down 12-3 only a couple minutes in and were shooting 0-6 from the field. They didn’t make their first basket until almost four minutes into the first quarter and didn’t make their first three until there was about 5:30 left on the clock in the first.
No matter how good you play in the second half, if you dig yourself into the type of hole the Kings were in early, you are not in control of the game and can’t play your brand of basketball. Playing catch up leads to rushed shots and mistakes.
How did Sabonis look with his injury
Sabonis was still the Kings’ best player even with only one and a half hands. In a situation where nobody would have blamed him for having a bit of an off night, he was able to play through the pain and continue to be the dominant force that he is. He even shot the ball well from deep going 2-for-2. Sabonis finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block and 1 steal. A much-needed performance in a battle of elite bigs with Nikola Jokic. It’s nice to have Domas back.
Domantas Sabonis gets the steal and throws it down on the other end pic.twitter.com/95nfHZGHBW— Kings Nation (@KingsNationCP) December 29, 2022
Fox looked like an All-Star again tonight. Along with being the only starter to finish with a positive plus/minus, he finished with 31 points, 13 assists and turned it on late to help finish off the comeback. Of his 31 points, 14 came in the fourth quarter with a lot of them during crunch time. Fox has been an efficient closer for a while now and that’s a trait everyone wants out of their franchise player. However, I would love to see the aggressiveness and determination he shows at the end of games throughout the entirety of every game. Turning that switch on early would not only get him into a rhythm quicker, but keep opposing defenses on their heels.
A soldout Golden 1 Center ERUPTS as De’Aaron Fox gives the Kings their first lead of the game with less than 2 min remaining. pic.twitter.com/yBO1VS9I9x— Brenden Nunes (@BrendenNunesNBA) December 29, 2022
In the first half the Kings allowed the Nuggets to score 75 points, 38 of those coming in the paint. They did this by shooting a staggering 63.8 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from three on seven makes. The Kings played matador defense and allowed four Nuggets players to score double digits in the first half — like lesser known Zeke Nnaji who had 10 on 5-for-7 shots, all in the paint.
Allowing 30 plus points in each of the first three quarters is unacceptable for a team drastically trying to improve their defensive culture. Even though they stepped it up in the fourth and made some huge stops at the end to secure the win, this is not the brand of basketball the Kings are trying to play this season. Consistency on defense will be the thing that either elevates or destroys this team late in the season.
Coach Jordi Fernandez on their improved defense in the second half: "I felt like we were bigger and when you play big it's harder for them to share the basketball... our activity, our communication, our willingness to fly around, I feel like that really changed the game."— Brenden Nunes (@BrendenNunesNBA) December 29, 2022
Monk came back to life
I gotta be better!!!! ♂️ my bad Sactown!— Malik Monk (@AhmadMonk) December 28, 2022
For the first time since Dec. 14, against Toronto, Malik Monk was getting buckets. He finished with a season high 33 points to go with 2 rebounds and 3 assists off the bench in a Jamal Crawford-esque performance. It was one of those nights where the Kings needed a spark of energy and Monk did absolutely everything he could to give Sacramento some life. If it weren’t for his minutes and ability to score seemingly at will the Kings would not have comeback tonight.
In their first matchup with Denver, Monk scored just eight points shooting 30 percent from the field. As you can see in his tweet, he took accountability for his lackluster performance and made a point of stepping up in the rematch. It’s stuff like this why Sacramento loves having him on the team, and why I hope he’s here for years to come.
Something that was very noticeable throughout the game was the way players would react after making a mistake. There were countless moments when Sacramento would commit a turnover or a dumb foul and walk back with their head down. When an athlete allows themself to look defeated, not only does it hurt their mentality for the rest of the game but it boosts their opponent. Seeing the guy across from you have the look of failure on their face is a major confidence booster. The Kings need to turn around and move onto the next play, just like how they do after a loss.
Sacramento’s next game is on Friday, Dec. 30 at home against the Utah Jazz. Currently sitting in the sixth seed in the West with a record of 18-15, the Kings need to use this win to build some momentum and go on another winning streak. The Nuggets are one of the best teams in the league. If you can beat them, you can beat almost anybody.