By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–Two segments of basketball–one exhilarating, one dreadful–separated only by the Kings’ successful, five-minute overtime on Monday in Minneapolis, go along way to explaining the lost 2019-2020 season for Sacramento.
In the final 5:42 of regulation on Monday, the Kings scored 33 points, making shots from everywhere, in belief they could overcome an insurmountable deficit against the Timberwolves. They did, tying the game in regulation, and winning it in overtime, 133-129.
The comeback would mark the first time in the previous 24 seasons that a team had overcome a 17-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining in regulation or overtime and won. Simply, on Monday the Kings accomplished what 8,000 plus teams over a quarter century could not: the comeback of comebacks.
Then on Wednesday back at Golden 1 Center–and after a stirring tribute to Kobe Bryant before the opening tip–the Kings reverted, scoring just 16 points in the first quarter on the way to a 20-point loss to the Thunder. The Kings were in it, tied at 14 with 3:58 remaining, then finished the quarter with only two more points, on their way to trailing for the game’s final 40 minutes in a sleepy loss tied closely to a substandard defensive effort that saw the Thunder guards feast on their Sacramento counterparts.
“They were more physical than us, they hit us, they outrebounded us, got the shots they wanted, and that can’t be acceptable for how we’re going to play the game of basketball.”
In Monday’s finish, the Kings hit seven 3-pointers, and got stops–a bunch of them. On Wednesday, the Kings were 1 of 9 from three in the first quarter and watched the visitors–especially from the guard’s standpoint–operate as if they were a basketball ballet troop.
Chris Paul, a close friend of Kobe Bryant, returned to action after missing the Thunder’s previous game to decompress and grieve. The break brought to light what a great season the veteran guard is having in Oklahoma City after his unceremonious dismissal from Houston. Paul’s absence was his first time he hasn’t played and started for the Thunder, a streak of 47 games. On Wednesday, with a heavy heart, it was back to work and the veteran was on top of his game, dissecting the Kings like a surgeon.
“He never really got into a flow from the standpoint of his own, personal offense, but he really managed to manipulate that game in the third quarter. He was finding guys, he was making the right decisions. He got guys open shots,” coach Billy Donovan said of Paul.
All four Thunder guards that saw significant minutes put up good numbers facing a Sacramento defense that didn’t fight through screens and wasn’t the least bit disruptive. Paul finished with nine points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Luguentz Dort, the undrafted rookie playing in place of the injured Terrance Ferguson, put up a career-best 23 points with five 3-pointers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the key, off-season acquisition with Russell Westbrook and Paul George departing, had 17 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. Dennis Schroeder came off the bench to add 24 points and nine assists.
Worried about the viability of the Kings’ core of Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovich and De’Aaron Fox going forward with all three likely to earn big deals to stay in Sacramento?
You should be. Defensively, the trio is nowhere near where they need to be. Picture a youthful Steve Nash getting beat at the point of attack and multiply by three. Not pretty especially with the Kings getting a look at Bogdanovich starting along Fox with Hield’s demotion. Again, all three put up decent offensive numbers on Wednesday, but their double-digit minus, plus/minus numbers said it all.
The Kings get a rough, back-to-back with the Clippers up next Thursday night at Staples Center, the first game at Staples Center since Bryant’s death.