Photo credit: nbaanalysis.net
By Charlie O. Mallonee
Jimmy Butler returned to the Miami Heat lineup after missing 12 games due to “health and safety concerns”, and he made an immediate impact on a team that been floundering without him. Butler played 33-minutes and 36-seconds in his return and was his team’s scoring leader with 30 points. It was a typical shooting night for Butler as his went 8-for-19 from the floor, but he did his real damage from the free throw line. Butler converted 14 of 16 opportunities from foul line in the contest. He also added eight assists.
Sacramento started strong
The Kings – who were playing the second game of a back-to-back set – came out of gate very strong and showed no sign of fatigue after the battle they had with the Toronto Raptors on Friday night in Tampa.
Sacramento outscored Miami 35-24 in the first quarter behind some excellent shooting. Buddy Hield went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc to lead all scorers in the period with nine points. The Kings shot 60.9-percent (14/23) in the quarter. The only warning sign was the Kings did not go to the free throw line one time in first 12 minutes.
Second quarter writes a new story
Playing the second game of a back-to-back set caught up with the Kings in the second period. Their shooting percentage fell, they could not create a fast break, and they starting fouling the Heat.
Miami put up 33 points to just 24 for the Kings in the second quarter. Sacramento’s shooting percentage fell to 42.1-percent (8/19), but three of those eight buckets were 3-point baskets.
The Heat went 11-for-20 (55%) from the field and hit 2 of 5 from downtown. They also converted 9 of 9 100%) free throw opportunities in the second quarter.
At the half, the Kings were clinging to a 59-57 lead.
The third quarter: aka “the valley of fatigue”
Evidently, someone took all the energy drinks out of the refrigerator in the Kings locker room because they came out after halftime like a team that had not been on a break. They looked tired and out of sorts.
Sacramento shot just 38-percent from the field, hit just two 3-point shots, and missed both of their free throw chances. They did commit seven fouls, five turnovers (which became 11 points) and ended the period trailing the Heat 84-77.
Things looked very dim for the Kings as they headed to the final quarter.
Fox caught fire in the fourth quarter
De’Aaron Fox has been under some criticism for not being more of a leader since he signed his “max contract” in the off-season. On Saturday night, the Kings start point guard did everything he could do to get his team a win.
Fox scored 17 points by shooting 7-for-13 in the final period. He went 2-for-6 from 3-point range and converted 1 of 2 free throw tries. Fox dished out two dimes, grabbed three rebounds and made one steal while trying to lead his team to a fourth consecutive victory.
Ironically, it was a Jimmy Butler 3-foot turnaround bank shot with 42-seconds left in the game that gave the Heat a 105-104 lead that Kings would not be able to overcome in the remaining time.
Fox put his team on his back and tried to will his way to a road win. In the end, a grizzled veteran just off the “health and safety” list blew a hole six feet wide in the Kings hopes and dreams.
It’s always in the numbers
On Saturday night, it was all about free throws. The Kings put the Heat on the free throw line 26 times in the contest. Miami scored on 22 of those free throw opportunities. On the other hand, the Kings went to the stripe just 11 times which is totally unacceptable. An NBA team has to be going to the free throw line a minimum of 20 times per game just to stay competitive. Sacramento scored just five points off free throws. The Kings lost the game at the charity stripe.
The Kings recorded 22 assists and made 17 turnovers. The goal is a 2-to-1 ratio, so they fell far short in that category as well. Miami scored 27 points off of the Kings 17 turnovers.
De’Aaron Fox was the Kings scoring leader with 30 points.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 30 points.
The Kings will play in New Orleans on Monday.
The Heat will host the Hornets on Monday.