De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell Shine in Game 2 Win

Sacramento seized a 2-0 series lead over Golden State behind defensive stops and late-game baskets from its backcourt duo.

If it's true, as is so often said in NBA conversations, that the true greats are defined not by what they accomplish in the first 82 games but in the ones that extend deep into April, then De’Aaron Fox is making the leap to superstardom right before our eyes.

A decisive fourth-quarter scoring binge for the Kings guard came as effortlessly as it so often does, with each bucket seeming to come with a promise that there was a lot more where that came from. 

On a night when his shots weren’t falling early, Fox knocked down 5 of his 9 attempts in the final period, none bigger than a catch-and-shoot three-pointer from straight away that pushed Sacramento’s lead to six with just over two minutes left. It wasn’t just his scoring either: Fox drew defenders to him only to whip the ball back to find teammates between opponents, dishing nine assists compared to only two turnovers, and ripped four of the team’s 11 steals.

“You take your hat off to Foxy,” said Kings head coach Mike Brown. “Big, big, big buckets down the stretch. He hit a big three right in front of our bench that was phenomenal.”

Strength in Numbers: Fox was hardly alone in Game 2; the beauty in this Kings team, this roster with unmatched depth and more versatility than a swiss army knife, lies in their balance and selflessness.

Both were quiet in the opening game, but on Monday, Domantas Sabonis manhandled his undersized, overmatched opponents and Davion Mitchell picked their pockets.

No. 10 was his customary do-everything self, finishing on 5-of-6 shots in the restricted area, and 8-of-12 overall, for 24 points, along with nine rebounds and four assists. Asked if he’s ever coached a tougher player, Brown was adamant he hadn’t.

“He’s tough as they come,” Brown said. “His motor is unbelievable, his mental toughness is unbelievable and his physical toughness is unbelievable. It was all on display tonight.”

As for Mitchell, Sacramento never would have been in position to win if not for several big plays by its defensive ace in the early going and down the stretch.

Mitchell slid into the right spots to take charges, picked off lazy passes and perhaps even more importantly, denied Steph Curry from having the space he desired to operate. More than once, by the time the ball reached the two-time MVP, Mitchell was there, denying what would have been an open jump shot against a lesser defender, and when Curry gave up the ball, Mitchell was often there to deflect it.

“I think throughout the game, I just tried to do a good job of putting ball-pressure on Steph, trying to just keep running around with him,” Mitchell said.

“I try to limit his shots, his touches. If he does touch it, just make it hard throughout the game, just keep a body on him, keep pushing him. Eventually he’s going to get tired … eventually, his legs are going to weigh down and his shots are going to be short, so we just tried to do that and I think we did a really good job on him today.”

Mitchell isn’t the only one but is certainly the biggest reason why Curry has more turnovers (10) than assists (eight) through two games, and why he’s missed twice as many three-pointers (18) as he’s made (nine).

And when the Warriors loomed with a late push, it was Mitchell, beaming with confidence, who slammed the door shut with a triple of his own from the right corner that effectively sealed the outcome.

“He was big-time for us tonight,” Fox said. “Obviously we all know what he can do defensively. He hounded Steph most of the game, and then obviously what he added to us today offensively was huge. The big three in the corner, honestly I would say, was like the nail in the coffin.”

Key Stat No. 1: Taking care of the ball and thus preventing the Warriors from generating many fastbreak opportunities was one of Sacramento’s top priorities, and in Game 2, the Kings committed only two turnovers in the second half (14 total). Golden State coughed up the ball on nine possessions in the first quarter – four via Kings steals – and 22 times on the night, translating to 25 points for Sacramento.

“We have to keep having active hands throughout the ball game,” said Brown. “Try to get as many deflections as possible and hope those can turn into points going the other way.”

Key Stat No. 2: As comfortable as they are on the perimeter, the Kings have dominated in the paint, outscoring the Warriors 54-40 in Game 2, and 114-84 through two contests.

Turning Point: Early on, Game 2 had all the earmarks of a struggle, but Sacramento ramped up its defensive intensity to begin the second quarter, dictating the pace and threatening to run the Warriors out of the gym. Malik Monk picked up right where left off in Game 1, drilling three consecutive threes in a span of 2:04, while the physicality of Alex Len again proved effective in thwarting the Warriors from attacking the rim. A 23-8 flurry flipped a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead, as Golden State’s offense became discombobulated and its defense shredded.

Each time the Warriors made a subsequent run, Sacramento withstood it and responded with a haymaker of its own. Even when Golden State eventually knotted the game at 95, the Kings scored the next six points, proving that while other teams may fall apart under pressure, they happen to thrive under it.

“For us to be able to protect [home court], I think is definitely huge for us,” Fox said. “It builds confidence; day after day, game after game, when you’re winning a game in a playoff series, it builds up your confidence.”