Despite falling to the Warriors in the deciding contest, Kings players held their heads high and looked to build on what they accomplished during the postseason.
The familiar, sing-song chants of “Sac-ra-mento!” rang out inside Golden 1 Center in the closing minutes of an already-decided Game 7, as one final ode to a special Kings team that brought fans so many smiles with an offensive punch and hustling pace that overwhelmed even high-quality defenses.
The sharp and experienced Warriors ultimately provided too harsh of a test, but despite the outcome, Kings players and coaches held their heads high at pushing the defending champs to the brink of elimination. There was some deflation and heartbreak in their voices, but there was much more pride and a collective focus on how they’ll return stronger next season after their introductory learning experience in the playoffs.
“Being at the age that we are, you have a lot of basketball left to be played,” said De’Aaron Fox, who averaged 27.4 points and 7.7 assists in his first postseason. “You’re entering your prime, you want to have the best years of your basketball career coming up. Losing to this team, you just learn from it. You take everything that they did to us, that they taught us, you try to be better at those things and just continue to work at it.”
The Kings made the defending champions work early, racing to a five-point lead in the first quarter and holding a two-point edge at the half. But Stephen Curry carried himself with his trademark swagger to begin the third, penetrating the heart of the defense and unleashing an onslaught of deep perimeter bombs that have long been his forte, while Kevon Looney seemed to have his hands on every ball that bounced off the iron.
For Sacramento, it was a rare night when Fox couldn’t reciprocate Curry with a fourth-quarter barrage of his own, when Malik Monk’s shots weren’t falling cleanly through the net, and when Domantas Sabonis wasn’t the game’s biggest force in the paint or on the glass.
“It’s going to sting for a long time, but you have to come back ready from the get-go, from training camp,” Monk said. “I definitely want to be playing again at this time next year [...] You can’t dream of anything like this unless you’re doing it.”
Mutual Respect: After being faced with the unenviable task of finding ways to slow down Fox from driving the lanes, whipping passes all over the court, and at times, single-handedly controlling the series, Draymond Green and the Warriors left the hard-fought battle with a deeper appreciation for the Kings All-Star.
“I wanted to pay my respects,” Green said regarding his post-game words with No. 5. “We’ve been in a lot of playoff series against a lot of guys, and if I’m honest, you leave with less respect for a lot of guys … There are some you gain respect for. Fox is one of those guys.”
Best for Last: Sabonis was at his All-NBA best in the series finale, backing and muscling his way in the paint, running the floor and finishing in transition, and exhibiting the tremendous dribble-handoff chemistry he perfected with Monk and Keegan Murray throughout the regular season. When the Warriors dared, practically begged Sabonis to beat them from mid-range, Sacramento’s center did just that, too, drilling a pair of 19-footers. Sabonis led the team in points (22, on 10-of-16 from the field) and assists (seven), while snagging eight rebounds and blocking a pair of shots.
Key Stats: The Warriors racked up 13 offensive rebounds, seven by Looney, in the third quarter, keeping multiple possessions alive and preventing Sacramento from ramping up the pace. With Golden State content to burn the clock with a methodical, walk-the-ball-up game in the second half, the Kings finished the game with only two fastbreak points.
Turning Point: In the words of Monk, “Steph being Steph; that’s it. Kudos to Steph.”
Even though head coach Mike Brown pulled out all the stops once again, implementing new lineups and scheming defenses to try to slow down the red-hot Curry, Golden State showed precisely why it won last year’s title. That first-hand look at how championship teams respond to adversity, Brown says, will benefit Sacramento in the long run.
“Obviously, we wish we were still playing, but this is part of the sport,” Brown said. “We’ll be better from this experience going forward. Our guys are definitely hurting right now, which obviously they should be. But I have a lot of gratitude for every man in that locker room.”