(Ezra Shaw)

Near Triple-Double From De’Aaron Fox Not Enough in Game 3

No. 5 went toe-to-toe with Golden State’s sharpshooting star, but Golden State outpaced and out-rebounded the Kings in Game 3.

Nobody said it would be easy to unseat the defending NBA champions, so the end result of Game 3 dampened neither the spirits of the coaching staff nor the enthusiasm of the participants.

“Every time we step on the floor, we’re growing; whether we win or we lose,” said Kings head coach Mike Brown. “Tonight, our group had a chance to experience what a championship team does when their backs are against the wall … They did all the small things that we’d been doing a pretty good job of in Games 1 and 2. [It was] a great test for us, a great way to learn. We’ll try to go watch the film, go back for Game 4 and be a little bit better in those areas.”

For much of the night, it was an old-fashioned duel between two of the league’s craftiest scorers in Stephen Curry and De’Aaron Fox, an unspoken game of “anything you can do, I can do better” that ultimately went to the two-time MVP.

Still, Fox refused to go down quietly, answering with step-back threes that splashed through the net, old-fashioned three-point plays on strong drives to the rim and precise passes to teammates when faced with double-teams. Sacramento’s All-Star guard finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, narrowly missing a triple-double that would’ve been the first by a Kings player in the postseason since Chris Webber’s in 2004.

But even Fox’s best efforts couldn’t completely offset his team’s off-shooting night from behind the arc and Golden State’s edge on the glass. Entering the game, Brown preached the importance of the three “Ps” – physicality, pace and poise – and reiterated his message after the final horn.

“As champions, Golden State did exactly what they’re supposed to do: they came home and they upped their level of physicality,” Brown said. “They were the more physical team tonight, on both ends of the floor … We have to come out with more physicality and pace in our next game.”

Battle of the Bigs: Domantas Sabonis was booed vociferously by Warriors fans every time he touched the ball, but if the hostile crowd tried to make him uncomfortable, it didn’t work. The Kings center played with purpose, certainty and his customary, hard-nosed toughness, collecting 16 rebounds for the second time in three games, to go with 15 points and four assists.

No. 10’s ground-bound game and repertoire of back-to-the-basket moves – lefty jump hooks, pump fakes and spins once he established position – sent defenders flying on multiple occasions. But while Kevon Looney wasn’t asked to carry as much of the load offensively for Golden State, he made as big of an impact as anyone on his team with 20 rebounds and nine assists.

“We have to learn from this game, come out in Game 4 and try and steal it,” Sabonis said. “I felt like today, they were more physical and that affected us.”

Key Stats: 18 offensive rebounds – nine by Looney alone – resulted in 24 second-chance points for Golden State, while Sacramento’s 15 turnovers contributed to another 22 Warriors points. Those numbers were in stark contrast to the first two games, in which the Kings held a decisive edge in both categories.

“We couldn’t get a defensive rebound to save our life there for a second,” Sabonis said. “That just gave them more possessions, and we couldn’t run our pace because we had to take the ball out of bounds.”

Turning Point: Curry’s finger roll stretched Golden State’s lead to 18 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter, but Fox responded with six consecutive points, on a triple and then an old-fashioned three-point-play to trim the deficit to a more manageable 12. A subsequent 11-3 run by Golden State early in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach for Sacramento.

Dictating the pace and spending less time playing catch-up in Game 4 are among the top priorities as the Kings aim to bounce back on Sunday.

“I think there were times when we got it to single-digits but they responded and brought the lead back up,” Fox said. “For us, defensively, we have to start with getting stops and just try to get out in transition.”