SACRAMENTO – This may be the first time the Warriors and Kings have ever met in the NBA Playoffs, but hopefully, it is not the last. The first two games have both come down to the wire, providing thrilling finishes and plenty of drama in this first-round series.
De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis each scored 24 points to lead the Kings, while Stephen Curry finished with a game-high 28 points for the Warriors, who find themselves in unfamiliar territory facing an 0-2 series deficit.
Here are five key takeaways from the Kings’ win on Monday.
1. Kings hold home court, take 2-0 lead to San Francisco
Playing in front of another raucous Golden 1 Center crowd, the Kings successfully defended their home court to take a 2-0 lead in the series as the best-of-seven shifts to San Francisco for the next two games.
“Our crowd again, I don’t feel like I’ve ever been in a building that’s as loud – it’s deafening,” said Kings coach Mike Brown after the win.
The Kings entered the postseason having lost five of their final seven home games of the regular season as they finished with a 23-18 record in Sacramento. While the Kings finished the regular season with a better road record (25-16) than home record, they knew they had to take care of business at home to give themselves a chance to knock off the defending champs.
Now as the series heads to the Bay, the Kings can lean on their road success from the regular season – they finished with the best road record in the Western Conference and tied with Boston and Philadelphia for the second-best mark in the NBA, just one game behind Milwaukee at 26-15.
Golden State has been formidable at home as they finished the regular season 33-8 at Chase Center, the third-best home record in the NBA.
Prior to Game 2, Brown discussed being a fan of mixed martial arts and equated the Kings in this series to being a challenger in a fight against an MMA champion.
“When you watch those championship fights, you have to take the belt from the champion, you’re not going to out-point them,” Brown said. “We have to go out throwing haymakers.”
The Kings landed a strong blow on Monday to take a commanding series lead, but the job is only halfway done, and the Warriors may have some haymakers of their own to unleash in San Francisco.
2. Davion delivers with defense and dagger 3
In Game 1, the Kings got huge bench contributions from Malik Monk (32 points) and Trey Lyles (16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 3-pointers) to keep Sacramento in the game while their starters struggled and helped deliver late in a three-point win.
In Game 2, Monk once again shined off the bench with 18 points and was joined by backup point guard Davion Mitchell, who finished with 14 points, three assists, two steals and two 3-pointers in the win. But Mitchell’s impact goes well beyond his stats. In his 28 minutes of game action, Mitchell constantly hounded Curry on defense, battling over screens, sometimes getting knocked around like a pinball but still fighting relentlessly to get back to his assignment.
“I think a lot of people look at basketball as it’s kind of all about offense but it’s not,” Mitchell said. “It’s about the little things you do defensively, rebounding, little things like that. Offense is a big piece but in the playoffs. It’s gonna be tough, it’s a lot of physicality, a lot of calls are not being made just because it’s the playoffs. So, I know you’ve got to be locked in defensively, especially at times like this.”
Mitchell earned the nickname ‘Off Night’ during his time at Baylor and brought that same defensive mindset to the Kings when they drafted him with the ninth pick in the 2021 draft. Fox not only praised Mitchell’s defensive effort in Game 2 during his postgame press conference, but he also made a point to talk about having to go against Davion in practice.
“I go against [him] every day in practice, that’s why you all see what I do out here, because I’m not going against Davion out here. He’s made me a better player since he’s been here,” Fox said. “He has the nickname ‘Off Night’ but I don’t think people realize how he moves laterally and how strong he actually is, so going up against that anytime we scrimmage or do stuff has made me a much better player.”
After expending just about every bit of energy he had chasing Curry all night, Mitchell delivered the dagger to seal the Sacramento win with a corner 3-pointer with 1:17 to play to put the Kings up 112-103. He called the shot the biggest moment of his young career and a boost to his confidence.
“It’s big,” Mitchell said. “My teammates had confidence in me throughout the whole game; Malik kept telling me ‘You’re going to hit the next one, you’re gonna hit the next one’ and as soon as I got the next one, I just trusted my work and just shot it, and it went in.”
3. Any further discipline coming to Draymond?
With just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Curry grabbed a defensive rebound and began to push the ball upcourt. Meanwhile, Sabonis was knocked to the ground during the rebound and landed at the feet of Draymond Green. Sabonis grabbed at Green’s leg and Green responded with a stomp to Sabonis’ chest.
The whistle was blown to assess a foul and after a replay review, Sabonis was assessed a technical foul for grabbing Green’s foot while Green was assessed a Flagrant Foul Penalty 2 for his stomp on Sabonis. The Flagrant 2 comes with an automatic ejection, so Golden State had to play the final 7:06 without Green.
During the replay review, Green egged on the booing and jeering Kings fans, waving his hands in the air and holding his hand to his ear to hear more, even climbing onto the chairs on the bench as he yelled to the stands and they yelled right back. After the game, Green described his interactions with the crowd as “just having fun, it’s a fun game, a fun atmosphere.”
The question that remains is whether there will there be any further fallout from the incident. Will Green be subject to any further discipline after the play is reviewed more closely by the league? A quick side note: Commissioner Adam Silver was in attendance and had a first-person look at what happened.
And what about Sabonis’ status for Game 3? He was able to return and finish the game – although he missed both free throws from the Flagrant 2 while still in discomfort. Sabonis received X-rays following the game, which came back negative, but it will interesting to hear how he’s feeling tomorrow morning.
X-rays returned negative on Sabonis’ sternum and it appears he’s avoided injury, source tells ESPN. He will undergo additional testing on Tuesday as a precaution. https://t.co/7gmm172EG8
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) April 18, 2023
With two full days off before these teams meet again on Thursday in San Francisco – a quick 80-mile trip from Sacramento – Sabonis should have time to recuperate and get ready for Game 3. Considering Sabonis has played much of the season with a broken thumb, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t on the court on Thursday.
— NBA (@NBA) April 18, 2023
4. Playoffs or regular season, Fox stays clutch
On the eve of the inaugural Kia Clutch Player of the Year winner announcement on Tuesday, De’Aaron Fox showed that his clutch play translates very well from the regular season to the playoffs.
Fox led all players in clutch points this season with 194 points with the game on the line – the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points. His 194 clutch points are the 11th most in any season of play-by-play era dating back to 1996-97.
Through Monday’s games, Fox leads all postseason players with 13 clutch points in the first two games of this series. He had eight in Game 1 and posted another five in Game 2. Fox is shooting 4-of-8 from the field and 3-of-3 from 3-point range in clutch moments in this series as the Kings have outscored the Warriors by 14 points in eight clutch minutes.
“Fox has made plays. You got to give Fox a lot of credit, that’s who he is. He’s up for a clutch award for a reason,” said Green after the game. “That’s who he is. I don’t think it’s been a scoring issue. I think we scored down the stretch; we just haven’t gotten stops. I think it’s a defensive issue.”
5. Warriors face first 0-2 deficit of Curry era
When a team wins four championships in an eight-year span, there aren’t many situations that they haven’t faced and overcome. But for the first time in the Stephen Curry era of Warriors basketball, Golden State finds itself facing an 0-2 deficit in a playoff series.
“That’s exciting, all right? It’s a new challenge,” Green said. “After the game I was thinking about that, thinking like ‘Man, I think this is one we haven’t seen yet.’ We’ve conquered all the rest of them so why not go conquer this one? It’ll be a lot of fun… a lot of fun.”
“It’s unfamiliar territory, but we’ve been down 3-1. We’ve been up 3-1. We’ve been through everything,” Thompson added. “So, we rely on our experience and we take a great off day tomorrow and we recollect ourselves and do what we do and that’s play well at home always.”
“You got to embrace it,” Curry said. “You do this as long as we have. Whatever it is… 28 series or whatever. We’ve never been in this situation, so you got to stay together and stay locked in on things we need to do better. Embrace the challenge of protecting our home court which we’ve been great at all year.
“And at the end of the day, all we got to do is win one game here… somehow, someway… whatever game it is. You know the old saying, the series doesn’t start until somebody wins on the other team’s home floor. If want to get ourselves back into it, it’s going to start with a focused effort in Game 3 at home. Get our crowd into it early and try to throw the first punch in terms of how to come out with the right intentions.”