The Sacramento Kings surely heard all the outside noise entering their 2023 NBA playoff series against the Golden State Warriors — their first foray into the postseason since 2006. Many fans and pundits believed that the Warriors, despite being the lower seed, entered the series as favorites, and their justification for that belief wasn’t particularly out of touch with reality. After all, the core of the Warriors team that won four championships since 2015 is still intact.
But the Kings keep on surpassing all expectations as it continues to glow purple along the Sacramento skies.
After two hard-fought contests, the Kings now need just two more wins to make it to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. And no, those two wins have not been flukes. The Kings are as legitimate as the 48 wins they put up during the regular season, and it will take a herculean effort from the reigning champions to avoid a crushing first-round exit that could effectively mark the end of the Dubs dynasty as we know it.
But how exactly have the Kings cornered the Warriors towards the ropes? How has the Beam Team managed to outgun a Warriors team boasting the services of two of the greatest shooters of all time?
Here’s a quick analysis of how the Kings have made it difficult for the Warriors in the first two games of their first-round matchup.
De’Aaron Fox is a stone-cold killer
It may be hard to believe now, but there was once a time where the Kings brass had a serious debate on whether it’s in the franchise’s best interest to trade De’Aaron Fox away. For a while, it seemed like Fox’s development had stalled, and with the Kings going nowhere, it didn’t seem like he’d be the man to elevate the beleaguered franchise into playoff contention.
But now, Fox has become such an stone-cold killer in the clutch. After a 29-point second-half performance (including 15 points in the 4th quarter) to lead the Kings to a resounding 124-121 Game 1 victory, Fox added yet another feather to his ever-growing clutch cap. The Kings star point guard dropped 11 points in the final period, as they managed to hold the Warriors at bay despite Stephen Curry’s best efforts at mounting a comeback en route to a 114-106 Game 2 win.
There’s simply no one on the Warriors roster that could hold De’Aaron Fox in check during crunch time; in Game 2, Fox torched the likes of Gary Payton II, Andrew Wiggins, and even Moses Moody, as Fox was able to put so much pressure on the rim which allowed both himself and his teammates to cash in on easy buckets.
Late in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Warriors had no answer for any pick-and-roll with Fox as the ballhandler. This was an even more serious problem for the Warriors in Game 1, as Fox and Monk went wild against the reigning champion’s paper-soft interior defense.
Circumstances may change once the Warriors play in the friendly confines of Chase Center. Role players usually shoot worse on the road, so the Warriors could have greater license to pack the paint against Fox’s marauding drives.
But at least for the first two games, De’Aaron Fox has been an unstoppable force in the clutch, and given how well he’s performed with the game hanging in the balance throughout the course of the season, there’s no reason to expect him to slow down anytime soon.
Mike Brown Coach of the Year hype train
Kings head coach Mike Brown should win the Coach of the Year award in unanimous fashion; while the votes for the award have already been cast, it has become evident in this series that Brown isn’t just a regular season specialist.
Some coaches stick to their guns and play their usual rotation players their usual minutes; after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But in a playoff series where even the most marginal adjustment can make a world of difference, Brown has pushed all the right buttons thus far through the first 96 game minutes of the series.
As well as Keegan Murray played in the regular season, Brown has not hesitated to bench the talented rookie in favor of a more impactful contributor in the clutch. Through the first two games, Brown has mixed and matched his late-game lineups depending on the matchup and the hot hand. In Game 1, it was Kevin Huerter who played heavy minutes leading up to the final minute of the game. By then, with the lead in hand, Brown rolled with Davion Mitchell to take on Stephen Curry defensive duties.
And then in Game 2, with Curry looking to will the Warriors to victory, it was Mitchell once again who came up huge for the Kings. Not only did “Off Night” come up huge on the defensive end, however, he also nailed the game-sealing triple that put the Kings up by nine with only a little over a minute to go.
Mike Brown, simply put, has been a godsend for the Kings — the perfect coaching fit when it comes to bringing out the best in this talented young core.
Sweet, sweet revenge for Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes, unfair as it might be, earned the reputation of a playoff choker when he wilted under the pressure during the 2016 NBA Finals. Barnes infamously crapped the bed for the Warriors against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and he didn’t even get the chance to redeem himself as the Dubs added Kevin Durant (a minor upgrade, no big deal) to replace him.
Seven years later, and now Barnes is back in the playoffs. And he’s back with a vengeance. Barnes’ numbers may not pop off the page, but he has been extremely clutch for the Kings thus far in the first two games of the series. He’s making timely shots, and he has been an underrated steadying presence for such a young squad.
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