Usually when there’s talk of a career night in the NBA, its often about how much a player scored.
De’Aaron Fox had a huge performance in more ways than one to help the Kings run away with a victory in a city that has been unkind to them in the Sacramento era.
Fox set highs in points (31), assists (15) and rebounds (10) for his first NBA triple-double as the Kings rolled past the Atlanta Hawks 146-115 on Thursday night at State Farm Arena.
The win was just the sixth for the Kings in Atlanta since moving to Sacramento in 1985 and comes a season after the team was blown out here.
“I’m proud of this group,” coach Dave Joerger said. “We took on this challenge. This is a team that beat us by 46 last year. Most of (these guys) were here. To come out and play better … I feel like we’re playing pretty well.”
That the Kings are. The victory was the team’s fifth in a row, something Sacramento (6-3) hasn’t done since Jan. 14-23, 2016. Their fast play is a huge reason why they’ve been successful. They’re ranked second in pace, trailing only the team they beat Thursday.
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce was impressed with the Kings’ performance and would like to see his young squad pick up some of what Sacramento is doing.
“It’s inspiring to watch to see where Sacramento has been over the past couple of years,” Pierce said. “You see the growth in De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, and what they’ve done. So, if anything, coming out of tonight’s game, you want to be discouraged, but you also have hope of a little patience, growth and development with a young group. (Because) that’s what you can end up being.”
Fox attributes his development to the game slowing down in his second season. It showed Thursday.
He tied his previous high of 10 assists before halftime, then scored 21 points in the third quarter to reach 28, two better than the 26 he scored in a loss at San Antonio last season.
“Right now, honestly, most games, I think the third has been my best quarter,” Fox said. “I’m trying to figure out a way to get myself up for first quarters like that. I just try to come out aggressive.”
In the fourth, he added three more points and grabbed the last three rebounds he needed to secure the triple-double.
He said he was told he was near the feat, so he went and got them, skying high to snatch No. 10 with some authority.
“I don’t rebound like that,” Fox said while being jokingly razzed by Hield about the boards. “I let the bigs go get them. I usually just get the ones that come to me. ... I saw that I needed them and I feel like, almost every game, I’m the most athletic guy on the court, so I used my athleticism to get those last two rebounds.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Fox is only the second player in NBA history to have a 30-point triple-double before turning 21. The other is LeBron James.
Hield was also solid against the Hawks. He finished with 27 points, six assists, five rebounds and five 3-pointers. He was having some fun at Fox’s expense during the media session, but later had some complimentary words for his backcourt mate.
“He’s our best player. I think if he’s not on the court, we can’t be as successful as we are because of the way he pushes the ball and attacks the rim,” said Hield, who added that the team is fully confident in him both on and off the court. “He’s taken on a leadership role, which is what we need from him.”
Rookie guard Trae Young had 14 points and 10 assists for the Hawks (2-6), but he also had eight turnovers. Jeremy Lin led Atlanta with 23 points.
The Kings will have two days off before playing the final game of this four-game trip Sunday in Milwaukee. They’ll face a Bucks team that suffered its first loss Thursday, meaning there are no more unbeaten teams in the NBA.
Sacramento will try for its sixth consecutive victory. The last time the Kings did that? You have to go back to the 2004-05 season, when they had winning streaks of seven (Nov. 13-26) and six (Jan. 11-20). That team’s roster included two men now higher up in the Kings organization: assistant general manager Peja Stojakovic and assistant player development coach Bobby Jackson.
To get that win, it will take the kind of effort the Kings showed in the second half. The Hawks shot over 60 percent in the first two periods, but the Kings’ 46-23 third-quarter advantage helped turn a close game into a runaway.
“We played much better defensively in the second half, which ignited the break,” Joerger said. “In general, we made a lot of shots. To get 146, you can’t just run up and down. We got stops. I think they shot 39 percent in the second half. I think we got three stops in a row five times in the third quarter. That’s where it was for us.”