Maybe you were starting to wonder if the Kings needed a motivational speaker, a sports psychologist or a good old-fashioned profanity-laced tirade. What they really needed was a win.
They finally did it Friday night, avenging last weekend’s 32-point loss to the Utah Jazz with a dramatic 102-101 victory to conclude a three-game homestand at Golden 1 Center. When it was over, the fans were on their feet reveling in the moment, players were hugging and high-fiving at center court, and the dance team ran onto the floor holding signs that said “Kings Win!”
“It feels great,” Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “We definitely needed that first one, especially with the new coaching staff. It feels good for them to get that win and hopefully it’s a snowball effect and we continue to build off of it.”
This one was significant in so many ways for the Kings (1-5), who set out Saturday morning to start a three-game road trip Sunday against the New York Knicks (1-5). It was their first win of the season, their first win under coach Luke Walton and the first time they’ve shown how they can blend returning talent with improved depth and versatility to be successful.
“I think it’s huge, especially when you start off the way we did,” Fox said. “You continue to build off of the positives we had tonight and hopefully we can continue to have positive things happen.”
‘Grow him as a closer’
This was also a significant step forward for Fox, who reaffirmed his status as the team’s leader after the organization made a series of offseason moves that changed locker room dynamics.
In the days leading up to the game, Walton and several players were asked who is providing leadership for this team. Most mentioned veterans such as Harrison Barnes, Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph. Nobody mentioned Fox, maybe because that’s a given or maybe because, at the time, he wasn’t doing everything he could to fulfill that role.
Fox acknowledged that something has changed, but his voice is growing.
“I think it is a little bit different,” he said. “I’m just continuing to become more vocal, both on offense and defense. Luke’s just kind of giving me the keys to run the offense the way we want to run it, so I do think I have a larger role, not just putting the ball in the basket but being able to command the offense.”
Fox did that beautifully against the Jazz. He finished with 25 points, five rebounds and four assists. He went to the free-throw line 12 times. He broke down one of the best defenses in the NBA – blowing by Mike Conley, charging at Rudy Gobert – and made sound decisions, either attacking the basket himself or kicking out to open shooters.
“That’s what playoff basketball is like,” Walton said. “That’s what it feels like. You’ve got to get a stop to win, you’ve got to make a play, and we didn’t execute perfectly down the stretch, but the point of it was we’re going with Fox, and I’ve told him that.
“I’ve had him in the office. I’ve told him in front of the team. He’s the head of our snake. So, for him, whether he’s turning the ball over, missing shots, making plays, that’s what we want to see and that’s what I was really pushing for in those final couple minutes. Let’s give him space, let’s let him create for himself and for others, and continue to grow him as a closer.”
Depth and versatility
Fox played an important part in this victory, but he wasn’t the only one. Buddy Hield scored 18 points. Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 14. Harrison Barnes had 13, including the game-winning putback with 2.9 seconds remaining.
The first player Walton mentioned in his postgame remarks wasn’t Fox, Hield, Bogdanovic or Barnes. It was Trevor Ariza, who played 32 minutes of defense without attempting a single shot.
“In my opinion (Ariza) really impacted that game,” Walton said. “Every time someone got hot for Utah, we switched him onto somebody else and he disrupted their rhythm and did a great job.”
The game was tied with just under a minute remaining when Fox drove into the lane. This time, instead of going to the basket, he whipped the ball back to Dedmon at the top of the arc.
The Kings signed Dedmon to a three-year, $40 million contract over the summer, but he was benched in favor of Richaun Holmes after making just 2 of 11 from 3-point range in the first four games. Dedmon missed his first five 3-point attempts Friday, but he buried the big one when it mattered most.
“I called it on the bench,” Holmes said. “I knew it was coming. He struggled shooting the ball a little bit, but he was everywhere on defense, everywhere being a good teammate, and I knew he was due for one, so I’m glad it went down when it did.”
The Kings weren’t done yet. When the Jazz went up 101-100 on a basket by Donovan Mitchell, Walton subbed Hield, Bogdanovic and Bjelica into the game for their offense. After Barnes made the go-ahead basket, Walton put Ariza, Joseph and Holmes back on the floor for their defense.
Holmes contested the final shot. Mitchell missed. The Kings escaped with the win, one they desperately needed and one they deserved.
“It goes toward everything we talked about in camp,” Barnes said. “Our depth was something we talked about and tonight it was great. Trevor coming in, playing huge for us even though he didn’t shoot the basketball; Dewayne coming off the bench, giving us that energy, that spark; Bogi coming in big, making plays for us. Everyone down the line came in and contributed, and that was the team effort we needed. It felt good to do it together.”
Sacramento Kings upcoming schedule
Nov. 3 at New York Knicks
Nov. 6 at Toronto Raptors
Nov. 8 at Atlanta Hawks
Nov. 12 vs. Portland
Nov. 15 at Los Angeles Lakers