The Sacramento Kings were wandering through the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks on Sunday night when De’Aaron Fox decided he’d had enough.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Knicks’ Allonzo Trier drove to the hoop for a dunk to further whittle away the Kings’ lead. But Fox sprinted after Trier, caught him and blocked his dunk attempt. The Madison Square Garden crowd booed lustily – it might have been the loudest noise they made all night in a 113-92 Kings win.
In the locker room afterward, Richaun Holmes just shook his head, impressed with his teammate.
“That’s that guy. He’s just different. He’s different,” Holmes said. “Even being able to make that recovery to even get in position to make that play, that’s pretty amazing.”
After the Kings’ 0-5 start, Fox is showing signs of being able to take over the aimless portions of games that have been dangerous for Sacramento. The Kings would have still led by 14 points if Trier had made that dunk, but Fox wasn’t taking any chances. Sacramento led by as much as 32 points in the third quarter and the 1-6 Knicks were getting too close for comfort.
“We just have to, as a young team, learn how to put games away,” Fox said. “Obviously, we were up 30 at one point, that should be where we put teams away. And they fought back in the third and the fourth, and I just think it came a bit later than we were expecting. (I) just tried to bring energy, tried to make some type of play to pick my team up. ... For me it was just trying to put the team away.”
Finishing off teams has been a problem for the Kings. Sacramento has led at halftime in all but one game this season.
Just to make sure the Knicks got the message that the game was over Sunday, Fox stole the ball from R.J. Barrett and delivered an emphatic windmill dunk with 3:22 remaining. He finished with 24 points and six assists to lead the Kings in both categories.
“He’s our engine,” Holmes said. “He drives us every game. He makes it easy on us. He’s the head of the snake.”
Holmes and Dewayne Dedmon are the backbone. Holmes started and grabbed four offensive rebounds as part of picking up 10 total while adding 14 points. Dedmon had three offensive rebounds and eight total in just 15 minutes on the floor.
Buddy Hield got hot, hitting 5 of 11 three-point tries and finished with 22 points while Harrison Barnes played nearly 40 minutes, scoring 19 points.
In the first half in particular, there were three or four Kings boxing out every time the Knicks hoisted a shot. Sacramento finished with 49 total rebounds to New York’s 39, a notable effort considering the Knicks are stacked with tall forwards.
Coach Luke Walton noticed the effort. Grabbing boards is going to be key if the Kings are going to climb back to a .500 record.
“With our team, rebounding is such a huge part of that,” Walton said. “We’ve had some nice moments this season and we’ve gotten absolutely crushed, including in India in the preseason. We’re gonna be a good rebounding team when our guys understand it’s all five. We had some nice team rebounds tonight, where guards were coming back in from the perimeter, flying back in to help the bigs who were boxing out.”
Still, it was against the Knicks, who are expected to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. The Kings face a much stiffer test Wednesday night at the Toronto Raptors, the defending NBA champions. Though they lost Kawhi Leonard in free agency, the Raptors are 4-2.
The Kings have plenty of time to get ready, with two consecutive nights off for the first time this season. The team traveled to Toronto on Monday to practice and prepare.
Veteran forward Trevor Ariza has seen it all before. The Kings are the eighth franchise he’s played for. While his teammates smiled and savored Sunday’s win, Ariza kept cool. There’s work to do. The Kings need to work on defensive switches, he said. On offense, they’re working on understanding where players are going to be and when they’ll be there.
But does he still see potential for this team? Ariza cracked a smile, yeah, they have plenty of talent. It needs to keep coming together.
“We’ve got really, really good players,” he said. “The potential is bright, but at some point the potential has to pay off.”
If Fox has anything to say about it, the payoff could be closer than it appeared after the 0-5 start.