Somewhere in the midst of watching Goran Dragic get his game rolling in the first half, something clicked for Kings rookie De’Aaron Fox.
He wasn’t going to let Dragic have his way anymore.
“In the first quarter (Dragic) kind of took the young fella to school,” Kings guard Garrett Temple said. “It’s tough to guard Dragic. He’s a crafty player who plays at a different pace than usual PGs, so the first time guarding him, he learned what he was doing and then he made adjustments.”
Fox’s putback dunk over Dragic with 3.3 seconds left capped Sacramento’s 89-88 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday, giving the Kings consecutive wins for the third time this season and their first win in Miami since 2001. The Heat had won 15 in a row over the Kings in South Beach.
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It’s also the first time in franchise history Sacramento has won both games in Florida in the same season. The Kings beat the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.
It was Fox’s defense that put Sacramento in position to win. Once Fox decided to turn into the defensive pest draft prognosticators said he’d eventually become, the attitude for the Kings changed, especially in the fourth quarter. The Kings held Heat to five points over the final 7:09 after falling behind 83-71.
Fox’s dunk was big, but was so was his only steal, when he took the ball from Dragic with 1:29 to play. He missed the layup but Buddy Hield was there for the putback to cut the Heat lead to 86-85 with 1:19 left.
Dragic had 16 points in the first half and 23 for the game, scoring just two points in the fourth quarter. Fox, who was noticeably more aggressive in the second half, said he was looking to “just try to shake him a little bit.”
“I got that steal, I feel like I got him,” Fox said. “He’s a really good veteran point guard, extremely smooth lefty and I’ve been watching him for years. For myself it was fun and it was a great experience playing him for the first time.”
When asked if this was the kind of defense he’d play every game, Fox said, “That’s hard for the whole game.”
But if Fox can figure out when to increase the intensity, it’s a start for the Kings, who have been one of the worst defensive teams this season.
“For myself as a quick, fast guard up against someone who’s not as fast, not as quick but really smooth, I was really just try to get him out of a rhythm,” Fox said. “In the fourth quarter I started picking him up. Even if he didn’t (have the ball) I would deny. Even if he didn’t get the inbound, just kind of be right there, let him know that you’re right there. I felt like I kind of got into him in the fourth quarter.”
It wasn’t Fox’s first game-winner this season. His first came Nov. 9 against Philadelphia in Sacramento.
What the Kings (15-33) need is for this not to be the last time Fox is a hound defensively.
One of the reasons they liked him in the draft is his length, speed and athleticism – gifts that can help him become an elite defender.
“He really helped us get back in the game with his defensive presence and his pressure,” Temple said. “We tell him he can do that all the time. We need him to be aggressive defensively.”
Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose missed shot was rebounded and dunked by Fox for the game-winner, said Fox’s defense was “tremendous.”
“He is one of our best defenders, honestly,” Bogdanovic said. “You know he has the quickest legs in the league maybe ... right now he’s the fastest and one day he’ll be the best defender because he can do that. He’s able to guard all guards.”
Fox acknowledged Sacramento’s defense needs him if it’s going to improve and make opponents “feel” pressure, as Joerger often says.
“A lot of times it starts with me,” Fox said. “It starts with the person pressuring the ball.”
Unfortunately for the Heat (27-21), Fox took that thought and put it into practice Thursday. Fox had 14 points, but shot 6 of 15. Hield led the Kings with 24 points.
Fox’s leadership on defense to help the Kings collaborate to slow down Dragic was just as important.
“I just tried to change the game defensively,” Fox said. “That’s what I always say, I just try to make plays as far as if it’s offense or if it’s defense and tonight I really feel like I did it on the defensive end.”
Fox’s final play on offense wasn’t bad either. No one boxed him out and he soared to the rim for the dunk.
“I just wanted to crash the glass and show my athleticism,” Fox said.
The Kings were glad to see that athleticism on both ends of the court.