SACRAMENTO — The Kings have been waiting for their moment to stand up to the Warriors — their mean, nagging, overbearing Northern California big brothers — dating back to last season.
With 10 seconds to go Tuesday night, Malik Monk squared up Andrew Wiggins, looking for a way around him. Monk got himself just inside the free throw line and, off balance, shoved the ball up with one hand and banked it in, securing the Kings a 124-123 victory. The win punched their ticket to the quarterfinals of the NBA in-season tournament. But that didn’t matter as much to the Kings as finally standing up to the team that has put them down so many times before.
“We want to win. Obviously, our fans want us to beat Golden State,” De’Aaron Fox said. “A game this close, coming back from down 24, you want to win regardless of if it’s a tournament game or not.”
Midway through the first quarter, as the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, what had to happen in the game in Sacramento for either team to advance became clear: The Warriors had to win by 12 or more points to go on to the quarterfinals. Anything else — a Kings win, or a loss by 11 or fewer — and Sacramento would move on.
Just minutes after Minnesota’s victory, the Warriors made their first push, stretching their lead to 24 midway through the second quarter.
Golden State allowed the Kings to go on runs but managed to keep them at bay. The Kings closed the first half with a 7-0 run to bring their deficit from 24 to 17. In the closing minutes of the third quarter, they cracked the 12-point threshold.
Then in the fourth quarter, the Kings made their push.
“This league is a game of runs,” Fox said. “You just try to win as many segments as you can to win the game.”
The Kings saw two moments in the fourth quarter as the game-changers. One was for the players, and one was for the coaching staff.
For the coaches, it was when Monk told them to stop complaining to the officials and just let the game play out.
For the players, it was three minutes into the fourth quarter when Warriors forward Draymond Green, coming off a five-game suspension, got hit with a technical foul for arguing with the officials — a call he seemed to be seeking out.
On the ensuing play, Green intentionally committed a foul, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr immediately pulled him from the game to keep things from escalating.
“That definitely was the momentum we needed with them slipping up right there,” Monk said. “[Coach Mike Brown] had been telling us the whole game to stay with it. That something was going to happen.”
The Kings went on an 11-3 run to take their first lead since the opening bucket. From there, it was a dog fight, the type that occurs so often between siblings.
Sacramento picked up its energy defensively, forcing the ball out of the hands of Stephen Curry, who scored 29 points, and finally getting Wiggins and Klay Thompson, who finished with 29 and 20 points, respectively, to cool off.
Everyone on the Warriors looked frazzled having to again play without Green — their heart and soul — right after getting him back from his suspension.
The only person who appeared composed was Moses Moody. Moody scored 11 of the Warriors’ first 12 fourth-quarter points. However, he was pulled late in the period. Kerr said it was because Golden State needed Thompson’s veteran offense and Wiggins’ defense, especially on Fox.
After scoring just nine points in the first half, Fox scored 20 in the second, finishing the night with 29 points on 9-of-20 shooting, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
Fox said the Warriors didn’t necessarily switch up too much defensively on him in the second half, but his focus on attacking the rim allowed him to get going. He hit just two 3-pointers in the game.
Nothing the Warriors threw at him or the Kings was enough to put them away.
“It’s going to be to tough to swallow just because we should have won that game,” Curry said. “We played well enough to win for 40 minutes, and knowing the stretch we’ve been on, we were really motivated. … You get to the finish line and you end up losing. It’s a tough pill to swallow, it’s frustrating. We all got to look ourselves in the mirror.”
After Monk hit a 25-foot step-back to get the Kings within one with 37 seconds to go, Green turned the ball over off a bad pass intended for Thompson.
At first, Brown wanted to see whether his team could figure out a possible winning moment on the fly.
“The more chaotic it was, it seemed to be in our favor,” Brown said. “Our guys were finding ways to respond. Throughout the chaos, it was bringing them energy.”
Ultimately, though, Brown took a timeout. But he didn’t draw up the final play for any individual player. Instead, his message was for whoever had the best look to take the shot. It wound up being Monk.
Monk didn’t call game, but he said he should have. After suffering through countless “night night” moments by Curry and the Warriors, the Kings wanted to savor this win — the clearing of the mental hurdle of finally getting one over on a nemesis.
At the same time, the Kings fully understand that this win — as satisfying as it is — is just a small part of their overall goals for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, and for the in-season tournament.
“We want to get to Vegas and be one of the first teams to advance to the final four of the in-season tournament,” Fox said.