De’Aaron Fox’s clutch scoring and Trey Lyles lift Kings in overtime win over Timberwolves
Through three quarters Monday night, Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox was having a very different game than two nights earlier against the same Minnesota Timberwolves.
Fox was 2 of 12 from the field going into the fourth quarter Saturday, but on this night he entered the final period with 20 points on efficient shooting. Fox was carrying Sacramento’s offense on another down shooting night from the perimeter scorers in the team’s starting lineup, so he went to work against a long Timberwolves defense headed by 6-foot-9 forward Jaden McDaniels.
Fox bobbed and weaved, looking for switches onto smaller defenders. He threw in two floaters, a 25-foot 3-pointer and a free throw over the final 2:36 to help send the game to overtime. It gave the All-Star hopeful eight points in clutch time in the fourth, after coming into the game averaging 4.5 points in clutch situations, good for fourth in the NBA. It wasn’t quite the 21-point fourth-quarter performance from Saturday, but his game Monday night helped get the Kings to overtime, where they eventually beat the Timberwolves comfortably, 118-111.
“His pace and him being in attack mode was a lot of fun,” Kings coach Mike Brown said of Fox, who finished with 32 points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Kings again had off nights from marksmen Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes. That trio combined to shoot 9 of 30 and the Kings made just 1 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half.
Malik Monk gave Sacramento a boost with 19 points off the bench, the most he’s had since scoring 33 against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 28. Monk added three steals, but the defensive player of the game chain went to Barnes, who had four. Murray scored 13 points with 13 rebounds, including six offensive boards.
Unlike Saturday, the Kings made up for their lack of scoring with defense. Sacramento posted a season-high 15 steals against the turnover-prone Timberwolves, who are 28th in the NBA in turnover rate. Brown said the first quarter, in which the Kings allowed just 17 points on 33.3% shooting, was one of their best defensive frames of the season, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Just in terms of doing everything at a high level, challenging shots, being physical without fouling,” Brown said. “It was probably our best defensive quarter of the year.”
The Kings scored 21 points off Timberwolves turnovers, while the home team also struggled from the free-throw line, making just 13 of 25. Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards had 33 points on 27 shots while the Kings often made his looks more uncomfortable than the game prior.
The game featured an odd moment for Domantas Sabonis, who appeared to be ejected with 3:57 left. Sabonis was called for a single technical foul and stormed off the court toward the visiting tunnel, yelling to himself. He was angered by getting his fifth foul called on a moving screen and was given a technical during a break, much to the delight of the home fans.
“Everyone thought he was gone,” Murray said. “I thought he was gone.”
Sabonis said afterwards he knew he wasn’t ejected and just left the court momentarily. A member of Kings security encouraged him to take the breather. Sabonis came back on the floor after the break to a chorus of boos by fans who thought a second technical had been rescinded.
“Security was just holding me down and I went to cool down,” Sabonis said.
It was just Sabonis’ second technical foul of the season. He fouled out with 51 seconds left when he pushed Rudy Gobert in the back for a rebound. Sabonis finished 17 points, 13 rebounds, one assist, two blocks and a steal. His fouling out paved the way for backup big man Trey Lyles to get some of his most important minutes of the season.
Lyles, who has often played power forward for the Kings, was given the nod at center with the starters to open overtime. He was chosen over Chimezie Metu, who has reemerged as the team’s primary backup center in recent weeks. Metu committed three fouls in his 11 minutes during regulation.
The move to Lyles paid off immediately. He opened overtime by boxing out Gobert for a defensive rebound. He then hit a corner 3, had a driving and-1 dunk, was left alone under the basket for another dunk, and also drew a foul while fighting for an offensive rebound. He scored as many points as Minnesota in overtime (eight) while Sacramento scored 15, pulling away to win what had been a tight game with 11 lead changes.
“I was just going out there to play, make winning plays, do my job and make sure I kept Rudy off the glass, so that’s what I went out there and did,” Lyles said.
Brown said he’s had Lyles at center in his back pocket all season. Brown, after all, comes from the Golden State Warriors, who famously went small in some of their biggest moments during championship runs. Lyles gave the Timberwolves’ defense a look they hadn’t seen all night: a perimeter scorer who can space the floor and create for others in a way far different than Sabonis.
“It was big for us,” Fox said. “There have been times when we’ve had Trey at the five, someone who can pick and pop, and he can fight down there with the bigs. ... He knows his job. He tells us, ‘I’m going to try to box out, someone else just has to get the rebound.’ That’s just the way it has to be when we’re downsized at the five. But what we can do offensively with just being able to spread the court, him picking and popping and bringing the big out (of the paint), getting downhill, shooting the ball, I feel like it adds a dynamic to our offense.”
The win pushes the Kings’ record to 28-21 — 2 ½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. They spent the night in Minneapolis on Monday and planned to fly to San Antonio on Tuesday. They are scheduled to practice Tuesday afternoon in preparation for Wednesday’s game against the Spurs.