De’Aaron Fox returns from paternity leave to jump-start offense in Kings’ win over Rockets
De’Aaron Fox returned to the lineup three days after welcoming a new baby into the world and the Kings returned to their winning ways with a resounding victory over the Houston Rockets.
Fox’s presence jump-started Sacramento’s sputtering offense, rookie Keegan Murray enjoyed a career night and the Kings got big contributions from their bench in a 140-120 victory over the Rockets on Monday at Toyota Center.
Fox missed two games for the birth of his son, Reign, who was born Friday at a hospital in Houston. He finished with 16 points, four rebounds, eight assists and two steals for the Kings (30-23), who matched last season’s win total with 29 games remaining.
“With him out there, he’s a guy who can get his shot pretty much any point in a game, so he draws a lot of attention every single night,” Murray said. “You can see, just him with the ball in his hands, he’s able to find guys, and there were a lot of open shots, especially on the 3-point line.”
Murray scored a career-high 30 points and broke the franchise’s rookie record for 3-point goals in a game. Murray overcame his recent struggles to make 11 of 17 from the field and 8 of 12 from 3-point range.
“If a guy is struggling with making a shot, you keep encouraging him to let it fly, especially if they spend time working on it, and all of our guys spend time working on their shots,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “So I want our guys to keep shooting the basketball because they’ve shown or proven over time that they’re really good shooters, and for us there was never a doubt that we wanted him to stop shooting or playing time was going to be affected. None of that was going to happen. We wanted him to stay confident and keep letting that thing fly.”
Jalen Green scored 27 points for the Rockets (13-41), who will play host to Sacramento again Wednesday when the Kings conclude a seven-game road trip. Kenyon Martin Jr. had 18 points and eight rebounds.
Malik Monk came off the bench to score 20 points for Sacramento, making 6 of 12 from the field and 5 of 7 from 3-point range. Domantas Sabonis had 17 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin Huerter scored 16 points and Trey Lyles added 14 on 6-of-7 shooting.
Lyles said it was good to have Fox back following losses to the Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans.
“I think it was great,” Lyles said. “He came out aggressive like he didn’t miss a step, so that’s what we need. He’s an All-Star point guard, so when you get a guy like that back, it propels your team to a whole other level, so it’s great to have him back.”
The Kings shot a sizzling 58.4% from the field and converted 21 of 41 (.512) from 3-point range. They were 14 of 21 from beyond the arc in the second half.
“I thought our pace was better from the standpoint of everybody getting out and running,” Brown said. “I thought we got to the corners a little better, especially in transition, and when you get to the corners in transition you flatten the defense. Now, if you get that ball moving, it’s hard for a defense that’s not set to figure out the right rotations, and we have really good shooting on the floor, so guys are getting some really, really easy looks.”
The Kings lead the league in scoring at 119.3 points per game and rank second in offensive rating (117.2), but over the previous six games they averaged just 108.3 points while ranking 30th in offensive rating. Their problems started with a 113-95 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 25 in Sacramento and continued through the first five games of the current road trip.
“First of all, we are missing shots,” Brown said before the game. “That’s the first thing, but I would also say that our pace has not been good at all. Our pace has been really bad, not just in the full court or in transition, but even in the halfcourt, too.
“It’s almost like at times we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder, like we’ve arrived, and you don’t see that consistent hunger of wanting to do something for your teammate even though you may not get directly rewarded with a basket or a touch of the ball or it helping you out statistically. So, we have to get back to doing the little things for each other, especially when it comes to pace in the full court and in the halfcourt with our cuts and all that other stuff.”
Sabonis also pointed to the team’s recent shooting struggles. Over the past five games, the Kings connected on 50 of 164 3-point attempts, shooting 30.5% from beyond the arc.
“We’ve just been through a little slump shooting wise, getting to our spots, little things,” Sabonis said. “We watched film today and yesterday, talking about these things that we need to do better, and hopefully we can turn it around.”
The Kings didn’t shoot particularly well in the opening period, but they led 31-24 at the end of the first quarter. They were far more efficient in the second quarter, shooting 57.1% from the field while making 4 of 9 (.444) from 3-point range to open up a 65-48 halftime lead.
The Rockets cut the deficit to five on a 3-pointer by Eric Gordon midway through the third quarter, but Murray hit back-to-back 3s to reestablish a double-digit lead. The Kings went 5 of 10 from 3-point land in the third period, led by Murray, who went 4 of 5 as part of a 14-point quarter.
Sacramento carried a 99-88 lead into the fourth quarter. Monk made three 3-pointers in a span of 57 seconds to put the Kings up by 21. He scored 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the fourth to help the Kings close out the Rockets.
“It feels great to see the ball go through, especially when it’s away and how we were playing,” Monk said. “We let them come back in the game in the third quarter, and I think I just sealed it and put a cap on it.”
“That’s what he’s capable of doing,” Brown said. “He’s capable of not just making shots and scoring the basketball, but he’s capable of making some big plays to help create separation — or, if you’re down, to help close the gap — in a short amount of time.”