NBA superfan “Clipper Darrell” heckled the Kings all afternoon, but Sacramento fans had the last word Saturday at Crypto.com Arena.
Domantas Sabonis was almost flawless and rookie Keegan Murray had his best game in weeks, leading the Kings to a 123-96 victory over the Clippers. Kings fans filled the empty space inside the arena with “Light the Beam” chants in the fourth quarter as Clippers fans headed for the exits.
“It was funny,” Kings guard Malik Monk said. “It’s funny that we’ve got a lot of fans on the wave right now. We just have to keep playing hard for them so we can keep lighting the beam.”
Kings coach Mike Brown continued to lobby team owner Vivek Ranadive and Chief Operating Officer Matina Kolokotronis for a bigger beam following the afternoon affair.
“Vivek and Matina are going to have to get a stronger beam,” Brown said. “How can the beam be seen with a 1 o’clock game today?”
Sabonis had 24 points, five rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots despite being limited to 26 minutes due to foul trouble. He had 10 of 11 from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point range, continuing his recent uprising from beyond the arc.
Sabonis went 1 of 12 from 3-point range over the first 11 games of the season despite spending part of the summer working with famed shooting coach Chris Matthews, also known as “Lethal Shooter.” Sabonis has certainly been a more lethal shooter over the last 10 games, knocking down 8 of 14 (.571) from long distance.
Sabonis’ ability to hit 3-pointers will only increase spacing and firepower in an already-prolific Sacramento offense.
“It’s big,” Sabonis said. “The more I can keep shooting them and knocking them down, teams are eventually going to have to respect it, which is going to allow me to be even more of a playmaker. A lot of times, I can’t thread the needle because the big is so far down. Now, he has to be up, to open the room up for everybody.”
Murray had a career-high 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting with seven rebounds and two steals for the Kings (12-9), who will return to Sacramento to play the Chicago Bulls in the second game of a back-to-back Sunday at Golden 1 Center. De’Aaron Fox had 14 points, six rebounds and two assists.
The Kings shot 51.7% from the field and recorded 31 assists with only nine turnovers. The Clippers shot just 35.5% from the field and 27.3% from beyond the arc.
Brandon Boston Jr. came off the bench to score 18 points for the Clippers (13-11), who trailed by as many as 31 points. Los Angeles was hoping stars Kawhi Leonard (ankle) and Paul George (hamstring) would be ready to return, but they were ruled out along with Norman Powell (groin) and Luke Kennard (calf).
The Kings, meanwhile, were back at full strength with the return of Trey Lyles, who missed the past two games due to a non-COVID-19 illness. Kings coach Mike Brown talked about working Lyles back into the rotation after getting quality minutes from Terence Davis and KZ Okpala while he was out.
“That just makes our bench deeper,” Brown said. “Trey was playing well when he was playing. Obviously, TD stepped up and played big minutes for us. KZ played some pretty good minutes in the last game. So, it makes my decision making harder, but (Lyles) has been playing his behind off and it’s great to see.”
The Kings felt they got back on track offensively in a 137-114 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday after being held to 109.0 points per game during their three-game losing streak.
“We picked up the pace, didn’t turn the ball over as much, and that really did it,” Monk said.
The Kings continued to push the pace early in Saturday’s game against the Clippers, racing out to a 20-8 lead. Sabonis had the hot hand early, scoring 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting with two 3-pointers over the first seven minutes. Sacramento went up 33-18 on a 3-pointer by Monk and led 38-24 at the end of the first quarter.
The Kings led by as many as 28 in the second quarter and carried a 60-38 lead into the halftime break. Sacramento shot 54.5% from the field in the opening half while holding Los Angeles to 28.6%.
The Clippers cut the deficit to 17 after outscoring the Kings 7-2 to start the second half, but Sacramento’s onslaught continued following a three-point play by Sabonis and a 3-pointer by Harrison Barnes.
The only real point of frustration for the Kings was the fact that Sabonis, despite his dominance, kept finding himself in foul trouble. Sabonis went to the bench with his third foul with 3:15 to play in the second quarter. He picked up his fourth foul in the first minute of the second half and had to go back to the bench after being whistled for his fifth foul with 4:40 to play in the third quarter.
With Sabonis on the sideline, the Clippers staged a 10-2 run to get within 16 on a basket by Boston early in the fourth quarter. Brown called a timeout and subbed Sabonis back into the game. Sacramento immediately responded with a 17-2 run to take a 31-point lead with 7:11 remaining.
That prompted a strong contingent of Kings fans to chant “Light the Beam,” a reference to the new victory beam that shines atop their home arena every time they win a game.
“It’s crazy,” Sabonis said. “We’re on the road, against one of the best teams in the West, and we’re hearing that. It’s pretty cool. We’re feeling the love. We’ve just got to keep getting wins.”