The Kings found themselves facing another big deficit 24 hours after mounting a huge comeback against the Golden State Warriors, but this time there was no fourth-quarter resurgence despite a big game from De’Aaron Fox.
Kawhi Leonard scored 34 points to lead the Los Angeles Clippers to a 131-117 victory over the Kings before a sellout crowd of 17,829 on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.
“Man, that was a butt whooping,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “Give the Clippers credit. They did everything they needed to do to come in here and get a win. I thought Kawhi was phenomenal for them.”
Fox scored 40 points to lead the Kings (10-7), but he couldn’t carry a weary team on the second night of a back-to-back. Fox produced his second 40-point game of the season less than two weeks after scoring 43 in a win over the San Antonio Spurs.
The Kings fell to 0-2 on the second night of a back-to-back after suffering a 129-93 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Nov. 20.
“Everybody in the league plays back-to-backs, so that’s nothing that we can really complain about,” Fox said. “We have to be better in back-to-backs and we’ve been blown out in both of our back-to-backs, so we just have to be able to come back and be ready.”
Fox went 14 of 23 from the field, 3 of 8 from 3-point range and 9 of 10 at the free-throw line. The NBA’s reigning Clutch Player of the Year scored 17 points in the fourth quarter to finish with the eighth 40-point game of his career.
“That’s what happens when you make your free throws,” Fox said one night after going 9 of 17 at the stripe against the Warriors.
Still, it wasn’t enough.
“He can’t do it all by himself,” Brown said. “We have to do it on both ends collectively and we didn’t do a good job of that tonight.”
James Harden had 26 points, six assists and five steals for the Clippers (8-9), who shot 53.8% from the field and made 14 of 28 (.500) from 3-point range. Paul George added 19 points to help the Clippers surpass their previous season highs in points, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
“They can shoot the ball,” Brown said. “They’re a talented team. Two things I felt we didn’t do in the first half, we didn’t do a good job of getting to shooters and our sense of urgency wasn’t there with our rotations, so they were able to knock down some shots. After they hit a few like that, they became real, real comfortable. ... They’re a dangerous team anyway, but when they feel really comfortable, they’re really, really dangerous.”
Clippers coach Ty Lue liked what he saw.
“I thought we did a great job of driving tonight,” Lue said. “We didn’t hold the ball. When we did have it, we got to our second and third actions, and then just making quick decisions. I thought Kawhi really set the tone by going quick early. They wanted to double, but they couldn’t get there in time and then he was already at the basket. And then James just controlled the game, especially in the first quarter — pick-and-roll 3s, making the right pass and the right reads. We all got to be able to play that style of basketball. Everybody can touch the ball when you drive and they close out, and getting into the paint and making the extra pass. It was a beautiful game tonight offensively.”
Malik Monk came off the bench to score 15 points for Sacramento. Sasha Vezenkov had 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting with three 3-pointers, finishing with a team-best plus-minus rating (+6) for the second night in a row.
Domantas Sabonis was held to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting with five rebounds and three assists.
Sabonis has made 7 of 13 from 3-point range over the past nine games, but he had a total of 20 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists over the past two games, well below his season averages of 19.2 points. 12.1 rebounds and 7.2 assists.
Five minutes into the game, the Kings and Clippers were tied at 6-6 after combing to go 4 of 19 from the field. The Clippers soon started knocking down shots, thanks in large part to Harden, who went 6 of 8 from the field and 4 of 5 from 3-point range while scoring 17 points in the opening period.
The Clippers led 35-27 at the end of the first quarter. The Kings cut the deficit to six on a 3-pointer by Davion Mitchell with 7:01 remaining, but the Clippers ended the half with a 12-0 run to take a 72-50 lead into the break.
In search of a spark, Brown started Vezenkov in place of Chris Duarte in the second half. Vezenkov played well, but Los Angeles’ lead continued to grow.
The Clippers went up by 25 points in the third quarter and carried a 102-81 lead into the fourth. The Kings staged a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 13 on a 3-pointer by Monk with 6:35 to play, but they couldn’t get any closer.
“We have to be better in the back-to-back games,” Vezenkov said. “We lost to New Orleans. We lost today. We have to find a way, but I think we also have to keep looking forward. It was a bad loss. We have to see the film, get better from that and continue to the next game.”
The Kings faced the Clippers on the second night of a back-to-back after expending a lot of energy while overcoming a 24-point deficit to beat the Warriors 124-123 in an in-season tournament game Tuesday.
“It’s not an excuse, but emotionally I think everybody can see — even the fans — we were emotionally empty,” Vezenkov said.
Brown hoped his team would benefit from its depth and the fact that several of his reserves played extended minutes in recent weeks due to injuries.
“If guys get an opportunity to play throughout the course of the year, it’s easier to use your depth,” Brown said. “A guy like Foxy played 40 minutes last night. I’m sure other guys played heavy minutes or more minutes than they’re used to as well. When you have a team waiting on you, you tend to go into your bench a little further and maybe even a little longer if your guys are looking tired.
“So having a guy like Kessler (Edwards), he had big minutes against a guy like Anthony Edwards in Minnesota, and being able to throw Sasha out there versus a team like Golden State, and even throwing a guy like Keon (Ellis) out there a little bit. That should bode well or at least help us tonight to be able to know that if we need to, we can go a little further into our bench because guys are ready to play because they’ve had a taste of it. They haven’t just been sitting there for 10 or 12 straight games.”
Kings forward Keegan Murray missed his fourth consecutive game with a back injury that is being described as sacroiliac (SI) joint irritation.
Murray suffered the injury in a Nov. 19 win over the Dallas Mavericks. He finished the game that night but left at halftime the next night when the Kings visited the Pelicans.
Murray seemed to be nearing a return earlier this week after going through a full-contact practice Monday, but he was ruled out for Tuesday’s game against the Warriors and Wednesday’s game against the Clippers.
“I think we’re just trying to be cautious with him as much as possible,” Brown said. “… But for us, whether he’s out, Fox is out, this guy’s out, that guy’s out, it’s more about the next guy stepping up, and it gives guys an opportunity to be in different roles that they may not have had an opportunity to be in if everybody was healthy. We still have to try to find a way to win games and that’s what it comes down to in this league. People don’t feel sorry for you if you’re missing guys.”
The Kings will have two days off before facing the defending NBA champion Denver Nuggets on Saturday at Golden 1 Center.
Denver is riding a three-game winning streak with victories over the San Antonio Spurs, Clippers and Houston Rockets. The Nuggets will visit the Phoenix Suns on Friday before coming to Sacramento on the second night of a back-to-back.
Denver is led by two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 28.8 points, 13.4 rebounds and 8.9 assists. Michael Porter Jr. is averaging 16.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. Jamal Murray, who is averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 assists, returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing nearly a month with a hamstring injury.
Dec. 2 vs. Denver Nuggets
Dec. 4 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
Dec. 11 vs. Brooklyn Nets
Dec. 12 at Los Angeles Clippers
Dec. 14 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder