The Kings would have the second-best record in the Western Conference and an all-expenses paid trip to Las Vegas if it not for those pesky New Orleans Pelicans.
De’Aaron Fox had another 30-point game and Domantas Sabonis recorded his second triple-double of the season, but the Kings couldn’t solve their Pelicans problem in the semifinals of the NBA’s in-season tournament.
Brandon Ingram had 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists to lead New Orleans to a 127-117 victory Monday before a sellout crowd of 18,048 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. The Pelicans advanced to Thursday’s semifinals at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, where they will play the winner of Tuesday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns.
The Kings won’t be joining the Final Four festivities in Las Vegas with a chance to win the inaugural NBA Cup. Instead, they will head to Phoenix or Los Angeles on Friday to play the loser of Tuesday’s game between the Suns and Lakers.
“It’s tough,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “We obviously wanted to advance just like they did, and their physicality, how hard they played, the things they did out on the floor showed it.”
Ingram went 10 of 20 from the field, 3 of 6 from 3-point range and 7 of 9 at the free-throw line for the Pelicans (12-10). Sacramento held Zion Williamson to 10 points and eight field-goal attempts, but Herb Jones scored 23 points, CJ McCollum had 17 and Trey Murphy III came off the bench to score 16.
Fox scored 30 points, but he went 10 of 25 from the field, 1 of 7 from 3-point range and committed a season-high six turnovers. Sabonis had 26 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists for the Kings (11-8), who lost to the Pelicans for the third time this season after suffering back-to-back losses in New Orleans in November.
“That’s three games in a row they kind of did the same thing,” Brown said. “They were a more physical team. Their length their athleticism bothered us. I thought obviously BI (Ingram) had a heck of a game, scoring 30 on 50% shooting from the floor, so he did what he’s supposed to do.”
The Kings started the game with Keegan Murray guarding Ingram and Harrison Barnes assigned to Williamson. Williamson and Ingram both caused problems for the Kings in New Orleans, especially Williamson, who averaged 25.5 points while shooting 68.8% in those two games.
Brown was asked before the game what his team did wrong against Williamson in the first two games.
“Oof — a lot,” Brown said. “As a staff, we didn’t do a good job with our guys. We obviously wanted to double-team. Our double-teams didn’t get there in time. Our rotations didn’t get there in time. We let him go left. He can go either direction, but he prefers to go left and he’s a heck of a finisher.
“We’re not going to stop the guy. We just want the guy to work a little harder to get his buckets and he didn’t have to work much. … He kind of had his way with us and I take the blame for that.”
Sacramento came out firing with Murray and Kevin Huerter combining to score the first 13 points. The Kings jumped out to a 13-4 lead, going 5 of 6 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point range, prompting the Pelicans to take an early timeout.
The Kings continued to build on their lead when Malik Monk came off the bench to score eight points in his first minute of action with an alley-oop dunk and two 3-pointers. Monk put Sacramento up by 15 with 4:27 to play in the first period, but New Orleans stormed back, closing out the quarter with an 18-4 run to cut the deficit to one.
Fox committed four of his turnovers in the first quarter while the big lead was slipping away with Jose Alvarado hounding him at every turn.
“We have to be able to answer their run a lot better, and when you turn the ball over, just losing possessions, it starts to add up,” Fox said. “And once they got the lead, we never were able to get it back.”
The Kings went 1 of 5 from the field to end the first quarter and 1 of 12 to start the second. The Pelicans took their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer by Alvarado and continued to pour it on, going up by as many as 13 before taking a 69-61 lead into the halftime break.
Murray left the game holding his lower back midway through the second quarter after apparently aggravating the sacroiliac (SI) joint irritation that recently caused him to miss four games. Murray said it was “basically the same thing” he experienced two weeks ago. Murray started the second half after the Kings announced he was available to return.
“I just tried to fight through it,” Murray said. “Obviously, there was a lot to play for in this game, and I just wanted to try to get back out there.”
Williamson was held to two points on 1-of-3 shooting in the first half, but he scored three times early in the third quarter to help the Pelicans reestablish a 15-point lead. The Kings battled back to cut the deficit to single digits, but they still trailed 100-91 going into the fourth quarter.
Fox scored 18 of his 30 points on 7-of-14 shooting in the second half. Sacramento got within five on a 3-pointer by Monk with 9:29 remaining, but they couldn’t get any closer.
Pelicans coach Willie Green told his team to keep fighting after falling behind in the opening minutes.
“We knew that we beat those guys twice on our home floor,” Green said. “They were going to come out pumped up and ready to play this game. We would like to have a better start, but let’s settle into the game. Let’s get some stops. Don’t try to get it all back at one time. One stop, one score, one stop, one score, over and over again. And before you look up, we’ll have a ballgame. To those guys’ credit, that’s what they did.”
Dec. 8 at Los Angeles Lakers or Phoenix Suns
Dec. 11 vs. Brooklyn Nets
Dec. 12 at Los Angeles Clippers
Dec. 14 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Dec. 16 vs. Utah Jazz