The Golden State Warriors fell to the Sacramento Kings 126-123 on Saturday night in the playoff opener, an instant-classic battle that portends a long, back-and-forth series to come. Here are three reactions from the defending champions’ disappointing defeat in Game 1 of the first-round battle for Northern California bragging rights.
Warriors come up just short…twice
Golden State couldn’t have scripted the final possession better.
Inbounding from the sideline, down three with just 2.9 seconds remaining, the Warriors knew the Kings would come out switching all screens, hellbent on preventing a game-tying triple. Klay Thompson sprinted around Stephen Curry just several feet from where Draymond Green was throwing the ball in, drawing that anticipated switch from Davion Mitchell—and giving the greatest shooter of all-time space to catch and launch.
This is a look the Dubs will take every time.
Curry’s game-ending miss sealed an epic victory for the Kings, their first postseason win since 2006. But De’Aaron Fox’s second-half heroics and Malik Monk’s fireworks off the bench almost weren’t enough for Sacramento to keep home-court advantage anyway.
A contested runner from 28 feet as time expires, even from Curry, is a shot the Kings can gulp and live with, too. What’s not is a wide-open corner three from Andrew Wiggins with just over 11 seconds left and the home team clinging to a one-point lead.
Wiggins was a two-way impact player for Golden State in his first action since mid-February, proving more than ready for the physical rigors and palpable intensity of playoff basketball. He was arguably the Warriors’ best player in the first half, making Fox feel his length and explosiveness on the ball, disrupting Sacramento’s offense as an active help defender and making the most of his varied opportunities offensively.
But Wiggins’ jumper failed him late, and not just on Golden State’s penultimate possession. Mike Brown’s decision to stash Domantas Sabonis on Wiggins midway through the final stanza confused the Warriors offensively, forcing them out of rhythm without the Kings—now switching smalls onto Curry—forced to put two on the ball in screening actions.
Wiggins clanked four threes in the fourth quarter altogether, the Kings all but daring him to shoot if it meant Curry was contained.
Golden State shot an ugly 16-of-50 from beyond the arc, Wiggins’ 1-of-8 mark looming especially large in that ugly 32% shooting. Not all of the Warriors’ three-point attempts were good ones.
Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole all got a little ambitious at times. There were others when Wiggins could’ve attacked a close-out and put the ball on the deck instead of shooting from deep, the area he seemed much more comfortable.
A loss is a loss in the playoffs. The Dubs can’t get Game 1 back. But Golden State had plenty of chances to win on Saturday, wresting control of this series before it really got underway. Good thing the Warriors have the same opportunity to steal home-court advantage from the Kings in 48 hours.
Golden State dares Domantas Sabonis
It’s too harsh to call Sabonis an abject negative in this game. He led Sacramento’s dominant effort on the offensive glass by grabbing five of his teammates’ misses, and played an indispensable role creating space off the bounce for Fox and Monk as a screener.
Sabonis’ -9 plus-minus isn’t lying, though. The Kings were much stouter at the rim with veteran seven-footer Alex Len on the floor, unable to find a consistent answer defensively with Sabonis in the game until Brown stashed him on Wiggins late. Those defensive struggles are hardly surprising; everyone knew the Warriors would exploit Sabonis on that end.
What surely shocked some Kings fans was the Lithuanian star’s inability to produce efficient offense for himself. Sabonis shot 5-of-17 from the field and and committed four turnovers en route to just 12 points in Game 1, tied for his third-lowest scoring output of the season. He hadn’t missed more than a third of his shots in a single game before Saturday.
Kevon Looney deserves the lion’s share of credit for Sabonis’ struggles, with Draymond Green following closely behind. Both of the Warriors’ big men were just too stout, quick and disciplined for Sabonis when fighting him in the paint.
Look how far Looney is laying off Sabonis in the second clip.
That was Golden State’s strategy from the opening tip of the postseason opener, one meant to neutralize the Kings’ familiar maze of backdoor cuts and keep Sabonis from getting a shoulder past his primary defender on the move. But it’s only viable if he’s not hitting open jumpers from the perimeter, a bet the Warriors made again and again before Sabonis stopped shooting entirely.
It didn’t go much better for Sabonis when he tried to eat up all that space in front of him, using his size advantage to try and mash the Warriors down low.
Sabonis missed multiple bunnies in Game 1. This is bound to be his least efficient outing of the first round. There’s no denying how well Looney and Green fared against him individually, though, nor how out of sync he appeared when the Dubs’ defense got in the way of his dribble hand-off magic.
Expect Golden State to continue coaxing Sabonis to shoot, owning the results unless he gets a red-hot left hand.
Kings prey on Jordan Poole
Brown’s fingerprints from years of experience on the Warriors bench were all over Game 1.
The Kings finished with 12 fast-break points, a workable number for the Dubs, but constantly raced the ball up the floor to attack early in the shot clock, keeping Golden State from setting its halfcourt defense. Wiggins wasn’t the only one Sacramento was keen on letting fly from the outside. Looney, Green and Jonathan Kuminga were barely guarded beyond the arc, mucking up the Warriors’ spacing.
Brown’s most significant strategic gambit was one almost any head coach would’ve pulled against Golden State under the playoff microscope: Preying on Poole.
Game 1 changed for good during the last couple minutes of the third quarter, when Curry went to the bench for a breather and the Kings turned a five-point deficit into a one-point lead entering the fourth. How’d they do it? Targeting the Warriors’ weakest defender in pick-and-roll.
Poole isn’t directly responsible for either of these Sacramento buckets. But both come as the Kings went right at him in ball-screen action, first drawing a switch onto Fox that caused Golden State to overload the strong side and next tasking Poole with slowing down Monk—absolutely electric putting the ball on the deck all night—in space.
Poole wasn’t just a liability on defense when Sacramento made him one.
Its late third quarter burst started when he tried to bait the officials into a bad charge call, flopping to the floor to give the Kings a numbers advantage that yielded a wide-open three for Fox.
Poole had no idea who he was guarding on this first-quarter possession, leaving Trey Lyles free for a corner triple.
Poole’s defense wasn’t the reason Golden State lost Game 1.
Curry, Thompson and Green were all at least one level below their peaks. Even the likes of Wiggins, Gary Payton II and Kuminga had trouble corralling Fox and Monk off the dribble. The Warriors weren’t diligent enough sprinting back to set their defense and flat-out missed multiple box-outs that gave the Kings offensive boards. Curry and Green had some truly head-scratching turnovers, combining for eight giveaways.
As this series wears on, though, rest assured that Poole’s defense is primed to be a major story. Sacramento will no doubt keep picking on him, just like the Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies did this time last year.
Don’t be surprised when Poole gets less burn going forward than his 22 minutes in Game 1, Kerr content to sacrifice offensive dynamism for defensive teeth by extending Wiggins’ minutes limit and giving more playing time to Payton and DiVincenzo.
The post 3 in-depth Warriors reactions from heartbreaking Game 1 loss to Kings appeared first on ClutchPoints.