Boston Celtics demonstrate ‘the physicality it takes’ in blowout win over Sacramento Kings
The Kings’ loss Tuesday to the Boston Celtics, 132-109, pushed Sacramento to 0-6 against the top three teams in the Eastern Conference, including the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers.
That record against the elite teams in the East is a rare stain on Sacramento’s otherwise-sterling campaign, one which will include ending their 16-year playoff drought in the coming days. And as much as the Kings’ have enjoyed changing the culture of the franchise and all the excitement surrounding the “Beam Team,” simply making the postseason isn’t going to be enough to satisfy head coach Mike Brown or his players.
Tuesday’s defeat reiterated the difference between the Kings and the teams atop the NBA’s current hierarchy, which includes the Bucks, who also beat the Kings in Golden 1 Center last week.
“They’ve been to the playoffs and we haven’t,” Malik Monk said after the Celtics dealt Sacramento its second loss in two nights. “They know what it takes. They know the physicality it takes. We haven’t faced that until we played Boston and Milwaukee. We’re just trying to get where they are. It’s a great test, and great learning points, too.”
The physicality Monk mentioned manifested in turnovers and the other hustle stats, and led to a strong contingent of Boston fans chanting as the Kings left the floor.
The Celtics, owners of the NBA’s fourth-ranked defense in efficiency, turned 14 turnovers into 21 points. They did it while taking care of the ball, turning it over just five times, leading to six points for Sacramento. Boston also had a decided edge in second-chance points, 17-5, despite only having one more offensive rebound (11-10).
“Easy assessment, they kicked our behinds,” Brown said. “Starting with me, we all got our behinds kicked. Nothing tricky or hidden behind what I’m saying.”
The Celtics’ defense features length, athleticism and versatility, a triumvirate the Kings’ top-ranked offense has struggled with at times throughout the season. Boston often switched off Sacramento’s screens, leading to more isolation ball and fewer open looks than the Kings are used to getting.
All of which should be a template for what’s to come during playoff time.
“You got to play with pace in the halfcourt,” Brown said when asked how to counter the Celtics’ switch-heavy approach. “You gotta sprint off a screen and sometimes slip to the rim to cause a chain reaction. Your cuts have to be extremely hard, the ball has to be moved crisp, and if you catch the ball and somebody’s closing out to you, you can’t hesitate. ... When you hold it, all you’re doing is letting them get back in front.”
One of Sacramento’s offensive tenets is about making a decision in half a second, which they abbreviate by calling “point five.” That was an area of weakness in the the Kings’ offensive game on Tuesday, and led to more predictable passing and fewer open passing lanes.
“Their switching really bothered us,” Brown said. “We couldn’t score inside. We couldn’t score outside.”
Added De’Aaron Fox: “Obviously, you want to keep ball movement and things like that. Just being able to touch the paint. Just being able to get your first paint touch, it hurts a defense like that.”
Some of those offensive issues could be traced to fatigue. Tuesday was the Kings’ fifth game in seven nights, and as Brown said before the game, Tuesday’s contest was essentially an extension of their four-game road trip through four time zones, which ended with Monday’s loss in Utah.
“We all kind of felt it today,” Kings center Domantas Sabonis said. “But it’s not an excuse, it’s part of the schedule. Every team’s going through it.”
Including Sacramento’s opponent. Tuesday marked the Celtics’ final game of a six-game road trip, including their third game in four nights. They beat the Kings with big scoring nights from their best players. Jayson Tatum had a game-high 36 points while Jaylen Brown added 27.
Sabonis posted his 12th triple-double of the season and fifth in March with 16 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists, but he had six turnovers. Fox had 18 points, but Sacramento was minus-34 in his 28:34 on the court. Davion Mitchell had one of his best halves of the season, scoring 13 points before halftime, but he didn’t score in the third or fourth quarters.
The Kings hit halftime down just six after Boston went on a 9-0 run to close the second quarter while the Kings were upset with officiating on a handful of questionable calls. Then Boston scored 27 points over the first five and a half minutes of the third quarter and essentially put the game out of reach. The Celtics hit 7 of 10 from 3-point range in the third to take a 100-85 lead into the fourth.
“They beat us to every ball,” Fox said. “Second-chance points, scoring off turnovers, they beat us in all the hustle stats. They beat us in every facet of the game tonight.”
The Kings will have a needed off day Wednesday before returning to practice on Thursday. Then they host back-to-back games against the Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday and Saturday. Tuesday’s loss put Sacramento 1 ½ games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference.
Guard Kevin Huerter missed his third straight game with an injury to his right popliteus, a muscle behind the knee. Brown indicated Huerter remains day to day and will be evaluated later in the week.