‘Season to remember’: Kings on brink of playoffs; Murray on cusp of rookie 3-point record
The Kings took another long stride in their storybook run to the playoffs and Keegan Murray moved closer to the NBA rookie record for 3-point goals on another raucous evening in Sacramento.
Kevin Huerter had 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists while Domantas Sabonis recorded his league-leading 60th double-double of the season in a 121-113 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday before a sellout crowd of 18,151 at Golden 1 Center.
Murray scored 22 points and went 6 of 12 from 3-point range for the Kings (45-29), who are third in the Western Conference with a chance to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006 in the next 24 to 48 hours. Murray needs only four more 3-point goals to break Donovan Mitchell’s rookie record of 187 — not that he’s keeping track.
“My girlfriend told me I was like 12 away sometime this week,” Murray said. “I don’t know, but I think today probably helped that a little bit.”
Sabonis had 16 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Sacramento, which achieved its highest win total since finishing 50-32 in 2004-05. Harrison Barnes added 18 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Walker Kessler had 31 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz (35-39), which is now one game back of the Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference.
The Kings were missing point guard De’Aaron Fox, who was ruled out after leaving Friday’s win over the Phoenix Suns with right hamstring soreness. Kings coach Mike Brown said the decision to sit Fox was “more precautionary than anything else.”
The Jazz was missing four key rotation players after Jordan Clarkson (hand), Rudy Gay (back), Lauri Markkanen (hand) and Collin Sexton (hamstring) were ruled out due to injuries.
Davion Mitchell started in place of Fox with Matthew Dellavedova coming off the bench. Dellavedova earned the team’s defensive player of the game chain and a rare appearance at the podium for the postgame news conference, where he shared some of his veteran wisdom as the Kings close in on a playoff bid.
“It’s a deep team,” he said. “Guys are going to have their ups and downs, but you’ve got to try to be able to see the bigger picture and know that we’re a part of something special here, and we want to make it a season to remember.”
The Kings went into the game with a chance to end the longest playoff drought in NBA history. A Kings win combined with losses by the Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns would have assured Sacramento of a top-six finish and an automatic playoff bid. The Kings did their part and the Clippers obliged with a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, but the Suns rolled to a 125-105 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Kings assured themselves of no less than a play-in spot with their win over Utah. They can clinch a playoff berth as soon as Sunday if the Golden State Warriors beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. If that doesn’t happen, the Kings will have a chance to clinch Monday when they play the Timberwolves at home.
Kings coach Mike Brown said the team will celebrate the feat whenever the moment arrives.
“For sure, you enjoy the moment, because at the end of the day, man, this is a game and it should bring pleasure to you,” Brown said. “Everybody has been playing hoop since they were this high and playing for free. It’s a game and when you play games, you should have fun. You should experience a lot of emotions with it, and it’s been a long time since this franchise and this city has had an opportunity to experience something like that. I don’t want to take that away from the players who have earned it in that locker room.”
The Kings led by as many as 11 while shooting 52% in the first period. Murray had the hot hand, scoring 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting with four 3-pointers.
Utah outscored Sacramento 11-3 to start the second quarter. The Jazz took a 37-35 lead on a 3-pointer by Jarrell Brantley and carried a 61-55 lead into the halftime break after outscoring the Kings 38-20 on points in the paint.
Sacramento came out with more energy in the second half, outscoring Utah 25-10 to take an 80-71 lead midway through the third quarter. The Kings outscored the Jazz 35-17 in the third and led 90-78 going into the fourth.
Kings guard Malik Monk was ejected less than a minute into the fourth quarter. Monk felt he was fouled by Kelly Olynyk on a dunk attempt, but there was no whistle. Monk argued vehemently with referee Jacyn Goble, who quickly called a technical foul and threw Monk out of the game.
The Jazz made a late run to get within six on a 3-pointer by Ochai Agbaji, but a driving layup by Mitchell and a 3-pointer by Murray helped the Kings hold on for the win.
Dellavedova had high praise for Murray, who could break the rookie 3-point record Monday against the Timberwolves.
“I don’t know if Keegan even knows he’s that close, but he’s having an incredible year and he’s just a humble guy form the country, and I think he’s going to be a superstar in this league,” Dellavedova said. “And he’s already so good and the game comes so easy to him, and I think playing with guys like Fox and Domas definitely helps take the pressure off him. He’s figured out some great chemistry with both of those guys, and coming off Domas’ handoffs and cutting, and he shows some other parts of his game every now and then, let’s you know he’s going to be even more special in the future.”