Kings eager to take next step after ending playoff drought
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Through every playoff triumph and every glaring mistake, Mike Brown stuck by his young Sacramento Kings knowing how much all of these moments will mean for the future.
He instructed rookie Keegan Murray to “let it fly” when his shot wasn't falling. The NBA coach of the year showed the utmost confidence in De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis to take whatever shots they liked and not worry about the results as long as they were making smart decisions with the ball.
That's the only way you learn in the big moments, Brown repeated time and again. They were mostly playoff first-timers after all.
"We’ll live with whatever happens,” Brown would say.
Finally back in the postseason after a 16-year drought, the Kings played the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors down to the wire before falling 120-100 in Game 7 of their first-round series Sunday to end this special season.
Fox praised the Kings for their fight and growth.
“Whoever’s back next year, we’re still a relatively young team,” he said. “I feel like we learned a lot this series, and like I said, that’s why this is a blessing and a curse to play against this team in the first round. We learned a lot and you just try to build off that. This is a lot of our first times in the postseason. You got a taste of it. You got to feel what it was like to play against a team who’s a championship contender just about year in and year out. You take that and you build off of it.”
But Sacramento will have to wait until next season for another chance to Light the Beam, and Brown took a moment to thank the Kings' loyal supporters who helped so much during his team's triumphant return to the playoff stage.
“We’ll be better from this experience going forward. Our guys are definitely hurting right now, which obviously they should be,” Brown said. “I’ve got a lot of gratitude for every man in that locker room, not just the players, but the medical performance staff, the coaching staff and everybody else in the front office. The organization was terrific this year and you wish you could’ve gotten more, especially for the city and for the fans, but nobody in our organization should be dropping their heads right now.”
Stephen Curry scored 50 in the winner-take-all Game 7 on the Kings' home court as the Warriors became the first defending champion to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a postseason series.
Sacramento realized the daunting task of taking on reigning NBA Finals MVP Curry and all of the other experienced Warriors, with their four titles.
Everyone who is part of the Kings is eager to see what's next, how far this group can go now having had this experience pushing the Warriors to a Game 7.
The Kings' 16 straight seasons without getting to the postseason were the most in NBA history and the longest active drought in Major League Baseball, NFL and NHL. Sacramento went 48-34 and won the Pacific Division.
Fox is sure there's more to come for the Kings — even while dealing with the disappointment of Sunday's defeat. Playing with a broken index finger on his shooting hand the final three games, Fox shined in his playoff debut.
He averaged 27.4 points, 7.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds.
“This is definitely a building block. Obviously, being able to play a team like this, who we all have tremendous respect for, who’ve been there done that, it’s definitely just something that you build on," Fox said. “We had a good season, we were the third seed, we stayed relatively healthy. I think playing against this team in the first round was a blessing and a curse. You could learn a lot. You’re not the favorite to win.”
Not only did Brown arrive and guide the Kings to their best showing in the Western Conference since 2002-03, the Kings matched a franchise record with a Western Conference-best 25 road wins.
Brown became only the second coach for Sacramento to finish above .500, along with Rick Adelman.
Murray made a name for himself immediately in California's capital and emerged as one of the NBA's dangerous 3-point threats — with his 206 made 3s leading all rookies and his 41.1% shooting from deep ranked second.
SABONIS ON BOTH ENDS
Playing 79 games, Sabonis recorded an NBA-best 65 double-doubles and became the sixth center in franchise history with a triple-double. He averaged 19.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists as the Kings led the NBA in scoring at 120.7 — the most points per game by any team in 40 years and last done by the Denver Nuggets in 1983-84.
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Janie Mccauley, The Associated Press