With 7:01 remaining in the fourth quarter, Stephen Curry closed out on Harrison Barnes in hopes of deterring his former teammate from knocking down his seventh 3-pointer of the evening to no avail. Barnes’ 3 connected as he was in the midst of the highest-scoring two-game stretch of his career. The frustration in Curry’s body language was evident.
Barnes, meanwhile, turned in stride to head back to Sacramento’s bench, oozing with confidence after forcing Steve Kerr to burn a timeout. Barnes gave Curry a pat on the backside as he trotted off toward the opposite end of the floor.
Barnes was en route to a career-high 39 points on 14-of-24 shooting and 7-of-12 from behind the arc to lead the Kings to a 134-133 win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. The veteran entered the game fresh off a 32-point performance in which he guided Sacramento past the Atlanta Hawks on Monday. Before that outing, he’d amassed 28 points across the Kings’ four-game losing streak and wasn’t nearly as aggressive as he was in these last two. For the second-straight game, Sacramento relied on Barnes in the closing minutes.
“HB was huge,” Kings coach Mike Brown said postgame. “As you guys know, throughout most of this year, I don’t think I’ve called a single play for him. Just tonight, I called more plays for him than I did the entire year combined. I’ve got to give him his due respect because he’s come up big for us. He came up big in the last game against Atlanta down the stretch. He came up huge tonight.
“He was aggressive throughout the course of the game and he kept us, either in the game or extended the lead. And then down the stretch when we looked a little out of sorts, I just called his number and put him in a spot that he’s very familiar with and he had two huge buckets for us.”
Let’s take a look at those two possessions Brown spoke of.
On the first, Sacramento clung to a one-point lead and isolated Barnes on Klay Thompson in the high post. Barnes caught the ball near the left elbow and the Kings cleared out the side to let him get to work. He did just that, facing up on Thompson and nailing an 18-footer over Thompson’s outstretched arm.
It was more of the same on the next play. This time Barnes caught it in the short corner with the left side of the floor cleared once again. Barnes faced up and saw no help coming from either direction. He took one dribble to his left, put his body into Thompson enough to free himself up for a stepback jumper, and found the bottom of the net to extend Sacramento’s lead to five with 2:06 remaining.
Over these two games, Barnes has accounted for 71 points on 24-of-44 shooting, 11-of-20 from 3-point range, a perfect 12-of-12 from the free-throw line and no assists. In other words, he’s been strictly about a bucket in the best way possible. But in true selfless Barnes fashion, he wasn’t concerned with being credited with the win.
“In a game like tonight, where the average person will say, ‘Oh you scored a lot of points tonight.’ Well, that’s because Keegan (Murray) screened, that’s because Kevin (Huerter) ran through, that’s because Domas (Sabonis) made the extra pass. We’re all working in concert.
“So, I think not being attached as much to the credit of how it boils down every single night, but just doing your job and knowing the way you have a high-powered offense is all five guys are going to have to make a sacrifice at some point in time. Some nights you’ll be able to score baskets. But other nights you may set a lot of screens, you may do a lot of cuts and may make a lot of passes.”
That type of wisdom from the second-eldest player on Sacramento’s roster behind JaVale McGee is what makes him such an invaluable piece of the puzzle. The 31-year-old’s impact extends beyond just the box score. He’s a steadying presence in the locker room, understands the ebbs and flows of roles and displays the adaptability necessary for team success.
His newfound sense of offensive urgency has the Kings playing like the version of themselves that established a then-NBA record 118.6 offensive rating. While Barnes possesses the mature nature of a champion, he’s still extremely capable of breaking defenders down at his mercy.
He paced Sacramento in scoring in each quarter but the second, when De’Aaron Fox came alive for 10 of his 29 points. January has been Fox’s lowest-scoring month this season, tallying 21.7 points per contest entering this matchup, but he looked much more like himself offensively Thursday. Namely when he sought out back-to-back 3s that appeared to be momentum killers for the Warriors.
The first triple came after Curry weaved past Keegan Murray for a layup. As Curry was lamenting the lack of what he felt should have been a foul call, Fox rushed down court. As he got to the 3-point line, he slowed down just a tick. In doing so, Fox allowed Domantas Sabonis to screen Dario Šarić and clear enough space for him to rise and drill the 26-footer to give the Kings a 125-121 lead with 4:39 left in the game.
On the ensuing possession, Kevin Huerter scooped up a rebound off a missed corner 3 attempt from rookie Brandin Podziemski. Huerter immediately got the ball to Fox, and Fox wasted no time pushing in transition. He went between his legs from right to left, before ultimately coming back right and cashed in his third and final long-range jumper to extend Sacramento’s lead to seven.
He stared in the direction of Golden State’s bench to see if they were admiring his work as much as he was. The reigning Clutch Player of the Year smiled and pointed to someone in the crowd, relishing the opportunity to take the life out of Chase Center.
“I told Doug (Christie), anytime a team makes a layup,” Fox told reporters postgame. “Especially if a guard makes a layup, I always tell them, ‘Let’s get it out fast.’ Those are shots that everybody works on. At some point you’re just sitting in the gym and you’re walking up and you’re taking a 3. So, for me sometimes those can be momentum killers for teams. Obviously you have to make the shot, but I have a lot of confidence in those walk-up, off the dribble 3s. When I do it while they’re on a run, I feel like that really helps boost our team up.”
Although Barnes and Fox both gave massive boosts offensively, racking up 68 of Sacramento’s 134 points, the rest of the starting unit made significant contributions as well. Sabonis led the Kings with a game-high 13 assists, 18 points and eight rebounds – two off from registering his 13th triple-double of the season. But he did reach his 26th consecutive double-double and 39th of the season – tying him with two-time MVP Nikola Jokić on total double-doubles this year.
Murray had 14 points, six boards, an assist, a steal and two blocks. His defensive versatility continues to shine, ranging from his ability to guard Šarić in the paint to Brown’s trust to match his second-year forward’s minutes with Curry’s through the final three quarters.
“Steph has 18 or something like that in the first and we just decided to try to match Keegan’s minutes with him,” Brown said. “To see if Keegan could make him work. … They just do all types of things to get you confused, and they did. He has 18 in the first and 15 in the rest of the game. Again, you’re not stopping him but you just hope to make him work. We thought Keegan did his best to try to make him work.”
His efforts defensively, as one might assume, earned him the defensive player of the game crown.
Huerter had a double-double of his own, finishing with 12 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. He grabbed a team-high in rebounds for the first time this season, but did miss two crucial free throws that opened the door for the Warriors to win it on the final possession. To his credit, he aided Fox in the double team on Curry that resulted in a steal to seal the game.
Last possession, best possession 😤
Great job holding them off! pic.twitter.com/ay9VlFWAaA
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) January 26, 2024
As impressive as the rest of the starters were, none of Thursday’s success is capable without Barnes putting insistent pressure on Golden State’s defense.
“Once (Barnes) is going there is more of an effort to get him the ball in certain spots,” Fox said. “We felt like when we kind of needed a bucket, we were going to him in the post and he was delivering for us.”
Barnes’ efforts steered Sacramento to its first regular-season win in San Francisco since Feb. 25, 2020, ending the Warriors’ seven-game winning streak over the Kings at Chase Center outside of the postseason. The teams split the regular-season series at two games apiece as Sacramento begins its seven-game road trip 1-0 and improves to 25-18.
“I just try to maximize opportunities,” Barnes said during his walk-off interview. “We feel like we have a good team. When the ball is moving we just want to take open shots, so the ball is finding me. I’m just trying to maximize opportunities.”
(Photo: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)