On top of all its on-court drama, electric atmosphere, and aesthetic splendor, the first-round series between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors is rife with poetic symmetry.
Sacramento is in a place not so different from where Golden State was a decade ago: A long-destitute Northern California franchise finally emerging from a dusty cocoon in a flashy new form, its passionate fanbase reignited after years of dormancy.
No one really saw the Warriors coming back in 2013 (heck, Steph Curry wasn't even an All-Star that year), and their breakout didn't feel entirely real until they upset the 57-win Denver Nuggets in the first round and pushed the eventual West champion Spurs to six games in the conference semis. Ten years later, the Kings have a similar sense of validation and legitimacy in their sights, having put the defending champs in their first 2-0 series hole of the Curry era before Golden State took Game 3 in the Bay on Thursday night.
If this year's Kings are spiritually akin to the early-Curry Warriors teams that were just starting to peek through, they're far more stylistically akin to the version that fully blossomed after Steve Kerr arrived and Draymond Green emerged as a foundational piece. Obviously, the similarities aren't apples to apples – nothing is when it comes to the Warriors or their dynastic core of Curry, Green, and Klay Thompson.
Sacramento's defense, for as admirably as it's performed in this series, isn't and never will be close to reaching the heights Golden State's did. The Kings aren't a dynasty or even a perennial contender in the making. (Probably.) But that doesn't mean the teams don't share plenty of traits and basketball DNA. The Warriors have spawned plenty of imitators, but none who've embodied their ethos and energy quite like these Kings.
Mike Brown was part of Kerr's coaching staff from 2016-22, after all, and upon taking over in Sacramento, he set about molding the Kings' offense in the image of Golden State's. It's an offense built on organized randomness, its motion principles executed with relentlessly practiced synchronicity, with every action on one side of the floor producing an equal reaction on the other. The Kings, like the Warriors, run all manner of dribble-handoffs and split action around a high-post playmaking hub and use the gravity of their shooters to open up backdoor cuts and slips to the basket. Sacramento rode that formula to the highest offensive rating in NBA history this season.
The Kings use Kevin Huerter as a Thompson facsimile, slingshotting him into threes off pindowns and dribble handoffs. Domantas Sabonis is their Draymond-like fulcrum who frees everyone up with his screens and connects both sides of the floor with his playmaking, either as a short-roller or an elbow operator orbited by cutters and movement shooters. Malik Monk brings the same conscience-less gunning and downhill explosiveness Jordan Poole does off the bench. Harrison Barnes, who once filled gaps on the wing in Golden State, now does so in Sacramento.