The first half of the Kings’ comeback 117-110 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night at State Farm Arena looked like a continuation of their Tuesday night loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
After eight minutes in Atlanta, the Kings trailed by 23 points. After the first 24 minutes, they were down by 18 points.
A third straight loss looked like it was on the horizon, but a halftime locker room conversation amongst Kings players turned the tide, fueling a second half comeback.
“Play harder,” reserve guard Malik Monk told reporters after the game. “That’s it. Play harder. Every time we go down like that, we’re just being lazy. Going through the motions, letting them do whatever they want to. And we came in at halftime, we were talking, saying we got to hit them in the mouth first and they’re going to let us back in it and that’s what happened.”
Monk acknowledged that the Kings talked “way more” at halftime of Friday’s game than they normally do, attributing the chatter to the 25-point second-half turnaround.
“We just had to pick up our physicality,” forward Trey Lyles told Morgan Ragan and Matt Barnes on “Kings Postgame Live” after the win. “We were letting them get to their spots. We weren’t doing what we were supposed to do. We were playing kind of soft, lacksidaisical, turning the ball over the end of the second quarter. That was really the turn around for us. We just had to turn around and play together, share the ball and take care of it and that’s what we did in the second half.”
Guard Davion Mitchell, who made a huge defensive impact in 13 minutes off the bench, knew the Kings wouldn’t give up despite how the game started. Basketball is a sport of runs, and he was confident Sacramento would answer back.
“We’ve all been in this league long enough to know that teams are going to go on runs,” Mitchell told reporters. “We went on our run, they went on their run. This game is all about runs and we’ve got really good players in our league that can make tough shots. And we came back. We know we got punched in the mouth but we didn’t fold. That’s what I love about this team. We play hard throughout the whole game and we came out with the win today.”
The Kings want to be a great team. They have championship aspirations after ending their 17-year playoff drought last season. The expectations are high, but so far this season, they’ve had too many moments and games where they don’t look quite ready to take the next step.
What coach Mike Brown saw from his players Friday night in Atlanta was a positive sign that they are starting to get it, that they’re figuring out what it takes to be their best selves.
“I love hearing it,” Brown told reporters after the game. “I don’t think you can ever become a great team in this league until the locker room takes ownership in the process and it’s all the guys in the locker room. It can’t always come from me and it can’t always come from the other coaches. It’s got to come from within that circle of players and if they can get to that point, which they did a heck of a job of tonight, they’re going that direction, probably a little slower than everybody and I want them to, but they’re heading that way and tonight was a big step, big learning experience for all of them in that regard.”
Sacramento hasn’t completely turned the corner their inexplicable performances, but Friday’s showing in Atlanta was proof that they can overcome their own self-described laziness if they come together and work towards their common goal.
The Kings improved to 18-12 and close out the 2023 calendar year against Ja Morant and the rejuvenated Grizzlies on Sunday in Memphis. A win in the grindhouse would make for a happy New Year’s Eve flight home to Northern California.