FOX Sports writers provide game insights throughout the NBA Playoffs. Here are her thoughts from Friday.
Kings 97, warriors 86: Golden State needs to dig deep
The crowd at the Chase Center witnessed a team blurry in transition, playing an inspired team defense and burying 3s in time. It just wasn’t the home team.
The Sacramento Kings not only beat the Golden State Warriors at home, they beat them by their own game — crucial, 118-99 — to extend their season and first-round streak to a seventh game on Sunday.
This collective tremor in the Bay Area came from the very real possibility that the Warriors dynasty’s expiration date is near. You’ll find out on Sunday when the two teams reconvene at the Golden 1 Arena to decide who advances.
The defending champion honestly looked old and slow. Their big advantage in post-season experience should give them a boost over the Kings; Instead, it looked like the cumulative effect of all those long postseasons had finally hit her. The vaunted core of their four championships was at the heart of the problem. Steph Curry missed free throws (three) and layups (4). Klay Thompson served as a human hub on defense (-28). Draymond Green had more fouls (5) than rebounds (4).
Coach Steve Kerr said before the start of the fourth quarter that he wanted his team to stop three times in a row “to get the momentum going again.” That never happened. Golden State’s offense was whatever the opposite of clutch is, clanking 5 of 7 three-pointers and 5 of 10 free throws.
The Kings, on the other hand, got virtuoso performances from three of their youngest players. De’Aaron Fox, 25, had 26 points, half of them on the edge as he weaved around several defenders. Malik Monk came off the bench for 28 points and found a perfect mix of shots to the basket and three-point shots. Finally, rookie Keegan Murray had 22, 15 points and 12 rebounds. Coach Mike Brown gave him the ultimate compliment by keeping him grounded for all but three minutes.
That the Kings were an explosive offensive team, however, is nothing new. They were, after all, the best-performing offensive player in the regular season. It was their defense that should make Warriors fans nervous. They kept the Warriors 37 percent shooting, 31 percent from beyond the arc, and those numbers would have been worse had Thompson and Curry not had the ability to make contested shots.
“We know we can score with anyone and in the postseason our defense was better,” Fox said. “We have to hang our hat to the defense.”
They did that on Friday night. Now the question is, can they hang the Warriors crown on him too?
Lakers 125, Grizzlies 85: Memphis shows little resistance
Anthony Davis had 16 points and 14 rebounds while blocking five shots in a spectacular defensive performance, D’Angelo Russell posted a career playoff high with 31 points, and the Los Angeles Lakers finished their first-round win over the Memphis Grizzlies 125-85 Game 6 win on Friday night.
LeBron James scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting for the Lakers, who were seeded seventh and emphatically won a playoff series in their own arena for the first time since 2012.
The Lakers won all three of their home games in the series, and the final win was a frightening display of their skills when James and Davis are both healthy. Davis’ impressive defensive presence largely ended Memphis’ offense in Game 6, while Russell’s five 3-pointers highlighted an impressive offensive display from a late-rising team with championship aspirations.
The Lakers took a 20-point lead in the first half and went up 36 points in the third quarter before driving to victory in front of superfan Jack Nicholson and a roaring crowd. James and Davis even had to sit out the entire fourth quarter and rest their legs for the second round.
The Lakers had to win a play-in game just to make a playoff series, though this star-studded team is no ordinary seventh seed. Los Angeles opens its next series Tuesday away against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between Sacramento and defending champions Golden State.
Ja Morant scored 10 points on 3-of-16 shooting for the Grizzlies, who have won 107 games and two Southwest Division titles over the past two seasons but only one playoff series.
Morant’s injured right hand seemed to impede his shot and he seemed unwilling to drive the color with his usual fearlessness while Davis popped up down the middle. Morant’s teammates couldn’t pick him up: Desmond Bane, who guaranteed a Game 7, had 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting, while Jaren Jackson Jr. had 14 on 3-of-12 shooting.
Dillon Brooks, the Memphis agitator who dismissed James as “old” after Game 2 and then got kicked out of Game 3 for hitting James in the groin, ended a dismal streak performance with 10 points in Game 6 while Lakers fans booed his every move.
The Lakers hadn’t won a playoff series outside of the Florida bubble in 11 years and had endured a dismal decade-plus for a 17-time champion franchise with a fanbase accustomed to excellence.
James and Davis have won a title together, but they had done little to remember in front of their home fans for the past two months, when their supporting cast improved markedly at the close of trading with several newcomers led by Russell. The dynamic duo improved to 5-0 in playoff series where both appeared together in every game.
The Grizzlies had the second-worst away record among the NBA’s 16 regular-season playoff teams, losing their first four away games this season to the Lakers. They fell into a 3-1 hole in Los Angeles in that series of back-to-back losses but avoided elimination by winning in Memphis on Wednesday.
Sensing the enormity of the moment, Lakers fans showed up in numbers, underscored by the return of 86-year-old Nicholson to his courtside seats after a nearly two-year absence. Her team delivered, jumping to a 20-point lead in the first half and extending it to 36 in the third quarter.
The Grizzlies played without a 3-point threat from Luke Kennard due to a sore shoulder, further hurting depth in a roster already missing injured regulars Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke.
– The Associated Press
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.
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