De’Aaron Fox had one more mission to do after a spectacular playoff debut that had taken years to develop.
With the home fans ticking down the seconds after a thrilling return to the playoffs, Fox clicked the button and lighted the ceremonial beam, thereby ending Sacramento’s 17-year drought.
“Sacramento showed out tonight,” Fox stated. “But doing it for the fans, knowing how they support this team through thick and thin — really thin — is priceless.” It’s merely a reflection of how they are.”
Fox was the driving force behind the Kings’ 126-123 win against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, scoring 38 points to equal for the second-highest playoff debut in NBA history.
After taking some time to acclimatise to the intensity of the playoffs, Fox scored 29 points in the second half and nailed the 3-pointer that gave Sacramento the lead for sure late in the fourth quarter.
Fox didn’t make it to the playoffs until his sixth season, but he quickly established himself as a star, as only Luka Doncic scored 42 points in his playoff debut versus Dallas three years ago.
“You need guys like that on your side because they know everything we’re throwing at them,” said coach Mike Brown. “There are no secrets.” You need individuals on your squad that can go make plays, and Foxy did that today.”
The first postseason matchup between the Northern California neighbours played up to the expectation, delighting a rowdy crowd that had been anticipating a playoff game since 2006.
The young Kings finished strong against a Warriors squad that had won four championships in the previous eight seasons.
After Stephen Curry scored a corner 3-pointer with about four minutes remaining to give Golden State a 114-112 lead, the Kings answered with seven straight points, beginning with a 3-pointer from Fox.
The Warriors didn’t go away, cutting the lead to one in the final minute on a basket by Curry. However, in the last seconds of his first game in more than two months, Andrew Wiggins missed a corner 3 for the lead.
“That last one felt amazing,” remarked Wiggins of the last shot. “It’s only up from here…” I’m here to compete, and I have faith in myself.”
With 2.9 seconds remaining, Malik Monk sank two free throws to make the score 126-123. At the buzzer, Curry missed a 3-point attempt, giving the Kings their first playoff victory since April 30, 2006, against San Antonio.
“That first game is kind of like a feeling out process,” Curry said. “We reacted. That is what we are capable of. It was a high-energy game from beginning to end.”
Domantas Sabonis added 12 points and 16 rebounds to go with Monk’s 32 points off the bench.
Curry led the Warriors with 30 points, Klay Thompson had 21, and Wiggins and Poole each had 18.
It was a joyful atmosphere outside the stadium in Sacramento, as supporters gathered hours before the start of the Kings’ first playoff game after an NBA record 16-year drought.
Starting with pregame warmups, the stadium was noisy, with some supporters even bringing back the cow bells that were so frequent during their playoff campaigns two decades ago.
“It was incredible all night,” said forward Harrison Barnes. “With how loud it got in there, I think everyone got chills when guys ran out for layup lines.”
The frenzy seemed to wear on the young Kings, who struggled to shoot the ball early on. Sacramento shot 39.2% in the first half and trailed Golden State at the break, 61-55.
The Warriors established a 10-point lead in the third quarter but Sacramento finished the quarter on a 15-4 surge driven by Trey Lyles’ 10 points to take a 91-90 edge into the fourth.
RETURN OF WIGGINS
Wiggins looked fresh in his first game in more than two months after leaving the squad to deal with an unspecified personal problem.
Wiggins had an instant impact after coming off the bench after starting his first 657 games in the NBA. He had his initial shot attempt blocked, but he sprinted back for a defensive block of his own.
The only thing he lacked was an outside shot, as he went 1 for 8 from beyond the arc.
Warriors: Golden State began a playoff series on the road for the fourth time in Steve Kerr’s 25 postseason series. Last season, the Warriors won Game 1 and the series against Houston in the Western Conference Finals, as well as the second round against Memphis. Golden State was defeated in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals by Toronto.
Sacramento starters missed their first 15 3-point tries until Fox nailed one late in the third quarter.
UP THE NEXT GAME 2 is scheduled for Monday night in Sacramento. The Warriors haven’t trailed a playoff series 2-0 since the second round against Utah in 2007.