De’Aaron Fox has produced some big fourth-quarter finishes over the course of his career, but nothing quite like this.
Fox scored a career-high 23 points in the fourth to lift the Kings to a 114-106 victory over the Phoenix Suns before a crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center. Suns fans headed for the exits after Fox hit a late 3-pointer to set off a chorus of “Light the Beam” chants inside the arena.
“Shots just started going in,” Fox said. “It’s as simple as that. I tried to stay aggressive, teammates were getting me open with screens, and we were getting matchups we liked.”
Kings center Domantas Sabonis said the Kings’ fourth-quarter altercation with Suns center Jusuf Nurkic might have lit a fire under Fox, who finished with 34 points and seven assists despite a quiet start.
“You can’t really poke the bear,” Sabonis said. “When you do, he’s going to come out and fight and compete.”
Sabonis had 15 points, 17 rebounds and five assists for the Kings (12-8), who bounced back from a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in the in-season tournament quarterfinals. Sasha Vezenkov came off the bench to score 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Keegan Murray and Malik Monk added 13 points apiece.
After three quarters, Fox had 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. He was 1 of 4 from 3-point range with zero free-throw attempts.
In the fourth quarter, Fox could not be stopped. He went 6 of 9 from the field, 3 of 3 from beyond the arc and 8 of 10 at the foul line.
“That’s his time,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “He is one of the best in the league in crunch time and in the fourth, and we also threw a number of different coverages out there at him. And a lot of times, the ball finds Sabonis, who is another elite playmaker, and they’ve got shooting all over the floor, so that is a big reason why they were one of the best teams in the West last year. We weren’t able to slow down the rest of the guys while trying to slow down Fox.”
The Kings outrebounded the Suns 50-40. They grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, resulting in a 16-6 advantage in second-chance points.
“Big win for us,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “Especially after our last outing, and that’s what I told the guys. The neat thing about the NBA is the next game is coming quickly and you’ve got to be able to move on from whatever you just went through whether it’s good or bad, so for our guys to come in here and find a way to get a win was really good.”
Devin Booker had 28 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Suns (12-10). Phoenix was missing two of its best players after Kevin Durant (ankle) and Bradley Beal (back) were ruled out due to injuries, but Booker carried them early.
The Kings went 2 of 10 from the field and 0 of 6 from 3-point range to start the game, allowing the Suns to take early leads of 8-0 and 15-6. Brown turned to his bench in search of a spark, inserting Monk, Keon Ellis and Trey Lyles alongside Murray and Sabonis.
Murray and Lyles hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut the deficit to three. A subsequent 6-0 run tied the game, prompting Vogel to take a timeout to get Booker back in the game.
The Suns led 26-24 at the end of the first quarter. The Kings shot 41.7% and went 2 of 12 (.167) from 3-point range in the opening period. They began to find a rhythm in the second quarter, but only briefly.
Monk made a couple of 3-pointers. Vezenkov knocked down another. The Kings went up by as many as five, but they trailed 59-50 after the Suns finished the first half with a flourish, staging a 13-3 run over the final 2:59.
Booker had 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting at the break. Fox had six points on 3-of-12 shooting. The Suns shot 52.4% from the field while holding the Kings to 37.3%.
The Suns went up by 11 early in the second half before the Kings battled back. They mounted a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to one, reclaimed the lead on a 3-pointer by Ellis and carried an 83-71 lead into the fourth quarter after outscoring the Suns 33-12 in the third.
The intensity picked up after Ellis took a charge from Booker early in the fourth quarter. Nurkic stood over the fallen Ellis, drawing an angry response from the Kings. Monk and Lyles pushed Nurkic away. Fox continued jawing at Nurkic until he was pulled away. Nurkic and Monk each received a technical foul before play continued.
Fox downplayed the idea that the Nurkic incident triggered his assault on the Suns.
“Not, really, no,” Fox said. “What happened, happened. We just felt like you shouldn’t stand there over somebody like that, and that’s all it was.”
Moments later, the Suns had cut a 15-point deficit to six midway through the fourth quarter when Nurkic was called for a flagrant foul penalty-1 for a reckless closeout on a 3-point attempt from Fox. The Kings were awarded three free throws and possession of the ball. Fox made two of his three free throws, buried a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession and blew a kiss to the crowd after helping the Kings reestablish a double-digit lead.
A flagrant foul call on Booker later gave the Kings two more free throws and another possession, helping them hold on for the win.
“We went up and made free throws, and we got the ball back and scored on both of those possessions,” Fox said. “Those are definitely huge swings in a game.”
Brown liked the response from his team, including Fox, the reigning Clutch Player of the Year in the NBA.
“He relishes big moments and he knew that we needed a big moment from him, and he just did what he does,” Brown said. “I think he’s Mr. Clutch already. He showed it tonight.”
Thanks for the assistants
Brown said assistant coaches Luke Loucks and Doug Christie were instrumental in turning the tide for Sacramento.
“I had two assistants do a really, really good job tonight,” Brown said. “Luke Loucks is the first one. He suggested a box-and-one (defense) on Book. That’s just a credit to how Book was playing.
“… The other was Doug Christie. We started the third with a couple of missed shots. We have an offensive set we had run in the past. He asked that we do it again to see if we could get Fox going a little bit, and we got great looks. Both those guys had big nights as assistant coaches. I give them a lot of credit for helping us win this game.”
Vogel was asked before the game if slowing Sacramento’s running game starts with slowing Fox.
“It’s not just De’Aaron,” Vogel said. “Obviously, it starts with De’Aaron. He’s one of the fastest guys in the league and he’s a load to try to slow down with his shiftiness. You’ve got to bring multiple defenders to him, so it starts with him, but their ability to run and shoot 3s, their ability to have Sabonis rebound and push himself with four shooters running with him, all are great concerns in slowing them down in transition.”
The Kings will return to Sacramento to face the Brooklyn Nets on Monday at Golden 1 Center.
The Nets (11-9) had won two in a row and five of their last six going into Friday’s game against the Washington Wizards. They were ninth in the Eastern Conference, four games behind the conference-leading Boston Celtics.
Cam Thomas leads the Nets in scoring at 24.3 points per game. Mikal Bridges is averaging 23.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists. He had 42 points in a win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday and 32 points in a win over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.
Cameron Johnson (15.2 ppg), Lonnie Walker IV (14.6 ppg), Spencer Dinwiddie (14.6 ppg), Nic Claxton (11.9 ppg) and Dorian Finney-Smith (11.2 ppg) are also scoring in double figures.
Ben Simmons has only appeared in six games this season. He is out with a lower back injury. Harry Giles III, who has a fan favorite in Sacramento form 2018-20, has appeared in two games for the Nets.
Dec. 11 vs. Brooklyn Nets
Dec. 12 at Los Angeles Clippers
Dec. 14 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Dec. 16 vs. Utah Jazz
Dec. 18 vs. Washington Wizards