After 20 years of being subjected to a lackluster basketball product, Sacramento Kings fans desperately wanted to shout out their celebratory chant one more time. At least one more time. Then there would be no more room for mockery. The long-perceived jesters would be on their way to a true royal coronation. The Golden State Warriors were not ready to cede their unquestioned NBA crown just yet, however.
They had some help, as the Kings repeatedly got in their own way in a troubling Game 7 loss. The Golden 1 Center, which had been completely rejuvenated after a successful 48-34 regular season, was painfully emptied out Sunday after the 120-100 score became final. A second-half slumber against a much more experienced and accomplished team should not overshadow this drought-ending year, but it is a stark reminder of the wide gap that still lies between them and the top of the Western Conference.
The Kings are young and have time to build on this breakthrough. Heck, this devastating defeat could be the catalyst for sustained excellence. Right now, though, it is the catalyst for an old fashioned shaming.
Unfortunately, it is time for us to hand out the badges of dishonor, as we pinpoint the 3 players most to blame for the Kings Game 7 loss versus the Warriors.
1. De'Aaron Fox
You all knew this was coming, but let me just go on a bit of a detour before I regrettably take De'Aaron Fox to task. Domantas Sabonis was quite objectively Sacramento's best player on the floor in this decisive clash, shooting 10-of-16 for 22 points while recording eight rebounds and seven assists. But only Fox looked like an All-Star for the majority of the series.
Sabonis was outworked on the glass by Kevon Looney too frequently and was a background player on offense in several important stretches. His most memorable moment in the NBA Playoffs was being stomped on by Draymond Green. The big man wears both physical scars and reputational ones (more for his underwhelming play rather than grabbing Green's leg).
And even with a productive Sunday, he still missed opportunities the Beam Team needed him to convert. But a full stat sheet exonerates him from specifically being the Game 7 scapegoat. That falls on the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year. I do not say that in jest, either. A superstar was emphatically born these last couple of weeks. He was just eclipsed at the worst possible time.
Fox scored 16 points on 5-of-19 shooting (3-for-10 3-point range) and had five of his team's eight turnovers. Golden Sate head coach Steve Kerr's plan to finally stifle the 25-year-old worked to perfection. He was unable to comfortably dance around to find his mid-range sweet spot. There were also few free drives to the basket to be had. Fox was treated like the dominant force he is, but he had no response on this day.
2. Malik Monk deserves some blame
My reluctance will continue with our next culprit, Malik Monk. The former Kentucky Wildcat was an absolute difference-maker all year long, including the postseason. In Game 7, though, it was for the worse. His jumper was hot and cold during the entire series, but he wrapped up with arguably his worst showing, going 4-of-14 from the floor and 2-of-8 from distance.
The dynamic guard just could not find his rhythm on offense- a recurring theme for Sacramento- and was responsible for too many wasted possessions. He was one rebound away from a double-double, which highlights his ability to contribute in other ways, but he knew how critical his firepower was going to be in this environment.
Overall, Monk continued to solidify himself as one of the top role players in the NBA. Though, he can be an erratic talent who unfortunately saw the flip side of his play style come to fruition in a big way.
3. Harrison Barnes
There are other candidates like Kevin Huerter and Trey Lyles who did not play quite to form, but Harrison Barnes has to be on this list. The only reason he is not No. 1 is because my expectations were higher for Fox and Monk. Barnes does not need to score 20 points to impact a game. He produces in multiple ways and is the elder statesman of this squad, having been with the Kings for the last four-and-a-half years. None of those attributes shined through in Game 7.
Barnes has a penchant for playing poorly in the few win-or-go-home contests in which he has competed, per NBACentral. He did so again on Sunday, firing off a brutal brick in the early moments that set the tone for his afternoon. For the second straight game, the veteran wing was an afterthought and logged less than 16 minutes of action. He scored just four points and failed to really make a statistical imprint anywhere else.
Barnes' postseason woes remain inextricably linked with the Warriors. The 30-year-old is now an unrestricted free agent. It remains to be seen how his struggles will affect his market value or the chances of a Kings return.
Fans will grieve appropriately, but then must remember how significant this season was for the franchise, and more importantly a city that had been silent far too long. This should not be a one-off.