Midway through the second quarter of Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings coach Mike Brown huddled his team up. Up 11, his message was clear: Keep. Pushing. These guys can’t keep up with us.
Here’s the bad news for the Warriors: Brown might be right.
For years — over their dynastic decade — it’s been the Warriors’ signature to outrun their opponents, ranking, in their title years first, fourth, third and third in pace.
They’ve used small-ball lineups, unrelenting speed and constant ball movement to play a style no team has been able to defend — let alone replicate.
But now, going into Game 3 up 2-0 in their first playoff appearance since 2006, the Kings are beating the Warriors at their own game.
“The biggest thing coming into the playoffs with a new group, everyone talks about physicality, but we don’t want that to slow down our pace,” Kings forward Harrison Barnes told ESPN. “All season long we’ve played fast, we’ve played loose, so we try to continue that moving forward.”
According to Second Spectrum, the Kings have had an average possession length of 14.1 seconds through the first two games, the second-fastest in any playoff series against the Warriors under Steve Kerr.
Even on half-court sets, the Kings are moving quickly. Their average possession length has been 15.3 seconds, also the second-fastest in any playoff series against the Warriors under Kerr. In these halfcourt sets, the Kings are averaging 1.15 points per possession — which would be the highest offensive efficiency on halfcourt sets in a series against the Warriors under Kerr.
“We feel our best chance is to be who we are and that’s playing extremely fast,” Brown said prior to Game 1.
The Warriors’ attempt to keep up has been as futile as it’s been damaging, turning the ball over 35 times through the first two games, up from their average of 15.7 per game in the regular season.
“[We’ve] just got to be able to get off to a better start in terms of playing fast but not in a hurry,” Stephen Curry said after Game 2. “That’s the line that we try to find, that sweet spot and that balance, especially with the way they’re guarding us. You’ve got to have some counters to their pressure because they are trying to extend their defense out. Playing fast into that sometimes can get you in a little bit of a rush.”
The Kings have outscored the Warriors 41-14 points off turnovers.
“Be quick, but don’t hurry — that summarizes everything about the game,” Kerr said Wednesday. “Our guys have been in a hurry. We showed them most of the turnovers from Game 2 and frankly, most of them have been unforced. Most of them happened because we were in a rush. … It’s just making sound decisions and simple decisions and not forcing the issue … slowing down just a tad will give us better decision making.”
Meanwhile, while the Warriors usually thrive in transition, they’re averaging just 0.83 points per such play in this series. The Kings are averaging 1.03.
Playing this quickly has been part of the Kings’ DNA all season long. And, in part, they have the Warriors to thank for it.
After facing them three times within the first month of the regular season, Sacramento learned that to have a shot at beating the defending champs, they’d, first and foremost, need to keep up with them.
“We were so gassed,” Domantas Sabonis told ESPN. “It was like, damn, this is how they run? We were playing fast already, but once we played them, that helped us get into shape and carry on. We knew if we were going to play the Warriors, we couldn’t be gassed in those first four or five minutes. It’s all about the conditioning.”
The Kings dropped those first two games to the Warriors, both at Chase Center, in addition to the team’s final regular-season matchup at Golden1 Center, though the Kings were without several rotation players. Their lone regular-season win against the Warriors was on Nov. 13 in Sacramento.
“Now in these fourth quarters, as we go up and down, you look at everyone’s face on the court — theirs and ours — everyone looks gassed, but we’re still trying to run. … We’re sticking to it.”