SACRAMENTO -- Pick your poison. Slow Giannis Antetokounmpo and make someone else beat you, or focus on the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks and allow the reigning NBA MVP a chance to go crazy.
Friday night at Golden 1 Center, the Kings chose Option No. 1, and it didn’t go as planned.
“You always try to take away the best player and you kinda try to live with the results,” guard De’Aaron Fox said after the Kings' 127-106 loss. “Obviously, that’s one of the better teams in the league, and they have a lot of guys that can hurt you. Today, I feel like we did a good job of taking the best player out, and those other guys were able to hurt us.”
With the Kings double- and triple-teaming Antetokounmpo, first Eric Bledsoe got going. And then Khris Middleton, and finally Donte DiVincenzo.
“We did a nice job on Giannis, but by doing that, you’re kind of committing three guys to him all the time, which allows other guys to either get closeouts where they can shoot or they can re-penetrate,” Kings coach Luke Walton said. “And Bledsoe, Middleton and Dante, they hurt us tonight.”
The trio of Bucks combined to score 69 points on 26-of-42 shooting (61.9 percent) and it was too much for the Kings to overcome, regardless of how ineffective Antetokounmpo was.
“They’re efficient moving the ball, making the right reads,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “They utilize their players well.”
Antetokounmpo finished the evening with just 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. When you hold one of the league’s top scorers to 17 points below his season scoring average, you should have a chance to win.
“Khris is an all-star. Eric is a vet who’s been playing well in this league for a lot of years,” Fox added. “Everybody knows those guys, but they had big nights. Obviously Giannis was the main focus, but you don’t want to cut off Giannis without being able to corral those guys because one of them can always have a big night.”
In a season of learning experiences, this was a tough one for the Kings. They trailed 53-44 at halftime, and then made a huge run in the third quarter to take a 63-60 lead. Milwaukee responded with a 28-7 run over a five minute and 38-second window in the third to put Sacramento away.
“They’re the No. 1 team [in the league] and they’re going to stick to what they do regardless of if they’re up, down [or] if someone is out,” Kings big man Harry Giles said. “With us, I just think we’ve got to learn how to stick to what we’re doing and just keeping the same level of intensity regardless of what goes on in the game.”
The box score has one glaring stat that stands out. Sacramento stayed close in almost every category, except free-throw attempts, where it was outshot 30-10.
“We shot 10 free throws and they shot 30, so, I mean …,” Fox said. “They made two more shots than us, we made the same amount of threes -- you lose by four. They shot 20 more free throws than us, and we end up losing by 21. It is what it is.”
Playing defense without fouling has been an issue all season for the Kings, but the home team was called for 24 personals, compared to just 12 for the Bucks. Sacramento was even the aggressor for much of the night, outscoring Milwaukee 64-54 on points in the paint.
The Kings made plenty of mistakes, which they need to clean up. They fouled the Bucks shooting 3-pointers on multiple occasions, and two moving screen calls that took Hield triples off the board.
The Kings have another two-day break to work out some of their issues before taking on the Orlando Magic on Monday at home. The Magic don't have a player like Antetokounmpo, but they play hard and currently sit at 18-21 on the season.