Call it a rookie wall. Call it bumps and bruises. Call it a blip on the radar.
Tyrese Haliburton has navigated a tough stretch of games lost to a sore calf, a prolonged stretch of minutes restrictions and some rough shooting nights. The Kings' star rookie looked like himself in Monday's 119-105 road win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Haliburton jumped all over the Cavs early, scoring 10 of his career-high 28 points in the opening quarter. From the moment he drilled his first 3-pointer, you could see his confidence was back.
“It was nice to see the ball go in the hoop,” Haliburton said in his postgame video conference. “I was getting to my spots, knocking down shots, having fun out there and playing confident. I thought I played pretty well.”
Always his own toughest critic, Haliburton said last week he has been “awful” since his return from injury. Against Cleveland, he looked like the player that won back-to-back Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards in January and February.
“I thought I was really hoopin’ before I got hurt,” Haliburton said. “I thought I was playing really well, Probably the best basketball I’ve played in my life.”
Haliburton attacked the paint against the Cavs and he was lights out from long range. He looked like the player who dominated early in the year.
In 36 minutes of action, the 21-year-old shot 11-of-15 from the field and knocked down 4-of-5 from long range. When the Kings needed him to help finish off the win, he responded with 14 points in the fourth quarter.
Haliburton wears his emotions on his sleeve. He takes losses extremely hard, but he’s authentic and real with the media, sometimes to a fault.
The rookie has been working with player development coach Rico Hines on the mental side of the game and is learning to live by a simple mantra.
“I do get really frustrated with myself, but I think the best piece of advice that anybody’s given me, probably since I got to the NBA -- Rico always tells me, ‘Just be at peace with yourself, be at peace with your game. That’s when you play your best is when you’re kinda at peace.’ He says that to me all the time.”
Haliburton thrived alongside his fellow starter in the backcourt. Point guard De’Aaron Fox posted 30 points, six assists, six rebounds and two steals. It was his ninth 30-point performance of the season, and Fox and Haliburton torched the Cavs' young backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland.
“I think we can be really good together,” Haliburton said. “Not only do we get along off the court, but on the court, we’re learning each other everyday. You know it’s like that when our communication is non-verbal.”
Sacramento is 6-5 over its 11 games and 3-1 since Haliburton joined the starting lineup following Marvin Bagley's latest injury. You can already see chemistry building between Haliburton and Fox, which is what the Kings hoped for when they selected Haliburton with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.
“They’re getting better every game they step out on the floor,” center Richaun Holmes said. “Watching Ty grow just from the beginning of the season ‘til now -- how in control he is and how he just plays ahead of his years. And we see De’Aaron turning into a star right before our very eyes. It’s been very fun and humbling to be part of the experience.”
It’s early, but the Kings appear to have found their starting guards for the next handful of years. They have a long way to go before we can predict just how good this pairing can be, but a combined 58 point performance against Cleveland should put a smile on Kings fans' faces.