Call it the clutch gene. Call it the ‘it factor.’ Call it whatever you want, but Tyrese Haliburton is a big time player.
The Kings’ 21-year-old rookie is getting another opportunity to join the team’s starting lineup with De’Aaron Fox on the shelf. He didn’t disappoint against the Golden State Warriors, despite Sacramento’s 117-113 loss.
After a quiet first three quarters, the former Iowa State star went to work in the fourth, dropping 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the final 12 minutes of action.
“He’s been great all year and with De’Aaron out, we need him to do even more and he’s willing to step up to the challenge like he did in the fourth tonight,” center Richaun Holmes said.
Haliburton finished the night with 24 points, eight assists and just one turnover in 37 minutes of action. He knocked down 10-of-20 from the field, including a 6-for-7 performance in the fourth with the Kings and Warriors trading baskets.
“I didn’t play that well until the fourth,” Haliburton said. “I’ve definitely gotta be better, but the great thing about the NBA is, I go to sleep and play tomorrow”
With Haliburton hitting, the rest of the roster went cold. As the two teams battled down the stretch, it was either the rookie or bust, with the rest of the roster shooting a combined 0-for-8 in the fourth quarter.
“He was kinda struggling from the standpoint of finishing throughout the game and then in the fourth quarter, I thought he did a better job of really committing to the rim, instead of just settling for the floater,” head coach Luke Walton said.
He gave his team a chance to win and probably should have been the player handling the ball of the team’s biggest possession of the game in the waning moments. Unfortunately for the Kings, Haliburton was the only player to make a field goal in the fourth.
There is plenty of room for growth in the rookie’s game. He’ll bulk up during the extended build up to the season, but he’s learning how difficult it is to keep that mass throughout an entire season.
While he holds his own on the offensive side of the ball, there is plenty of room for improvement on the other end of the court.
“He’s got such good instincts,” Walton said. “He’s got to keep experiencing and learning how to make plays for us on the defensive end. Because offensively, he keeps growing. He’s a very good player.”
Haliburton struggled to stick with two-time NBA MVP and current NBA scoring leader Stephen Curry. He got beat on some back cuts and was lost in rotations on occasion. This is all part of the process of learning the game at the next level.
“This is a great opportunity in this final stretch of the season,” Walton said. “For all of us, but for him, especially.”
It doesn’t get any easier for Haliburton. In the Western Conference, every night is a challenge, especially in the backcourt. After dealing with Curry on Sunday, he’ll draw Luka Doncic on the second night of a back-to-back Monday at Golden 1 Center.
“It’s the NBA, it’s the Western Conference,” Haliburton said. “It’s just a part of it. It’s crazy to think, but that’s become an every night thing. There’s always guys on the other team that can get 20-30 whenever they want. That’s just a part of being in the best league in the world and I’m loving every second of it. I’m loving every second of competing and I’m looking forward to keep growing as a player and as a team.”
Before Sunday, Haliburton had seen his numbers dip after a strong start that had him winning back-to-back Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards. With 12 games remaining in the season, Haliburton will have a shot to make his case for the Rookie of the Year trophy, especially with Fox set to miss plenty of those contests.
“It’s good for me and my development to kinda be put into a new role, asked to do more, asked to do other things, instead of De’Aaron,” Haliburton said. “It’s going to be good for my development, but at the end of the day, I just want to win games.”
This isn’t how the Kings drew up the final stretch of the season. If they could have found a way to knock off the Warriors, they would have at least given themselves a shot to make things interesting down the stretch.
But they are now six-and-a-half games out of the play-in games with 12 games to play and the season is all but lost. Fox and Haliburton continue to be the beacon of hope for this franchise and there is no reason for to take a step back with so little time left.
When Fox returns, there are going to be some tough choices for Walton, but Haliburton shouldn’t be one of them. It’s time to let the rookie run wild and see what he can do.