Richaun Holmes

Kings' Richaun Holmes continues to shine after crucial stop vs. Thunder

Kings' Richaun Holmes continues to shine after crucial stop vs. Thunder

NBA team used to try to post up 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas during his time with the Sacramento Kings. More often than not, they came up empty.

Thomas is stronger than he looks and a lot of guards aren’t comfortable playing in the post, regardless of who they are guarding.

Teams have tried to reverse this trend in the last few seasons in the league. Instead of isolating smaller players in the post, they instead try to drag bigs out to the perimeter and then take advantage of their often inferior lateral quickness.

That was the gameplan Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. With 13.4 seconds on the clock, the Thunder made sure the ball was in Chris Paul’s hand and then worked to get the switch they were looking for.

OKC then spaced the floor, isolating Paul on center Richaun Holmes and having him go one-on-one with the 6-foot-10 big.

“You’ve just got to guard,” Holmes told NBC Sports California. “Chris Paul is a Hall of Famer, a very smart player and you’ve just got to make him as uncomfortable as possible.”

Paul started on the left elbow and crossed over Holmes while sliding to the right elbow. The 6-foot-1 guard tried to step back and fall away to create space, but Holmes stayed with him stride for stride.

“You don’t want to let your teammates down, so I was just trying to make him take as tough a shot as possible and that’s what I was able to do,” Holmes added.

Paul’s 15-foot jumper barely cleared the outstretched right arm of Holmes and hit the front rim. Harrison Barnes flew in for the rebound and the Kings came away with the 94-93 win.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on a center, but head coach Luke Walton has trust in Holmes. The crowd was on their feet begging for one more stop. While Paul is dancing around waiting for an opening, you can see the Kings locked up in man-to-man coverage, leaving Holmes alone on an island.

“I could feel the energy come up,” Holmes said of the crowd. “We were able to rally around that. It was a good feeling. It was a good feeling to come out there and even a better feeling to come away with the win.”

Trevor Ariza is in the post fighting with Steven Adams, Bogdan Bogdanovic is boxing out Danilo Gallinari and both Barnes and Cory Joseph stayed tight on their men on the perimeter.

“Yeah, he’s impressive,” Walton said of Holmes. “He’s been impressive all year. I look back at that first win we were able to get against Utah here and he switched out on [Donovan] Mitchell in that game and made a great defensive contest. He’s been one of the main points with our defense turning around where it has from the start of the season to now.”

Sacramento was atrocious on the defensive end during their 0-5 start to the season, but they’ve turned things around. The Kings currently allow the 13th-most points per game at 108.3 and they are 19th in defensive rating. There is plenty more room for improvement, but they are winning games with their defense for the first time in years.

The Kings now have won three in a row against quality opponents by a combined six points. All three games came down to the final seconds.

“It’s the NBA, we’re competing, they’re competing,” Holmes said. “The last few games we’ve been going down to the wire. That’s what you live for. You live for the opportunity to be out there on the floor and make the play. I enjoy every minute of it.”

[RELATED: Bagley's 'best basketball yet to come' after his Kings return]

The schedule gets lighter over the next few games, but the Kings are not in a position to let up. They’ve almost recovered completely from their abysmal start to the season and are starting to get healthy at the right time.

Getting Marvin Bagley back may change Holmes’ role slightly with the team, but he earns every minute with his play on both ends of the court. His defense against Paul was just a small sample of what the Kings have seen throughout the first quarter of the season from their starting center.

Kings' Marvin Bagley remains confident despite rusty showing in return

Kings' Marvin Bagley remains confident despite rusty showing in return

SACRAMENTO -- Midway through the first quarter, Kings head coach Luke Walton looked down his bench and called on Marvin Bagley to go to the scorer's table and check-in. It was a big moment for Bagley, who had missed the previous 22 games with a broken right thumb.

Moments later, Bagley faced up his defender and hoisted up an 18-foot jumper. The shot attempt sailed over the rim, missing everything, much to the chagrin of all 16,723 fans at Golden 1 Center.

The moment was a reminder that Bagley is a 20-year-old kid who hasn’t played in seven weeks and will need some time to find his rhythm before he takes the expected leap into stardom.

“He didn’t play his best, he’s trying to get his feet back,” Buddy Hield said after the Kings’ 94-93 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. “His best basketball is yet to come.”

Bagley showed flashes of brilliance and bouts of impatience. He finished the game with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds and a block. He managed to make it through 23 minutes of play without needing an oxygen mask and he ran the floor like a gazelle.

“I had to get my wind back the first three times up and down,” Bagley admitted. “But then after that, I was kind of back to normal. I feel pretty good, I was able to get my second wind and keep pushing, so it was good overall.”

Taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Bagley opened the season as the Kings’ starting power forward. He’ll likely regain that spot, but for now, the team is playing well with Nemanja Bjelica at the four.

Walton used Bagley primarily at center, splitting minutes down the middle with Richaun Holmes. While Bagley has a more advanced offensive game, Holmes is a top-notch pick-and-roll player and a far superior defender at this point in his career.

The combination worked against the Thunder, but there will have to come a time when Walton figures out how to use both bigs on the court at the same time.

[RELATED: Kings in position to redeem themselves after playoff stumble last year]

What was evident from his time on the floor is that Bagley still has springs in his legs and his ability to get off the floor in traffic is elite.

It will take time for Bagley to completely find his game. A seven-week absence is a long stretch for any player, let alone a sophomore trying to work himself into a new role. The fact that he took 13 shots in his return to the court shows that he hasn’t lost his confidence and he’s ready to step in and being a primary scoring option.

“I mean, I’ll never lose confidence,” Bagley said. “My confidence is through the room no matter what’s going on during the game, no matter who’s coaching, no matter what. My confidence is always going to be there and that’s how I have always been. I know what I’m capable of doing. I know the kind of work I put in. My confidence is sky high so that’s never an issue for me.”

Bagley will get another opportunity to build on his first game back when the Kings host the New York Knicks on Friday. After losing 10 straight, New York held on to beat the Warriors on Wednesday evening for just their fifth victory of the season.

The Knicks are in the bottom of the NBA’s standings, but they have a big, physical, veteran frontline that will test Bagley and the rest of the Kings bigs.

Kings takeaways: What we learned in 94-93 last-minute win over Thunder

Kings takeaways: What we learned in 94-93 last-minute win over Thunder

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO -- After two stunning road victories over the Mavs and Rockets, the Kings looked tired and disinterested for the better part of three quarters against the Thunder on Wednesday evening at Golden 1 Center. 

And then they woke up.

In another barnburner, Bogdan Bogdanovic knocked down a 3-pointer with 13.4 seconds remaining to give the Kings the 94-93 lead.

Oklahoma City isolated Chris Paul on Richaun Holmes on the final play and the Kings’ center locked down the future Hall of Fame guard as Sacramento escaped with its third straight win in dramatic fashion.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings shook off the rough start to stun the Thunder late to move to 11-13 on the season.  

Keep shooting

Hield has been streaky all season long and it was no different against the Thunder. The Kings’ leading scorer missed his first six shots before finally knocking down a triple to get things started.

He was spotty throughout the game until late when he kept Sacramento in it with one big shot after another.

Hield finished the night with 23 points, six assists and six rebounds. He shot just 9-for-24 from the field and 5-of-14 from long range, but the Kings needed a scoring punch and Hield kept firing until he found it.

A shot and a stop

Bogdanovic watched his fellow countryman Nemanja Bjelica drop in a 33-footer for the win Monday in Houston. He had a little magic of his own against a veteran OKC team. 

With the shot clock winding down, Bogi got his defender in the air, took a dribble and knocked down a huge shot from the left wing to give his team a one-point lead.

Moments later, it was the defense by Holmes that sealed the victory for Sacramento. Holmes finished the night with 10 points and seven rebounds, but he made his money with the stop to win it. 

[RELATED: Fox feeling better, believes he's close to Kings return]

Bagley back

After a 22-game absence with a broken thumb, power forward Marvin Bagley returned to action and played with energy. 

It wasn’t the performance the second-year big was looking for, but he managed to score 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in 23 minutes of action. 

One of the highlights for the former No. 2 overall pick was a play in the second quarter where he took the inbounds pass on one end, went coast-to-coast and scored over Steven Adams for the And-1. 

The Kings need Bagley to quickly integrate into the system and find his game after the extended layoff.