Fox leads Kings past Warriors 126-123 in playoff return
De’Aaron Fox finished off a dazzling playoff debut that was years in the making and had one more task to do.
With the home crowd counting down following an exhilarating return to the postseason, Fox pressed the button and lit the ceremonial beam, letting out 17 seasons of frustration for Sacramento.
"Sacramento showed out tonight," Fox said. "But doing this for the fans, just knowing the way that they support this team through thick and thin — really thin. It’s just a testament to the way they are."
Fox was the biggest reason why, scoring 38 points to tie for the second highest playoff debut in NBA history to lead the Kings to a 126-123 victory over the defending-champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday night.
Fox scored 29 points in the second half after taking time to adjust to the playoff physicality and hit the 3-pointer that gave Sacramento the lead for good late in the fourth quarter.
Fox took until his sixth season to reach the postseason stage but announced himself as a star as only Luka Doncic scored more points in a playoff debut with 42 against Dallas three years ago.
"You need guys like that on your side because they know everything that we’re throwing at them," coach Mike Brown said. "There’s no secrets. You have to have guys on your team that can go make plays and Foxy went and made plays tonight."
The first playoff meeting between the Northern California neighbors lived up to the hype and delighted the raucous crowd that had been waiting for a playoff game since 2006.
The inexperienced Kings closed the game strong against a Warriors team that won four titles in the previous eight seasons.
After Stephen Curry hit a corner 3-pointer to give Golden State a 114-112 lead with about four minutes left, the Kings responded with seven in a row starting with a 3-pointer from Fox.
The Warriors didn’t go away and cut the deficit to one on a layup by Curry in the final minute. But Andrew Wiggins missed a corner 3 for the lead in the closing seconds of his first game in more than two months.
"That last one felt amazing," Wiggins said of the last shot. "Only up from here. … I’m here to compete and I believe in myself."
Malik Monk made two free throws to make it 126-123 with 2.9 seconds left. Curry missed a runner from 3 at the buzzer, giving the Kings their first playoff win since April 30, 2006, against San Antonio.
"That first game is kind of a feeling out process," Curry said. "We responded. That’s what we are capable of doing. It was a high energy game from start to finish."
Monk finished with 32 points off the bench and Domantas Sabonis had 12 points and 16 rebounds.
Curry led the Warriors with 30 points, Klay Thompson added 21 and Wiggins and Poole scored 18 apiece.
It was a festive environment in success-starved Sacramento where fans gathered outside the arena hours before the start of the Kings first playoff game following an NBA record 16-year drought.
The arena was deafening starting in pregame warmups with some fans even bringing back the cow bells that were so common during their playoff runs two decades ago.
"It was incredible all night," forward Harrison Barnes said. "When guys ran out for layup lines with how loud it got in there and I think everyone got chills."
The excitement appeared to take a toll on the inexperienced Kings, who struggled shooting the ball early. Sacramento shot just 39.2% in the first half and trailed Golden State 61-55 at the half.
The Warriors built the lead to 10 points in the third quarter before Sacramento ended the quarter on a 15-4 run fueled by 10 points from Trey Lyles to take a 91-90 lead into the fourth.
Wiggins showed few signs of rust in his first game in more than two months after leaving the team to deal with an undisclosed family matter.
Wiggins came off the bench after starting his first 657 games in the NBA and made an immediate impact. He had his first shot attempt blocked but hustled back for a block of his own on the defensive end.
The only thing missing from his game was the outside shot as he was 1 for 8 from 3.