SAN FRANCISCO – His team huddled up before taking the floor, Harrison Barnes hollered a message to the Kings with their special season on the line: “Leave it all on the floor and take this series back to Sac!”
With spectacular performances on both ends against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, the Kings are going home to Sacramento for Game 7 against the defending champions.
Malik Monk can only imagine what a winner-take-all showdown might be like with a chance to extend this long-awaited playoff run as all those supporters try to will their Kings into the second round.
For Curry and Co., there's no imagining necessary — they know what hostile road environments feel like for elimination games, having been there so many times over the past decade on the way to four titles.
“Man, I never been to Game 7, so I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect,” Monk said. “I just know I’m going to go out there and play 110 percent, give it my all, and continue to do what I’ve been doing, and that’s attacking the rim and making plays for my teammates. So I’m going to be ready.”
Facing elimination, upstart Sacramento shined on both ends and hardly looked to be feeling any added pressure in a commanding 118-99 Game 6 victory Friday night.
Whenever Curry worked his offensive magic, Monk or Fox or Keegan Murray did something brilliant of their own. With big man Domantas Sabonis in foul trouble, others like Trey Lyles came through to quiet a fan base dreaming of a Warriors repeat title.
“We’ve put ourselves in a situation where we have to be the team that’s playing with desperation, obviously on the road in a Game 7. There’s a lot of belief that we can do that," Curry said. "There’s a lot of belief in every single guy that’s going to be out there on the floor, that we can make the necessary adjustments. If it is an energy thing, that’s something you can control and correct it. So you’ve got to embrace the challenge of what’s in front of us and try to go get the job done.”
If the Kings got a glimpse of their homecourt advantage in the initial two games of this series, Golden 1 Center might be at another level on Sunday.
“It’s going to be rocking. We’ve had loud games this year,” De'Aaron Fox said. “Coming out for Game 1, I think our guys were amazed at what was going on. But going back there for a Game 7, I feel like — everybody doesn’t get to experience a Game 7, but not a lot of people get to experience a Game 7 in Sacramento.”
Coach of the Year Mike Brown joked he doesn't have “magic dust” regarding what to do against the Warriors other than compete with the same physical authority on both ends because he has seen Golden State thrive through all the toughest moments.
Brown was the Warriors' top assistant before joining the Kings.
“We're going to have to play at our best. Again, they’re the champions,” he said. “We’re going to have to play at an elite level for 48 minutes against these guys because they’re going to bring it, trust me.”
All that work to earn the No. 3 seed and home court sure matters now for these Kings — “that’s part of the reason why we bust our behind all year,” Brown said.
The Warriors, meanwhile, must regroup and try to rediscover the energy and efficiency they had in a 123-116 win Wednesday at Golden 1 Center. On Friday, they missed 10 free throws while shooting 35 — three that Curry couldn't convert and three missed by Andrew Wiggins. Klay Thompson shot 2 for 9 from 3-point range.
“When I said that was the best win of the season Game 5, this is probably the worst loss of the season, but there’s no time to hang our heads," Thompson said. "Luckily for us, we still have another crack at it. I still have absolute belief in this team that we can go get it done on the road. It will be a tall task but we are up for it and I know we will respond.”
Curry is counting on that, too, and knows it will start with smart basketball despite the challenging atmosphere.
“Coming out with a sense of composure is a big thing, especially if you’re on the road because it’s going to be hostile and their crowd is going to be into it,” Curry said.
Brown has embraced the notion of his young team learning on the fly in what is the first playoff series for most. Each game, each situation provides new experiences and opportunities for growth.
He is thrilled by how the Kings have handled outside noise, such as anyone who counted Sacramento out of this series before the ball had even tipped in Game 1.
“The job's not done," Brown said, “so we've got to see how we're going to respond in a Game 7 for the first time as a group.”
WARRIORS AT KINGS
Series tied at 3-all. Game 7, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
— NEED TO KNOW: The Warriors — trying to improve to 19-0 in playoff series against Western Conference opponents under coach Steve Kerr dating to the team's 2014-15 title run — know every miscue will be magnified after their 18 turnovers led to 23 Kings points in Game 6.
— KEEP AN EYE ON: Sacramento's Kevin Huerter. After struggling all series with his shot — 20 of 52 in the first five games — the fifth-year forward hit two crucial 3s down the stretch and might have a performance to build on going into the decisive Game 7. “You got no idea. It feels good,” he said. “Just got to see the ball go in sometimes.”
— INJURY WATCH: Sabonis has a cut beneath his left eye after being hit on a jump ball by Kevon Looney. Fox insists he's doing great despite the broken index finger on his shooting hand. He scored 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting and had 11 assists but will strive to cut down on turnovers after committing 11 over the past two games. “I feel fine. Obviously at times it’s going to hurt, but that is what it is,” Fox said.
— PRESSURE IS ON: Golden State won once on the Kings' home floor in Game 5 after a dismal regular season on the road and now the defending champions must find a way to quiet the playoff-starved, cowbell-clanging Sacramento crowd to save the season after losing Games 1 and 2 at Golden 1 Center.