There were a few memorable aspects to the Kings’ blowout victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday.
They hit their first 10 shots from 3-point range and tied an NBA record with 12 3s in the first quarter. They outscored Memphis 33-10 in the fourth en route to a 133-100 victory. Domantas Sabonis had a triple-double. Malik Monk was gunning for one, too. Harrison Barnes continued his scorching shooting month of January and Sacramento outrebounded the NBA’s second-best rebounding team, 52-31.
But one sequence involving Trey Lyles early in the fourth quarter, while the deficit was still single digits, stood out to Kings players.
“Trey’s back-to-back steals,” rookie Keegan Murray said, “I think were the highlight. I thought those were the game changers.”
With 9:33 to go in the game, and the score favoring the Kings, 105-96, Lyles poked a Desmond Bane pass away from Jaren Jackson Jr. in the left corner. The ball deflected up court and Lyles was the quickest to it. It led to a one-handed breakaway dunk, giving him two of his team-leading 24 points on the night.
On the next Grizzlies possession, big man Brandon Clarke tried to find Jackson in the post. He threw it high and wide, and Lyles deflected the ball to De’Aaron Fox, who found Monk for another fastbreak dunk, igniting the Golden 1 Center crowd to its loudest roar of the night.
That was an avalanche moment that turned a relatively competitive game into a blowout. Memphis, which was missing star point guard Ja Morant and playing on the second night of a back-to-back, eventually subbed in its reserves, and the Kings outscored the Grizzlies by 24 points the rest of the way.
“It was pretty cool,” Sabonis said of Lyles’ consecutive steals.
Lyles’ steals were part of arguably his best game of the year. His 24 points were the most he’s scored this season, while he added six rebounds and a season-high three blocked shots.
“He’s got a tremendous feel in his team defensive instincts within our scheme,” head coach Mike Brown said. “He can help us get to the next level.”
The Kings rank 23rd in the NBA in defensive efficiency, and their top two most used lineups — their five starters and when Davion Mitchell replaces Fox with the remaining starters — have 112.3 and 107.2 defensive ratings, respectively, which would rank in the neighborhood of the top 10 in the NBA.
Which also means the Kings reserve lineups haven’t been particularly good defensively. So when any of their bench players outside of Mitchell have a good defensive night, it’s notable.
Lyles, listed at 6-foot-9, gives the Kings versatility at power forward with the ability to play small-ball center in spurts. His playing time became most consistent in late December. He averaged nearly 19 minutes per game over his previous 15 before getting 25:21 on the court Monday. He finished a game-high plus-24.
“He’s going to bust his behind (defensively),” Brown said. “He’s going to use his length. He’s not afraid to get hit in the nose. He’s going to try to rebound and he’s going to get out and run. All those things get contagious. And so we need his presence because he’s not afraid, because he has a great feel, because he’s going to play so hard, because he’s going to try to finish the play with a rebound.”
Brown said those are the reasons Lyles became a mainstay in the rotation over the last month. And over that span he’s been shooting 39.5% from 3-point range, adding another shooter to Sacramento’s stable of marksmen. The Kings are 11-4 when Lyles scores in double figures.
“I can’t control the minutes I get, but I can control how I go out there and the effort I put forth,” Lyles said. “I notice that when I play harder and play faster and more aggressive, I play more, so I just gotta continue to do that.”