Domantas Sabonis

Sabonis makes history in perfect full-circle moment vs. Warriors

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Last April, Domantas Sabonis was scrutinized and faulted for being "exposed" in the Kings' first-round NBA playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Nine months later, he responded perfectly.

Sabonis was welcomed to Chase Center with loud boos during pregame introductions, a predictable reception from a fanbase who hasn't forgotten or forgiven his on-court altercations with Draymond Green during their seven-game series last season. His response? A 26th consecutive double-double.

The Lithuanian big man finished with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and a perfect 2 of 2 from 3-point range, with eight rebounds and 13 assists in 35 minutes.

Sacramento escaped with yet another down-to-the-wire, thrilling 134-133 victory over its Northern California neighbors, and it was the perfect boost of adrenaline to kick start the team's seven-game road trip.

Sabonis' latest showing placed him amongst Kings royalty, too.

The 27-year-old's 26th straight double-double is now the second longest double-double streak in a single season in Kings franchise history, surpassing Oscar Robertson's 25-game streak (Jan. 12, 1964 to Feb 26, 1964).

Additionally, Sabonis is on pace to become just the third center in NBA history to average more than eight assists per game in a season.

Phew.

But Sabonis' performance -- aside from the history and records he continues to make and break -- was telling for other reasons.

After averaging 19.1 points on 61.5-percent shooting from the field and 37.3 percent from behind the arc in 79 regular-season games for the Kings last season, with 12.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists, Sabonis' numbers noticeably decreased in Sacramento's postseason meeting with Golden State.

Was he exposed? We wouldn't go that far. Did he underperform to his standards? One hundred percent. Warriors beloved big man Kevon Looney gave him problems, yes. Sabonis averaged 16.4 points on 49.5-percent shooting from the field and 20-percent from 3-point range in the nail-biting, best-of-seven thriller, with 11 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

Steph Curry's epic Game 7 edged the Warriors past the finish line in front of a stunned Golden 1 Center crowd to end the Kings' season, but what was talked about and remembered was Sabonis' lack of offensive aggressiveness.

In that playoff series, the Warriors gave Sabonis ample space to shoot the ball and, despite being a mostly efficient scorer, he hesitated to let it rip. Over and over again. A wide-open mid-range shot would become a pass to an outside shooter or a dribble-penetration that became a turnover.

Sabonis had few words at the final postgame press conference of the 2022-23 NBA season, but he turned the frustrations into actions over the offseason, working on his shot all summer -- something his teammates took notice of.

"Yeah, I mean, seeing him in the summer, the amount of work that he's putting in. Obviously we don't need him taking step-back 3s or anything like that. But when they're giving him that much space, we want him to take those shots," Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox said postgame. "And he's doing it. He's doing it with confidence. You become a better shooter when you actually want to take those shots.

"So we're not asking him to shoot four, five, six 3s a game, but if he shoots one or two that's perfectly fine. It opens up the space for everybody else. So as he continues to grow his confidence on the shooter, it helps the entire team. And I think that's also a big thing for me, just growing your confidence as a shooter. It helps."

Sabonis isn't ever one to boost himself, even crediting his historic night to his teammate's and the flow of the game.

But he did admit his jumper is something he has "been working on" since last year.

In what has been an up-and-down and, at times, frustratingly confusing season, Sabonis has been steady as a rock for the Kings through the halfway point of the 2023-24 campaign. The 6-foot-10 center is averaging 20 points on 61.0-percent shooting from the field and 40.4 percent from deep, along with 12.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists.

His historic showings might get swept under the rug for some NBA fans, but him being Mr. Reliable for the Kings this season certainly is appreciated in Sacramento.

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