Keegan Murray

Murray shines under bright lights in Kings' win vs. Warriors

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SACRAMENTO – Keegan Murray woke up like normal Tuesday morning and stuck to the same game day routine he has had since his rookie NBA season.

He was getting ready for his eighth postseason game – of which all were against the Golden State Warriors. Facing a familiar foe helped unlock what happened inside Golden 1 Center on Tuesday night, when the No. 9-seed Kings ended the No. 10-seed Warriors’ season and kept their playoff hopes alive.

“We’ve seen them 10 times in the last whatever amount of time. I just knew kind of what my spots were going to be going into the game,” Murray said after Sacramento’s 118-94 win. “So I stayed aggressive and just capitalized on that.”

In a game that had at least three future Hall of Famers in Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on the Warriors' side, it was the 23-year-old Kings forward who shined the brightest on the court.

Murray wasted little time getting to work, knocking down Sacramento’s first points within the first 31 seconds of the game. It was a 26-foot 3-pointer, a play he said was designed for him from the get-go.

After that, the ball just kept rolling for the young forward.

“The first play was for me. We just kind of kept going to that early on in the game,” Murray said. “I kept being aggressive no matter if I was missing shots, missing bunnies, things like that. When your shot’s falling, especially when mine’s falling, [my teammates] always seem to find me at some point.”

And they did just that.

Murray finished with a game-high 32 points on 10-of-20 shooting from the field and 8 of 13 from beyond the arc, adding nine rebounds and two steals, and was a plus-20 in plus/minus rating in 39 minutes.

After Sacramento’s regular-season finale on Sunday, Murray said he was approaching Tuesday’s play-in contest against Golden State with an underdog mentality. He reiterated that after Tuesday’s win, stating he felt the Kings had their backs against the wall, but didn’t want to take credit for the win, instead heaping praise on his teammates.

He did acknowledge that with Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk out due to injuries, he made it an emphasis to step up in their absence.

“I just wanted to step up with guys out. I feel like especially the last couple of weeks, I just felt like I needed to step up in a way. Offensively, defensively. Tonight it was offensively,” Murray said. “So I feel like I did that. A lot of our guys stepped up, too. 

“[Harrison Barnes] was big for us down in the fourth quarter. Keon [Ellis] was big for us. For me, just to win this game, I just wanted to step up.”

The leaps Murray has taken since Sacramento selected him with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft have been massive.

He had a heavy load as a rookie, helping a historic offense reach new heights last season with his lights-out 3-point shooting. But the Kings demanded more of him in his sophomore season because they’re aware of his potential.

Murray stayed in Sacramento all summer with his teammate De’Aaron Fox. The two helped each other’s games grow while strengthening their bond both on and off the court.

Fox spoke like a proud big brother after the game Tuesday when asked about Murray’s big night and his overall growth.

“It’s been great, man. Just seeing his development and how different he’s been,” Fox said. “He hasn’t changed a whole lot. He talks to us a lot more than he did when he first got in the league. Just seeing him coming out of his shell, and also on the court coming out of his shell as well. It’s crazy because he actually changed his game a lot from college to the pros. And then last year, obviously him just being more of a movement shooter, but he worked on his game a ton.

“We played a lot of 1-on-1, he got a lot more comfortable dribbling the ball and creating his own shot, coming off DHOs and things like that. So just seeing that happen, obviously we want to see it on a consistent basis, but seeing that come to fruition, seeing the work that he put in all summer – especially in a big moment like this – it’s definitely been great to see.

“I think he still has levels to unlock in this game, and I think he’ll be a great player in this league.”

Fox finished the night with 24 points on 11-of-25 shooting from the field and 2 of 8 from deep, adding four rebounds, six assists and two steals in 39 minutes.

Playing without his Kentucky teammate and good friend Monk, in addition to Huerter – who both are essential pieces to Sacramento’s offense – Fox and the Kings needed some offensive insurance from someone else.

Somebody needed to step up and help Fox on the offensive end of the floor, and Tuesday night, it was Murray. Fox hopes the big night will build some momentum and confidence for Murray to carry over into New Orleans – and potentially beyond.

“We ask Keegan to be aggressive all the time,” Fox said. “Obviously Keegan’s a different guy, y’all see that. But we want him to go out there. We tell Keegan not to smile because every time he smiles, he misses. So we want him to go out there and we want him to be aggressive. And he stayed aggressive from the jump. That’s always going to be good for us. The more guys you have that can score the ball – we went to HB a lot down the stretch, so being able to have that many guys who can go get a bucket, that makes your offense that much more dynamic. 

“And with the way we’re guarding today, I think that makes us a tough team to beat.”

Fox hasn’t been the only one who’s been on Murray’s case all season long. That would be Kings coach Mike Brown, who has admitted to “chewing Keegan out” for giving up an open look.

But Brown viewed Murray as more than just a spot-up shooter. He is pushing him defensively while aiming to unlock new layers to what he can do with the ball in his hand.

“It's great. We've talked about it all year. Last year, Keegan was just a spot up catch-and-shoot 3-point shooter,” Brown said. “And all season, he's tried a step back 3, got in the paint. As a coach, he's a young guy, and at times, even for his teammates, it can be a little frustrating. But you know he can end up being great with that stuff. And so you got to keep giving him the freedom and the confidence to do it. 

“And his teammates have backed him all year. We’ve backed him all year. It's just a matter of time, in my opinion, before all those shots that he's taken and moves he’s making from all three levels become second-hand to him. It's a lot of fun to watch his growth on both ends of the floor.”

Murray’s not a rookie anymore, but his teammates sometimes still treat him as such. As one of the young bucks on the squad, he’ll take the teasing and the critical dunk ratings with a smile – or a half smile.

But the tough love environment Murray is growing up in has him well on his way toward NBA stardom. And Tuesday’s performance proved he’s capable of thriving on the biggest of stages.

“Fox and [Domantas Sabonis] did what they’re supposed to do,” Brown said, “but Keegan – the lights were as bright as they could be and he stepped up and he delivered.”

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