Kevin Huerter

What we learned as Huerter, Murray fuel Kings' tournament win

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SACRAMENTO – Things looked different inside Golden 1 Center as the Kings welcomed the Oklahoma City Thunder to town on Friday night.

The Kings hosted their first NBA In-Season Tournament game in Sacramento, with a customized court featuring a special gray and blue design with a hint of red to honor the franchise’s rich history and 100-year anniversary of royalty.

What wasn’t different Friday was Mike Brown’s starting lineup, as the Kings' coach decided to stick with the same first five for the second consecutive game, and it paid off in a 105-98 win over the Thunder.

With Kings All-Star point guard De’Aaron Fox missing his fifth straight game, two-way guard Keon Ellis took over the starting spot alongside Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes and Domantas Sabonis.

The unit got off to a hot start, scoring 34 points in the first quarter. The Kings never gave up their lead over the course of the entire game, outshining a young up-and-coming Thunder team without their best player.

Sabonis finished with a 17-point, 13-assist, 12 rebound triple-double, while Huerter scored a team-high 2 points and Murray added 24 points.

Here are the takeaways from the Kings’ tournament win that pushes their overall record to 4-4.

Don’t Huert(er) ‘em

It appears Huerter might have found his groove again.

The Kings sharpshooter, who shot 40 percent from 3-point range last season, was shooting just 28.6 percent from behind the arc this season entering Friday's game.

He struggled in Sacramento’s seven-game playoff series against the Golden State Warriors in April, and fans grew concerned when those shooting struggles didn’t improve six months later.

But Huerter's confidence never wavered, and he continued to stick with it. And his patience paid off.

Huerter wasted no time getting going against the Thunder, dropping 15 points and sinking three treys in the opening quarter.

Huerter finished with 28 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and three steals in 34 minutes.

Keegan “OH MY GOODNESS” Murray

The second-year NBA forward has been dealing with a frustrating shooting slump this season. There’s no other way around it. He entered the game shooting just 33.7 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from deep. But Murray continued to find ways to contribute offensively.

Brown has told him to continue to “let that thing fly” and be aggressive with the ball.

And Murray certainly took that to heart Friday night.

After going 0 for 5 from deep in the first half, Murray decided to get to the rack and create his own shot. Late in the second quarter, he took one dribble around Thunder guard Josh Giddey toward the basket and threw down the meanest poster dunk of his young NBA career over Oklahoma City’s 7-foot big man Chet Holmgren.

Like the Kings’ bench, the crowd at Golden 1 Center immediately erupted. The dunk even got a rare and slight smirk out of Murray.

Murray came out the half and heated up from behind the arc, knocking down three straight treys.

While he’s still trying to fully maneuver out of the slump, the Kings are asking Murray to continue to be aggressive on the offensive end of the court. On Friday, he listened.

He finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds, three steals and one block in 40 minutes.

A 7-foot problem? Not for the Kings

Holmgren and all 7 feet of him have been a problem for opposing teams this season.

The league finally has been able to witness the damage that the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 draft, who didn’t play last season due to a foot injury, can make on the court.

But not for Sacramento.

Holmgren entered Friday's game averaging 16.8 points on an efficient 57.5 percent shooting from the field and 55.6 percent from downtown.

On Friday, the Gonzaga product was limited to just 12 points. He added seven rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block and was a minus-16 in plus/minute rating in 30 minutes played.

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