To say the first two games of the best-of-seven series between the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors were “surprising” might just qualify as an understatement. After two games, the Kings – who haven’t made the playoffs since 2006 – have seized a 2-0 series lead thanks to back-to-back home-court victories.
A home team (and higher seed) winning may not be surprising in and of itself, but the teams involved add some intrigue. After all, the team down two games is a dynastic Warriors franchise — with multiple NBA championships in the last decade — led by one of the greatest shooters of all-time in Stephen Curry. Despite their No. 3 seed, there was no indication going in that this series would be a cakewalk for the Kings.
What happened? How did we get here? And what can we expect moving forward? In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the Kings-Warriors series.
Entering the Series
On paper, the Kings might justifiably have been favoured. After all, they captured the third seed as the surprise Pacific Division winners in a competitive Western Conference. The defending champion Warriors, meanwhile, only managed to clinch the sixth playoff spot. When you look a little more closely, however, it isn’t so cut-and-dried.
Indeed, despite their lower seed, the Warriors were the favourites in almost every conceivable way. The Warriors were slight favourites (between one and two points depending on the sportsbook) heading into Game 1 in Sacramento. And while the regular season may have been a point in favour of the Kings, it was widely believed that the Warriors would prevail given their recent history: they were NBA champions in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2022.
Moreover, the Warriors were widely considered by oddsmakers to be the more likely team to make a serious run at this year’s championship. According to Betway, the Warriors began the playoffs with +750 odds to win it all. The Kings, meanwhile, came in at a much less favourable +5000. This was largely understandable; it was to be Sacramento’s first playoff appearance in 17 years.
And with a core group including Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole, the Warriors appeared to have all the necessary pieces to repeat as champions. The last time they went back-to-back was in 2018, when they captured their third title in four years.
As far as series odds go, Betway had the Warriors at -275 and the Kings as big longshots at +220.
Game 1 didn’t go to plan for the Warriors. The atmosphere was electric in Sacramento — as it should be, after 17 years of missing the playoffs. In front of a packed house, De’Aaron Fox put the team on his back, and ensured that the Kings’ return to the playoffs would not disappoint.
Fox’s 38 points equalled the second-highest total points ever scored in an NBA playoff debut. Those points also propelled the Kings to a 126-123 victory. Fox had 29 points in the second half, including the three that put Sacramento up by just enough late in the fourth quarter.
For the defending champions, it might have felt like nothing more than an aberration. After all, they had been down one game before – four times, to be exact – and know that one loss does not make a series. Moreover, they were in it late, with Curry delivering a trademark three that felt momentarily as though it could have been the dagger.
Hoping to rebound in Game 2, the Warriors came out swinging, and the ensuing game was nothing short of a battle. The Kings pulled off a surprise win, running out 114-106 winners on home court, giving them all the momentum and a 2-0 series lead to take to the Bay.
Fox, the star of Game 1, led the Kings once again. In just his second playoff game, Fox put up 24 points on the way to the win. But the difference wasn’t just Fox; the Kings forced 22 Warriors turnovers, keeping the champions off-balance throughout the game.
In the first half, the Kings were matching the Warriors in turnovers, but they promptly righted the ship and started turning possessions into points. The post-game narratives, however, have so far turned not on the basketball, but on the physicality of the game.
Both teams played a rough, bruising brand of basketball in Game 2. Commentators dubbed the game a “wrestling match,” epitomized by a controversial incident between the Kings’ Domantas Sabonis and the Warriors’ Draymond Green.
After being knocked to the floor during a rebound attempt, Sabonis grabbed Green’s foot. Green responded by stomping on Sabonis. Green received a Flagrant 2 for his efforts and an ejection from the game. After review, Sabonis was given a technical foul but remained in the game.
The Kings proceeded to dominate the boards, and earned 25 points off turnovers as well, including several contributions from their bench. They now have the defending champs in an unexpectedly precarious position with the series headed to Oracle Arena.
Early Wednesday morning, the NBA announced that Green has been suspended for one game without pay by the league. That means he’ll miss Game 3 on Thursday night.
The NBA cited Green’s history of unsportsmanlike conduct as a partial reason for the suspension that resulted from the Warriors forward stomping on Sabonis’ chest. Green showed no remorse for his actions as he left the court following his ejection in Game 2.
Sabonis, who underwent X-rays for potential rib and lung injuries, is questionable for Game 3 with a sternum contusion and will be a game-time decision. Thankfully for the Kings, the X-rays came back negative.
Green, meanwhile, has also requested an X-ray. He appeared to have injured his ankle in the scrum and remains questionable going forward. Given his importance to the Warriors’ championship efforts, losing him for any extended period could prove dangerous for their comeback efforts.
A Look at Game 3
Neither the sportsbooks nor the fans have lost faith in the Warriors. The champions are 7.5-point favourites to win Game 3 at Betway, with moneyline odds at Golden State -330 and Sacramento +260. And with a fired up home crowd behind them, it may well be reasonable to expect a more inspired Warriors performance this time around.
Indeed, the Kings have certainly been feeding off of the home crowd so far. The fans’ energy coupled with Fox’s lights-out performance were a powerful one-two punch, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see a young Kings team look a little shell-shocked in front of the Warriors’ faithful.
If the Warriors are going to get the momentum back in the series – which they are now +140 underdogs to win – they will need an emphatic performance in Game 3. Curry has been good so far, with 30 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2. But the Warriors fans will be looking for their star to put in a vintage performance in Game 3 and be the difference-maker in what will likely be another close game.
The Kings, meanwhile, will need to manage Game 3. The first quarter will be about survival; a raucous crowd and a team full of fired up defending champions will make for a difficult storm to weather. The relatively inexperienced Kings will need to keep things tight through any potential onslaught to keep things within reach.
Golden State Warriors – Series Winner
Who Takes the Series?
You can never count out the Warriors, particularly if Curry plays as we all know he can. For many bettors, taking the Warriors at +140 to win the series will feel like the smart play. While it might seem presumptuous to count out a team with a 2-0 lead, but it’s not often the underdog is a team with as much pedigree as Golden State. Nonetheless, the Kings are only -165 at Betway, which makes for another tempting wager given their commanding position on the series scoreboard.
Indeed, there’s a lot of series left to be played and both games have been close; Game 1 could have easily swung the other way, and turnovers played a critical role in Game 2. While they certainly have the talent necessary, the Warriors simply can’t fall in an 0-3 hole.
To call Game 3 “do or die” for the Warriors would be an understatement. The Warriors still have +1200 odds to win the championship this year, compared to the Kings’ +2200 odds, but falling into an 0-3 hole would still be tantamount to a death sentence. No team in the history of the league has come back from such a deficit, and it would take a miracle to pull it off this year.
The Warriors will be expected to put together their best performance so far in Game 3 — and it’s likely that they will. Though the Kings have started well, nobody would be surprised if the Warriors came back into the series with a Game 3 win and reclaimed favourite status going forward. If the upstart Kings want to advance, they’ll need to bring their A-game for the third game running.