The dream season came to a conclusion for Domantas Sabonis and the Sacramento Kings after falling to the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA playoffs in a series filled with rivalry and controversy.
Sabonis helped lead Sacramento to a surprising 48-34 record in the regular season where it secured the third seed in the Western Conference. This was due to a season in which Sabonis had a career-high in assists per game (7.3), field goal percentage (61.5) and 3-point percentage (37.7) along with leading the league in rebounds per game (12.3).
The former Zag was unable to replicate this consistency in the playoffs, where his outside shooting and playmaking influence lessened significantly. He shot 1-for-5 on 3s and only eclipsed five assists twice during the series.
This was not his first playoff experience, as he played important roles in the 2018 and 2019 playoffs for the the Indiana Pacers, although both of those series resulted in a loss as well. It was, however, his first time in a leading role, being one of the Kings’ stars.
“Domas is the anchor,” said Kings guard Malik Monk. “Everything goes through Domas.”
As a result, the spotlight was on him often, which only became more apparent after the second game of the series.
In the stomp heard around the world, Warriors starter Draymond Green got tangled up with Sabonis near the end of the second game and proceeded to forcefully step on the center’s chest. Green was awarded a Flagrant 2 foul and was ejected from the game.
The Kings went on to win the game and Sabonis did not seem to hold any animosity towards Green after the game.
“It’s playoff basketball,” Sabonis said. “Look at the fans. This is it. We’re here to fight. Every time we step on the floor we’re going to give everything for our teammates and the franchise.”
Despite being questionable for the next game, he battled through the injury as X-rays came back negative.
Unfortunately Sabonis, it would not be the last time in the series that he would get beaten up. Warriors center Kevon Looney’s elbow made contact with Sabonis’ face, leaving the all-star with a black eye, yet he still finished the game.
Looney and Sabonis engaged in battle the entire series. Sabonis, the league’s rebound king, was outrebounded by the Warriors’ big man who had three games with 20 or more rebounds, the first player since Dwight Howard in 2008 since doing so in a playoff series.
Golden State also did a good job at attempting to neutralize the playmaking ability of Sabonis which had been so crucial to the Kings’ success. By playing in the paint, far away from him, it clogged up the passing lanes and made Sabonis take some mid-range shots he is not typically as comfortable with.
The defensive strategy was effective as Sabonis’ assist totals were down from his season average. On top of that, Sabonis only had a positive plus/minus in the second and sixth games of the series, both wins by the Kings.
Fouls had been an issue all season for the former Zag and they were amplified in this series. Sabonis led the NBA in total personal fouls in the regular season and in the sixth game of the series fouled out for the tenth time including the playoffs.
Despite the seeming disappointment, Sabonis still averaged a double-double in the series and was an important part of why the series made it to seven games.
With a young core of players like De’Aaron Fox and Keegan Murray, this is likely not the last time the Kings and Sabonis will be in the playoffs. While this series did not end in the way they wanted, the season was a great step in the right direction for a franchise that had not seen a playoff series since 2006.