For much of Wednesday night, it seemed unlikely that the California sky would be lit up by the Sacramento Kings‘ beloved purple beam. But after the Kings used a stunning fourth quarter to complete a 19-point second-half comeback and beat the Denver Nuggets, 127-126, there it was, shining brighter than ever.
The Nuggets entered Wednesday night’s contest riding a five-game winning streak that included a win over the Kings the day before. Nikola Jokic was playing some of the best basketball in the league, and they were alone in first place in the Western Conference. Even without Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon for this one, all of those trends should have continued once the Nuggets built a 19-point lead in the third quarter. But despite 40 points, seven rebounds and six assists from Jokic, they were not able to finish the job.
Late in the third quarter, the Kings were able to put a little run together and cut the deficit down to 11. That gave them some much-needed confidence and energy heading into the fourth quarter, which they maintained for the rest of the game. In particular, the Kings ratcheted things up on the defensive end as they held the Nuggets to 21 points in the frame and forced five turnovers to seven made field goals.
On the other end, it was the De’Aaron Fox show. He scored 15 of his 31 points in the frame and was able to get to any spot on the floor out of the pick-and-roll. On more than a few occasions he targeted Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. on switches, and once he found a rhythm it was all over for the Nuggets.
Fox, who added 13 assists to go with his 31 points, was the hero in the fourth quarter, but he got some major assistance from Domantas Sabonis and Malik Monk. Back in the lineup after suffering an avulsion fracture in his thumb on Dec. 23, Sabonis put up 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Monk, meanwhile, dropped a season-high 33 points off the bench and hit the game-winning free throw with 0.7 seconds to play.
With the win, the Kings improved to 18-15 and remained all alone in sixth place in the Western Conference. Having lost three of their past four prior to this game, this was a massive win for the Kings to keep pace in a crowded playoff picture. They are 3.5 games back of the Nuggets for first place, but also only three games ahead of the 11th-place Minnesota Timberwolves.