There have been times when Kings coach Michael Malone questioned whether his team hated losing more than it loved winning and impressive statistics. The message being the Kings could not begin to improve until individual glory took a back seat to doing all that was possible to prevent a loss.
There was no questioning that the latest loss stung. The commotion could be heard in the hallway outside of the visitors’ locker room with DeMarcus Cousins’ voice the loudest.
The broken whiteboard in the locker room apparently paid the price for this loss, a 112-104 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday at AT&T Center. The Kings led by nine in the fourth quarter only to see the Spurs pick them apart with a closing 13-2 run.
“It was competitive, and sometimes guys get a little frustrated,” Malone said. “But it’s all good; everybody’s fine in there. We’re staying united.”
Cousins, who has been known to be emotional after losses, said this loss hurt because of the manner in which it happened, but there were no problems with the Kings other than the loss.
“Yeah, because we had a chance to beat a really good team,” Cousins said. “Even with that being said, we had a great effort. It was just the fact that we had a chance to beat a really good team on their home court, and it was just breakdowns and some minor things at the end that helped them win the game. That would probably be the reason why.”
The Kings overcame a 15-point deficit in the first half with a 38-point third quarter and led 90-81 with 10:59 to play. That’s when the Spurs began chipping away. The Kings led 102-99 with 3:24 to go. Manu Ginobili tied the score at 102 with a 3-pointer with 3:10 to play. The shot started the run that won the game for the Spurs.
“I believe we kind of got into a panic and we didn’t execute our stuff well,” Cousins said. “Defensively, we broke down a lot.”
Ginobili benefited from the breakdowns, scoring 10 of his team-high 28 points in the fourth quarter.
The Kings’ defensive problems coincided with the offense stalling. The Spurs (24-7) had Tim Duncan defend Cousins late, and the Kings scored five points over the final five minutes.
“I think we got a little selfish at that point,” forward Rudy Gay said. “The ball stuck a little bit, and you can’t do that against a team like that.”
Point guard Isaiah Thomas said the Kings’ problems, however, aren’t on offense, saying, “It was no big deal” about the lack of late scoring. He was more concerned about the defensive mixups that still haunt the Kings (9-20).
“We didn’t make shots, but we just broke down defensively,” Thomas said. “You do that against a championship-caliber team, they’re going to tear you apart each and every time.”
Ginobili, Parker (22 points, seven assists), Duncan (17 points 13 rebounds) and Boris Diaw (14 points, seven assists) all helped tear apart the Kings. The Spurs had a season-low four turnovers due to their crisp execution.
“You’ve got to know who’s hot,” Thomas said. “Ginobili was the one in attack mode and a couple of times when Tony Parker got to the hoop we over-helped. ... We’ve got to learn from it and we’ve got to do better because we can’t make mistakes like that against a team like the Spurs.”
Cousins finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds. Thomas had 27 points and nine assists. Gay had 24 points and nine rebounds.
Cousins said all things considered, there were several positives to take from the game.
“I can’t even be mad about this loss because we really had a chance to win this game,” Cousins said. “We did a lot of good things. It was just some minor things that really helped seal the game.”
But believe, the Kings weren’t happy with how the game ended. The broken whiteboard was proof of that.