As the Kings became the talk of the basketball world for their good start, cynics sat back and waited for a night like this.
Facing an injury-riddled Oklahoma City team missing seven players, including superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Kings had their five-game winning streak snapped. The Thunder jumped on the Kings early and won 101-93 Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
A victory in Oklahoma City remains elusive for the Kings. They are 0-12 in road games against the Thunder and 0-15 in Oklahoma City, having lost three games when the New Orleans Hornets relocated there following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
As was the case in Friday’s double-overtime win in Phoenix, the Kings had a sluggish start. After trailing by 17 points in the third quarter, they pulled within a point but couldn’t complete the comeback.
The Kings’ 5-2 record still represents the franchise’s best start since the 2006-07 season. But the loss to the depleted Thunder reminded the Kings they have a few issues to address before they can consider themselves a good team.
“We’ve got to understand we’re not that good to just try to ease our way into the game and come back,” guard Darren Collison said. “We’ve got good players, but as far as a team, we haven’t accomplished anything. We really don’t have any excuse to start the game slow.”
The Kings had to expect the Thunder (2-5) would do anything to win. So if that meant grabbing, shoving and hoping to avoid being called for fouls, the Thunder did it, and the Kings did not handle it well.
Sacramento entered the game averaging a league-high 39.8 free throws. But the Kings attempted only 22 and more than once let the officials know they weren’t happy about not getting to the foul line.
“I don’t think we had the right mindset to start the game,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “ ... (Oklahoma City) played very physical. Their game plan was to beat us up, be physical, and every game takes on its own personality. I don’t think we responded well to that. We were more concerned about the officials than trying to play the game.”
The Kings could have made the officiating a non-issue by playing better. They scored only 39 first-half points and fell behind by 17 early in the third quarter.
In the first half, the Kings shot 36.6 percent. After their third-quarter comeback, they gave up 34 points in the fourth quarter.
“We dug ourselves a hole, and it came to a point where we expected calls and things to get us out of it, and it didn’t go our way,” forward Rudy Gay said. “We can’t start like that. It’s a good learning experience for us. No matter who we’re playing, we can’t come out and play like that.”
The four-game trip continues Tuesday against Dallas and ends Thursday against Memphis.
“We have to come out with a mindset that we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” Collison said. “Not because it’s us, but because we’re playing in a ballgame. They’re NBA players despite who they’re missing. Without Kevin or Russ, they’ve still got good players over there.”
Gay had 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and DeMarcus Cousins had 16 points and seven rebounds. Ben McLemore scored 16, and Collison had 12 points and seven assists.
Reggie Jackson led the Thunder with 22 points and six assists.
As for the officials, Gay said they can’t be the focus for Sacramento.
“They’re just doing their job just like us,” Gay said. “Some people are good at their job; some people have bad days. It happens. Everybody’s human. You can’t expect everybody to see everything.”