Most nights, the Kings don’t have to worry about scoring. Keeping the opponent in check usually is the problem.
But in two of the first three games of this four-game trip, the Kings have had extended scoring droughts that were too much to overcome.
For the second time in three games, the Kings failed to score at least 100 points and lost, falling 104-94 to the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday at AT&T Center.
The Kings trailed 57-54 at halftime but collapsed in the third quarter, when they missed their first six shots and committed three turnovers in the first 5:14.
“It didn’t seem like the first four or five possessions of the second half we were ready to play,” Kings coach George Karl said. “I think San Antonio’s history is they’re close at halftime and they come out and try to hit you really hard.”
While the Kings went cold, the Spurs went on a 12-0 run to lead 69-54.
The Kings, who had vowed they would fight for a playoff berth, lacked the fight to bounce back against San Antonio, which improved to 30-0 at home despite the absence of three starters.
“Every game has momentum swings, but our momentum swings last too long,” Karl said. “Instead of lasting three to five possessions, they go seven, eight possessions, and that’s when frustration comes in. And this is a game you’re not going to play well all the time and you’ve got to fight through that stuff. I think a lot of games, good defensive teams turn momentum around with defensive plays.”
For most of the season, the Kings have been unable to rely on their defense when the offense is struggling, a problem compounded against teams such as the Spurs that are preparing for the playoffs.
“You’ve got to figure it’s the second half of the season and they’re playing for something after the last (regular-season) game in April,” guard Darren Collison said of the Spurs. “They’re picking up their defensive intensity and we’ve got to find ways to execute and move the ball. It just seems that when they pick up their intensity, we just forget how to execute at times.”
On Wednesday, the Memphis Grizzlies showed the Kings what it’s like to deal with playoff-level focus. The Grizzlies limited the Kings to 15 points in the second quarter, and the Kings finished with 98.
On Saturday, the Spurs held the Kings to 13 points in the third quarter and 40 in the second half.
“I think they turned up the pressure a little bit, started denying some stuff and took us out of our rhythm,” forward Quincy Acy said. “We responded later, but we can’t start out quarters like that, especially against good teams.”
One reason the Spurs are so good is they execute regardless of who is on the floor. Coach Gregg Popovich rested Tim Duncan and Danny Green, and LaMarcus Aldridge was out because of a migraine.
The reconfigured lineup was hardly an issue for the Spurs. Kawhi Leonard had 25 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, and Manu Ginobili scored a season-high 22 points after testicular surgery forced him to miss the previous 12 games.
San Antonio had enough firepower to counter DeMarcus Cousins’ 31 points and nine rebounds. Acy added 16 points, making all seven of his shots.
The Spurs continued to move the ball well, recording 31 assists, while the Kings had only 21 assists.
“It’s a learning experience for us as a team,” Collison said. “We’re still learning as a group and we’ve got to go through our growing pains. And playing against teams like San Antonio, the elite teams, it’s going to help our growing pains.”