SACRAMENTO -- The San Antonio Spurs aren’t 48-9 on the season by chance. They are the most finely-oiled machine in the NBA and they only need a slight stumble to put you away.
For the Sacramento Kings, that slip came in the late third quarter and the Spurs pounced all of them for a 108-92 victory.
There are plenty of reasons that the Kings lost Wednesday night’s game. But the play of the bench stands out like a 3,000 pound elephant in the room. Karl turned to his reserves to end the third quarter and open the fourth, and the second unit struggled.
With 4:15 remaining in the third and the game tied at 61-61, Karl made his first substitutions. Over the next two minutes he made another two moves, leaving Rajon Rondo on the floor with Marco Belinelli, Darren Collison, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos.
The mix didn’t work, and before Karl could get most of his starters back on the floor, the Spurs had punished the Kings with a 28-11 run over an eight-minute stretch. In the blink of an eye, the game over.
[HAM: Instant Replay: Streaking Kings stifled by dominant Spurs]
Following the loss, Belinelli was singled out for his play by the media. The veteran guard went scoreless in 15:29 of action, missing all five of his shots and running a -21 in the plus/minus category. Karl was asked point blank why he stuck with Belinelli for so long and the veteran coach took exception to the question.
“I’m not going to explain my rotation,” Karl said to open the postgame press conference. “Pushing buttons like we’ve played all season long.”
Belinelli wasn’t the only Kings player to turn up an ugly plus/minus. Despite scoring 15 points on 7-of-8 shooting and dishing out six assists in 31 minutes of action, Collison ran a -29. Cauley-Stein posted a -24, but like Collison, his overall numbers were good. The rookie scored 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting, grabbed six rebounds and picked up two steals.
This is why there is always a danger in looking at a player’s plus/minus game-by-game. The sample size is too small to make any determination. For one night, against an incredible opponent, Karl used specific player combinations and his team collapsed.
“They capitalized off our missed shots,” Rondo said following the game. “We didn’t do a good job of getting back in transition in those moments. It seemed like it happened so quickly -- the lead was 10 and it went to 19.”
This is another learning experience for the Kings. The locker room following the game was not downtrodden. The players understood that they made a few mistakes and got handled by a really good team. It didn’t help that the Kings played in Denver the night before.
“The system and what they do -- run everything perfectly, it’s the most perfect team,” Cousins said. “I think we kind of ran out of gas at the end. They’re a tough team, man, a tough team.”
The Kings needed to play a spectacular game to beat the Spurs, who currently own the NBA’s second-best record. San Antonio has made the playoffs in 35 of their 39 seasons since moving to the NBA for the 1976-77 season and they have five NBA Championships since the 1998-99 season. They are the model of consistency and they have been for nearly 40 years.
Sacramento has a day off on Thursday before jumping right back in against the Clippers on Friday night. They need to have a short-term memory if they hope to bounce back against another quality opponent.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
The Kings outscored the Spurs 44-42 in points in the paint, which looks good at first glance. But Sacramento shot just 22-for-50 (44 percent) from the highest-percentage area on the floor. In comparison, San Antonio hit 22-of-27 (81.5 percent) from the same region. The Kings couldn’t hit “bunnies” in the lane and it cost them the chance to win against a high-quality opponent.