PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference semifinals; tied 3-3.
Defense has only been occasionally effective in this series, so maybe the best way to counter good offense is with better offense.
The Kings forced a deciding Game 7 with a 115-109 victory at Arco Arena on Thursday night. Sacramento had four players score 20 or more points, a result of continuously pounding the ball inside to Vlade Divac or getting penetration from its guards.
“We need to play like we did tonight,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “We got to really control the tempo.
“We can’t let it get into a racehorse game there. If they are going to do that, we got to be efficient offensively. I think that’s such a key for us. If we aren’t efficient offensively, they’re going to get out and make runs at us.”
The Kings were very efficient in Game 6, repeatedly getting inside for easy baskets. They had a 58-32 advantage in points in the paint and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive when they did miss.
“Letting them score (58) points in the paint is ridiculous. That’s the difference in the game,” Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki said. “It’s tough to win when you’re shooting jumpers and they’re shooting layups.”
While the Kings obviously took a big offensive hit when leading scorer Chris Webber was lost in Game 2 with a knee injury, they still have plenty of players that can step up.
One of them is guard Doug Christie, normally known for his strong defensive play. He is averaging 18 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the four games since Webber was hurt, including 20 points, nine boards and six assists Thursday.
“I was blessed with some ability and my job is to make this team go, whatever way,” Christie said.
Dallas also has plenty of scorers, so the advantage Saturday could go to the team that gets more production from its bench.
The Mavericks got 35 points on 15-of-23 shooting from Nick Van Exel on Thursday. It was the third game in this series with 35 or more for Van Exel, who is averaging 20.1 points and shooting 50.5 percent in the postseason.
“He has been my best player in the playoffs,” Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. “I love the guy, he is able to raise the level of his play under fierce competition and pressure of big games, and not many are able to do that. But he is one of those guys, and he has proven it in this playoff.”
But as good as Van Exel was in Game 6, Sacramento got more points from its bench.
Van Exel was the only Dallas reserve to score, while the Kings got huge games from Bobby Jackson and Jim Jackson. Bobby Jackson scored 21 points and Jim Jackson had 16 points and 12 rebounds, including seven offensive boards— which Van Exel said was because of effort.
“They were hungrier tonight than we were,” Van Exel said. “Bobby Jackson played great off the bench. Jimmy Jackson, unbelievable with his effort, you know, to keep possession for his team. That’s what it’s about. We got to get hungry.”
The Kings are facing a decisive game for the fourth time in the last five years. They lost Game 5s to Utah in 1999 and to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000, then lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to the Lakers last season.
Sacramento could be one of the teams that benefits from the Lakers’ elimination, knowing it won’t have to face its nemesis again. But that won’t matter if the Kings don’t find a way to win a decisive game for the first time since 1981, when they were still based in Kansas City and beat Phoenix in seven games in the West semifinals.
The Mavs, meanwhile, are facing a seventh game for the second straight series. They needed seven games to beat Portland in the first round after winning the first three games.
“My team will be ready, and I am sure Sac will be ready,” Nelson said. “It will be quite a game. I’m looking forward to it.”
The winner advances to face the San Antonio Spurs in the West finals. That series will start Monday night at the SBC Center.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Mavericks - Nowitzki, 24.9 ppg and 11.0 rpg; Nash, 7.2 apg. Kings - Stojakovic, 23.6 ppg and 6.7 rpg; Bibby, 5.0 apg.
REGULAR SEASON SERIES: Kings, 3-1. The Kings won the first three matchups before a 129-123 overtime home loss on March 16, snapping their six-game winning streak in the series. Nowitzki put up 28.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game in the series, while Webber averaged 23.0 points, 13.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in three meetings.