PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; tied 2-2.
Although the San Antonio Spurs are back at the AT&T Center and still hold home-court advantage in the first round against Sacramento, consecutive victories have the Kings confident they can take control of the series.
The Spurs look to regroup, while the Kings try to roll to a third straight win when the teams meet for the crucial Game 5 at San Antonio.
The Spurs opened the series at home with a 34-point romp and won Game 2 in overtime with the help of a Brent Barry 3-pointer that sent the contest to an extra period, but the last two games have been a different story.
Ron Artest, suspended for last Tuesday’s Game 2 loss for elbowing Manu Ginobili in the opener, averaged 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds as the Kings took Games 3 and 4 at Arco Arena over the weekend. Sacramento won 94-93 at the buzzer on Kevin Martin’s layup Friday, and Bonzi Wells powered the Kings to a 102-84 victory Sunday with 25 points and 17 rebounds.
“We’ve got to go down (to San Antonio) and steal one—(but) we might not even call it a steal,” Wells said. “We know that we can play with this team, and we can beat them.”
The Kings’ confidence is due in large part to their rejuvenated defense, which improved immediately with Artest’s return. The Spurs shot 54.1 percent and averaged 125 points in Games 1 and 2, but were held to 45.6 percent and 88.5 points in the last two games.
Wells has also been rejuvenated in this series.
Traded to Sacramento in August after a tumultuous stay in Memphis that saw him benched in the playoffs after clashes with coach Mike Fratello, the forward is averaging team bests of 21.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in this postseason. Wells averaged 13.6 points and 7.7 boards during the regular season.
“He’s just been a monster,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “They have a hard time guarding him. He’s quick, he’s aggressive, he’s obviously strong. I think the most impressive thing is the way he rebounded the ball.”
Brad Miller had 19 points for Sacramento on Sunday, Mike Bibby scored 16 and Martin continued to contribute off the bench with 14 points. Martin was just 3-of-9 from the field but made all seven of his free-throw attempts to push his streak to 23 in a row without a miss in the series.
Artest finished with 14 points and shut down Ginobili for the second straight game. Ginobili, a 15.1 points-per-game scorer during the regular season, managed eight points on 3-for-9 shooting in Game 3 and three points on 1-for-4 shooting Sunday.
“He might not be as publicized as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, but I play like he’s Kobe or Michael Jordan,” Artest said of Ginobili. “He’s so talented and athletic. You’ve got to give 100 percent every minute of the game or he’ll scorch you.”
The Spurs trailed by as many as 26 in the fourth quarter, their largest deficit this season.
“They beat us in about every facet of the game,” said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, whose team hasn’t lost three straight games since April 18-24, 2005. “They were physical, aggressive, showed a lot of desire, and we didn’t match it.”
Game 6 will be Friday night at Sacramento.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Kings - 8th seed. Spurs - 1st seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Kings - Wells, 21.0 ppg and 12.3 rpg; Bibby, 6.0 apg. Spurs - Parker, 20.3 ppg and 5.3 apg; Duncan, 10.0 rpg.