PLAYOFF SERIES: Western Conference first round; Spurs lead 3-2.
Game 1 between the San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings made it seem this series might not last long. Instead, Bonzi Wells and the Kings are one home win away from pushing the defending champions to the limit.
Doing anything but looking ahead to a highly anticipated second-round matchup, San Antonio hopes to avoid a third consecutive loss at Arco Arena while eighth-seeded Sacramento tries to force a Game 7.
Every contest in this series has been close since the Spurs routed the Kings 122-88 in Game 1. The home team has won every game, but Sacramento forced overtime in Game 2 at San Antonio and tied Tuesday’s game there late in the fourth quarter before falling 109-98.
Despite allowing Wells to finish with 38 points and 12 rebounds, the Spurs managed to take a 3-2 series lead before heading back to Sacramento, where they lost Games 3 and 4.
“We need to finish this series, definitely,” said point guard Tony Parker, whose Spurs didn’t lose three consecutive road games all season. “If we’re going to be a great team, we need to win games on the road. This is a perfect opportunity.”
Of the 128 playoff series in NBA history to be tied at 2, the team that took Game 5 went on to win the series 107 times.
The only time the Spurs blew a 3-2 lead came against Washington in the 1979 Eastern Conference finals. The Kings have never come back from a 3-2 deficit.
“Nobody is counting us out, except maybe Spurs fans,” Sacramento’s Ron Artest said. “We’ll be all right.”
A win Friday would set up the Spurs for a second-round series against the Dallas Mavericks, who settled for the No. 4 seed in the West after battling San Antonio for the conference’s best record for much of the season.
Before even thinking about facing MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks, the Spurs must worry about slowing down one of the hottest players in the postseason.
Wells, not much of a factor for Sacramento during an injury-plagued regular season, has averaged 27.5 points and 13.8 rebounds in the last four games. Wells, moreso than Artest—considered the biggest reason for the team’s midseason turnaround—has given the Kings a chance to oust the top-seeded Spurs.
“He’s been great,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We’ve tried just about everything on the guy, and he’s been more of a problem for us than anyone else has all year. I think that’s pretty safe to say. There are a lot of great players in the league, And you’re usually successful in limiting somebody to some degree. Not him.”
Even Wells’ standout performance, along with Artest’s 24 points, wasn’t enough for Sacramento to complete a late rally from a double-digit deficit against San Antonio on Tuesday.
“They are an excellent team, and they play well together as a team,” Wells said. “We thought we had a chance (in Game 5) when we tied it up late in the fourth and came back from that tremendous deficit and at least gave ourselves a chance. But we’re coming back home, and hopefully we can get this game.”
Ginobili had scored 11 points in the previous two games combined, but hit six straight free throws to help seal the victory.
“Manu is a competitor,” Duncan said. “Mentally, he was prepared and he was ready to go tonight. He wanted to really come out here and attack these guys and not settle for anything less.”
Parker said he should be ready to play Friday after bruising his right thigh in a collision with Mike Bibby in Game 5.
Parker has gotten the better of the point guard matchup in this series, averaging 20.4 points and shooting 50 percent from the field while Bibby has scored 16.2 per game on 34 percent shooting.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Spurs - 1st seed. Kings - 8th seed.
PLAYOFF TEAM LEADERS: Spurs - Parker, 20.4 ppg and 4.8 apg; Duncan, 9.8 rpg. Kings - Wells, 24.4 ppg and 12.2 rpg; Bibby, 5.6 apg.