SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—On the morning of Game 3, Mike Bibby and Cuttino Mobley made a vow: If the Sacramento Kings were doomed to be knocked out of the playoffs, they would leave playing their favorite high-energy, high-risk style of basketball.
And thanks to that mutual aggression pact, the Kings finally got a win in their first-round series with the Seattle SuperSonics.
Bibby had 31 points and seven rebounds in a dramatic improvement on his last two performances, and the Kings earned a 116-104 victory over the SuperSonics on Friday night to cut Seattle’s series lead to 2-1.
Kenny Thomas scored 22 points and Mobley had 21—both career playoff highs — for the Kings, who rode the energy from their deafening sellout crowd to a 21-point lead in the first half. With Bibby leading the way, Sacramento coolly stayed ahead throughout a foul-filled second half, making 50 percent of its shots.
The Kings were disgusted with themselves after two losses in Seattle, where the Sonics controlled the tempo, jumped to big early leads and played better defense. Bibby, the Kings’ floor quarterback, and self-appointed locker-room leader Mobley both worked to change things by studying film and putting in extra workouts after practice Thursday—and they outlined a simple strategy for themselves in Game 3.
“Before the game, we just said we were going to the cup every single time,” Mobley said. “Mike and I just talked about what we needed to do, how we needed to play to our strengths.”
The Kings’ playoff fortunes in this rebuilding season probably hang on Bibby, but the taciturn point guard didn’t live up to his vaunted playoff reputation in Seattle. He went 8-for-30 in the first two games—including a 1-for-16 performance that probably decided Game 1 in the Sonics’ favor.
“I knew I would bounce back,” Bibby said. “The fans helped us out a lot. They helped get the momentum going. We were aggressive in the first quarter. We jumped to a big lead.”
Bibby had his usual playoff determination from the opening tip, scoring 10 points in the first quarter while the Kings built a 15-point lead. He scored eight points and ran Sacramento’s offense with poise in the fourth quarter, finishing 11-for-21.
Game 4 in the best-of-seven series is Sunday night, with Game 5 back in Seattle on Tuesday.
Seattle’s Ray Allen scored 33 points and Jerome James had 22 points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the final minutes of yet another surprising performance. But just as the Kings did in the series’ first two games in Seattle, the Sonics fell far behind early and expended all their energy just trying to catch up.
“It seemed like we would take a step forward, and then take a step back,” Allen said. “The first two games, the things that we did to stop them, the schemes we used didn’t work tonight.”
Even after Seattle won the first two games, Sonics coach Nate McMillan warned his players about Bibby’s potential to dictate the pace and result of playoff games.
“That was him,” James said. “I’ve been waiting for Bibby to show up, and he announced his presence with authority.”
Seattle missed its final 10 3-pointers while the Kings fed on the usual crowd frenzy at Arco Arena, charging through most of the game with the aggression they lacked in Seattle.
“Everything that was told to us about how tough it was to play at Arco Arena—no matter what you do, nothing can prepare you for playing in this arena,” James said. “I told everyone about the cowbells.”
No NBA team has rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series, and the Kings have never even climbed out of an 0-2 hole to win a series in the history of a franchise that began as the Rochester Royals in 1948-49.
Star forwards Peja Stojakovic and Rashard Lewis shut down each other for most of the game, and a few Sacramento fans even heckled Stojakovic for his lack of production. Stojakovic finished with 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting, adding another subpar playoff game to his long list.
Lewis missed 11 games late in the season with a bruised foot and left knee tendinitis, which still bothers him. He was 0-for-6 in the first half, finishing with nine points.
Brad Miller, who had just 13 points in the first two games for Sacramento, scored 14 but had just three rebounds in his battle with James. Miller scored four straight baskets for the Kings during a prolonged second-quarter run.
The Sonics’ Luke Ridnour, scoreless in Seattle during Game 1, had 15 points. … Allen airballed two layups in the first half. … Former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian watched from a seat underneath the east basket. … Danny Fortson, who picked up five technical fouls in the Sonics’ four regular-season games against Sacramento, got his second T in three playoff games for a shove under the Kings’ basket in the third quarter.