SAN ANTONIO (AP)—The Sacramento Kings schemed in secret Sunday.
Really. Coach Rick Adelman pulled a black curtain across the entrance to the AT&T Center floor before the Kings’ lengthy practice, so only his players and staff were privy to any of Sacramento’s plan for avoiding another humiliating playoff loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
But if that plan doesn’t include a way to slow down speedy point guard Tony Parker’s drives to the hoop in Game 1, or something to limit the effectiveness of the Spurs’ seasoned group of reserves, the Kings might soon pull back that curtain to find nothing behind it.
On Sunday, both teams got what they earned in San Antonio’s 122-88 victory to open the best-of-seven series. The Spurs took the day off, while the Kings spent nearly 4 hours watching videotape of the disaster, followed by a workout that nearly stretched into the early evening.
“I’m not saying we’re going to win Tuesday, but we’d better be better to the point that we can just compete,” Adelman said. “We want to try to make this a long series.”
The Spurs’ dominance was hardly surprising, given their franchise-best 63-19 regular-season record and their top seed in the Western Conference postseason. But the Kings’ feeble responses to San Antonio’s usual strengths were head-scratching to those who watched Sacramento’s evolution into an above-average defensive team over the last 36 games.
“It was still embarrassing to watch, but you’ve got to learn from it and make it the exact opposite the next time around,” said Mike Bibby, who scored 17 points but couldn’t guard Parker. “A lot of it is effort. We came out lackadaisical. You could tell by our body movement. It was embarrassing, and nobody wants to be embarrassed on national television.”
The Kings lost most of the flair and hard-nosed passion they developed while following the lead of Ron Artest, who went 7-for-21 after getting hit in the mouth by Manu Ginobili’s elbow on the game’s opening possession.
The resulting cut inside his upper lip required three stitches—and it kept Artest quiet after the game and on Sunday, when he declined to speak to the media.
But Artest can’t solve the Kings’ biggest defensive problem in this series. Parker, the lightning-quick All-Star point guard, has become too good to be defended by one player.
Parker scored 25 points in just three quarters of work Saturday, playing the type of all-around game that put him among the NBA’s elite guards this season. Bibby always has trouble against the league’s fastest ball-handlers, but his teammates were little help when Parker drove into the paint.
“I had never seen him so quick before,” San Antonio’s Robert Horry said Saturday. “He took off one time, and I was like, ‘Gosh.’ He’s been carrying us for a long time down the stretch here, but he was amazing.”
The Kings have plenty of additional problems beyond Parker. Their frontcourt struggled mightily, with center Brad Miller’s four-point, one-rebound performance in 26 1/2 minutes the most glaring deficiency.
Adelman believes Sacramento’s psyche will be tested in Game 2. Though the coach’s detractors point to his reactive coaching style as a reason for his teams’ sluggish adjustments, he has always been an outstanding manager of his teams’ divergent personalities.
He has two days to convince his players that the defending world champions can be beaten when they’re reasonably healthy and highly motivated.
“We have to see what this team is going to do in this situation, and I think they’ll respond,” Adelman said. “This is a kind of test we’ve had earlier in the season. We get challenged like that, and we have to have an answer.”
Artest always has colorful opinions on the Kings’ fortunes—but he wasn’t talking, perhaps because of the stitches that left his upper lip visibly bumpy. His relentless work ethic slowed Ginobili after the opening minutes, but he struggled along with his teammates.
But before the Kings left for Texas, Artest declared their hopes to win just one of the two road games before Game 3 in Sacramento on Friday. That belief was echoed by Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who dreamed of making the NBA playoffs for 10 years—only to encounter a nightmare in his postseason debut.
“If we (get a split), it’s a successful trip,” Abdur-Rahim said with a shrug.