SACRAMENTO — The consensus going into Game 2 of the Western Conference finals was that the Kings would be all but done if they couldn't defeat the Lakers on Monday at Arco Arena.
Mostly, it was the Kings who said they faced a must-win situation.
"It's the biggest thing for this franchise, the biggest anything for this franchise," guard Bobby Jackson said. "A win is a must for us. You don't want to go to L.A. down two games. We just have to go out and do it and stop talking about it. And play better defense, that's for sure."
Center Vlade Divac put it this way: "It's a must-win game. Basically, you lose this game and there is probably only a 1% chance of winning the series. You can't put yourself down, 0-2."
Point guard Mike Bibby offered a counterpoint.
"If they were to win [Game 2], who is to say we can't go down there and win two games?" he said.
In fact, going into this postseason, only seven NBA teams had rebounded from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series. But after a 96-90 victory, the Kings don't have to worry about that.
Defense was atop the Kings' to-do list before Game 2. The Lakers exploited the Kings Saturday in Game 1, particularly while shooting 67% in building a 14-point lead by the end of the first quarter.
Laker forward Rick Fox noticed a dramatic difference between the Kings' lax defense on the perimeter and the San Antonio Spurs' pressure in the conference semifinals.
"This Sacramento team wants to go up and down the floor," Fox said. "We love that pace. We know we're going to get open looks. It's just a matter of knocking them down."
What's more, the Kings faced a difficult choice, according to Fox. The Kings could concentrate on stopping Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant and risk having Fox, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry torch them--as happened Saturday in Game 1.
"Pick your poison," he said, not talking about food poisoning. "They stay with us and Shaq and Kobe go for 40 [points]. If they stay at home on Shaq and Kobe and the rest of us go for 40."
The Kings had no plans to slow the tempo in an attempt to play better defense.
"Our game is pushing the ball up and down," Jackson said. "We didn't do it the last game. We've got to push it to get a flow. We can play half-court if we have to, but we want to push the tempo. [Saturday,] they broke us down with the dribble drive. We've got to be able to contain them."