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Defense Saves the Mavericks

Oft-maligned for its poor efforts on that end, Dallas actually revels in it after beating the Kings, 112-93, to take a 3-2 lead in series.

May 14, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Dallas — Everybody knows about the offense. The Dallas Mavericks led the NBA in scoring for the second consecutive season and last Thursday set a playoff record by ringing up 83 points in a half.

But Tuesday night it was a record-setting defensive effort that turned the tide for the Mavericks, carrying the league's most explosive team from a 15-point second-quarter deficit to a resounding 112-93 victory over the Sacramento Kings in Game 5 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

The Mavericks will carry a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on Thursday night at Sacramento after holding the Kings to 10 points in the game-turning third quarter, when the visitors made three of 25 shots, and scored 32 points in the second half.

The Mavericks, in the playoffs, had never given up fewer points in a quarter or half. They are positioned to end the series in Arco Arena, where a victory would move them into the Western Conference finals for the second time in their history and the first since 1988, when they lost to the Lakers in Game 7 at the Forum.

Led by Steve Nash, who made 15 of 16 free throws en route to 25 points, six Mavericks scored in double figures. And Dirk Nowitzki, despite making only five of 15 shots, came within one assist of his first triple-double, finishing with 16 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and nine assists.

But defense carried the day.

"It was one of our best defensive games," Coach Don Nelson said. "In the second half, I thought we really knuckled down."

From the 8:04 mark of the second quarter, when Jim Jackson made a short hook in the lane to give the Kings a 15-point lead for the second time, to the final horn, the Mavericks outscored the Kings, 81-47.

Playing again without injured scoring leader Chris Webber and only 13 minutes with center Vlade Divac, who got into early foul trouble, the Kings scored only 18 points in the first 18 minutes of the second half. And with Raef LaFrentz getting a hand on five in 18 minutes, the Mavericks blocked 11 shots, a club playoff record.

"Especially the third quarter, I thought the defense was great," said Nick Van Exel, who scored 18 points for the Mavericks. "I thought the starters came out with the energy level that we needed from the start of the game. To me, it looked as if we were playing with our backs against the wall in the third quarter."

On the brink of elimination, the Kings blamed themselves for their offensive problems after making 11 of 40 shots in the second half.

Doug Christie, who scored 21 points on eight-of-16 shooting, and Bobby Jackson, who scored 14 on six-of-12 shooting, were the only Kings who made as many as half their shots.

"I don't think they're a great defensive team," Bobby Jackson said of the Mavericks. "We just shot the ball too quick ...

"We shot the ball like we were up 20. We were down six."

And now they're down, period. But not out, Nelson warned.

"It's still up in the air," he said of the series. "I think with Webber they're the best team in basketball. Without him, of course, it takes something away from the team, but they're still a marvelous team, well-prepared, full of talent."

But so are the Mavericks.

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