Mavericks-Kings series all square

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Steve Nash's 30 points were the most of his postseason career, and he celebrated by catching his breath.

Dallas' All-Star point guard figures that if the Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings keep up their current pace, that record might not last 72 hours.

Nash led the way with eight assists in an impressive performance, and Dirk Nowitzki added 22 points and 15 rebounds as the Mavericks evened their Western Conference semifinal series with a 110-102 victory Monday night over the top-seeded Kings.

Game 3 of a series that's living up to its potential as a high-flying showcase is Thursday night in Dallas.

''Luckily, I was getting a lot of good looks that I didn't get in Game 1,'' Nash said. ''It's fun to play this kind of game, but it can wear on you if you're not sharp. We had a lot more jump and spark in this one, and my points are just a part of that.''

Until the Kings fell into a 3 1/2-minute scoreless drought in the final minutes that allowed the Mavs to pull away, it was a constantly entertaining, end-to-end game -- the kind everyone expected from the NBA's highest-scoring teams, even under playoff pressure.

Held to 12 points in Game 1, Nash came out firing along with his teammates. He hit four 3-pointers and was 12-of-18 from the field. Though Nash was in top form as the ringleader of Dallas' offensive circus, he credited the Mavericks' play on the other end for the victory.

''If you look at the two games, the best team defensively won both games,'' Nash said. ''There's going to be a lot more possessions, there's going to be a lot more firepower, but defense is just as paramount in this series as it is in the Eastern Conference.''

The game changed from a tight battle to an easy win for Dallas within seconds -- fitting in such a fast-paced series.

Raef LaFrentz broke a 93-93 tie with a dunk and a layup set up by Nash with 3:07 left. LaFrentz, who was terrible in Game 1, finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

As Chris Webber complained after missing the Kings' next shot, Nash motored to the other end for an acrobatic layup. A minute later, Nash fed Nowitzki for a dunk that gave Dallas a prohibitive lead, though the teams traded free throws for the final three minutes.

''I remember being down three, it seemed like forever, without them even scoring,'' Webber said. ''We just didn't make shots down the stretch. That could be the difference every time these teams play.''

Every minute seemed to bring another alley-oop dunk or a long jump shot, and every fan at Arco Arena -- dozens of them packing the cowbells that brought complaints from the Mavericks in Game 1 -- must have left the building hoarse. Point guards Nash and Mike Bibby both had outstanding games, with Bibby recording 22 points and seven assists.

Neither team grabbed a significant lead in the second half, but Sacramento's defensive breakdowns made the difference. The Mavs, fueled by good ball movement, got dozens of open shots and uncontested rebounds to win for the fourth time in five games at Sacramento.

''We came in hoping to split, and to win one game here is great,'' said Nowitzki, who's 15-for-39 in the series. ''This is the toughest building in the league.''

Webber had 22 points and 12 rebounds for Sacramento. The Kings' three-game winning streak ended with their fifth loss in their last eight home playoff games dating to last season.

''I thought we really had some good opportunities midway through the fourth quarter when it was close, but we missed shots, and Dallas converted every time,'' Sacramento coach Rick Adelman said. ''When Dallas gets a run going and they're pushing it, that's when they're lethal.''

Nick Van Exel scored 14 of his 19 points in the first half for Dallas.

Peja Stojakovic, who had 26 points in Game 1, went 5-for-19 from the field and finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Hedo Turkoglu had 15 points in a reserve role. Vlade Divac had 15 points, but his role was reduced from Game 1 as Adelman attempted to match up with Dallas' unique collection of scorers.

Dallas coach Don Nelson substituted veteran forward Johnny Newman for Eduardo Najera, who broke his thumb before Game 1, in the starting lineup.

But Newman and his teammates didn't stop the Kings from opening with a bang. Bibby, whose first trip to the playoffs has been encouraging but inconsistent, had his streaky jumpshot in top form, hitting three 3-pointers among six consecutive baskets.

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