SACRAMENTO, Calif., April 19 (Ticker) --
The Sacramento Kings were in a familiar situation against the Utah Jazz. Thanks to Peja Stojakovic
and Chris Webber
, the produced a familiar result.
Stojakovic hit a pair of clutch three-pointers in the final four minutes and Webber scored 27 points as the Kings overcame a slow
start and pulled out a 96-90 victory over the Jazz in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
Once again, it was a struggle for Sacramento to defeat Utah. In the opener of last year's first-round series, the Kings
capitalized on a mistake by the Jazz's inexperienced players. Sacramento took the best-of-five series in four games, although
the average victory margin was less than four points.
"Utah played exactly the way we thought they would before the game," Sacramento center Vlade Divac said. "I think we were a little nervous."
"Just what I thought it was going to be -- a tough, physical, hard-nosed game," Kings coach Rick Adelman added. "We kept opening it up in the second half but could never get away from them. Mike (Bibby) made some big plays down the stretch, finding people for open shots. Peja hit two huge threes for us."
The Kings first played the Jazz in the first round in 1999 -- Webber's first season with the team. They lost the series opener by 30 points but since then, just one game has been decided by double digits.
Sacramento took a 61-54 lead into the fourth quarter but led just 75-74 before Stojakovic sank an uncontested three-pointer with
In the timeout before hitting his three-pointers, Adelman told Stojakovic he was playing tentatively. The 48 percent shooter
responded with Sacramento's biggest shots of the night.
"I said, 'You look like you don't look like you know what you're doing,'" Adelman said. "What are we doing out here? I think we dribbling the ball three, four and five times. Everybody was standing there and it looked like we were hesitating. I said 'Go out and play the way we're capable of playing.'"
"In the first half, I didn't have any rhythm to my shots," Stojakovic admitted. "But I was able to get good looks late and
made the shots."
The Jazz hung around and were within 80-78 when another three-pointer by Stojakovic opened a five-point cushion with 2:16
remaining. He had missed his previous six shots.
Utah's Andrei Kirilenko was short on a wild three-pointer and Karl Malone missed a 21-footer and, after Greg Ostertag and Matt
Harpring had baskets to get the Jazz within 87-82, the Kings made nine of their final 10 foul shots.
"We got ourselves in foul trouble, put them on the line too much because we lost our concentration," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan
said. "But they've done the things they have to against us. That's what great teams do. They're able to finish."
While Stojakovic struggled from the field, Webber was a force inside. Matched against Malone, he shot 11-of-23 and pulled
down 11 rebounds in 44 minutes.
"It's good just having teammates that rely on you. And playing with a good point guard makes you so much better," Webber said. "I want the ball late in the game because I think I can make a good decision."
Webber also played solid defense on Malone, holding him to 10 points in the second half.
Stojakovic made 5-of-13 shots, was 4-of-6 from the arc and finished with 16 points. Bibby scored 10 points but did
not record an assist until finding Stojakovic in the corner for his three-pointer.
Starting what may be their final postseason run together, Malone paced the Jazz with 25 points while John Stockton scored 13.
Game 2 is Monday at Sacramento.
Both teams struggled in the first half as the Kings built a 38-33 lead at the break. Malone had 13 points in the opening
period, helping Utah to a 25-19 edge. But he made just one basket the rest of the half, a fadeaway with 5:50 remaining that
cut the deficit to 34-31.
Sacramento's bench sparked a pivotal 12-4 run that bridged the second and third quarters. Jimmy Jackson started the spurt with a three-pointer and Bibby capped it with a three-pointer 23 seconds into the second half.
"Their bench played really well," Malone said. "It's tough coming off the bench. ... I look at stretches in the game when
we could have done certain things that we couldn't do and their bench did great. When you lose, it's painful."
Sacramento built its lead to eight one more time in the third but was unable to put away Utah.