Bobby Jackson had the ball on the perimeter in the first half of the Kings' Game 5 win against Dallas. The fleet-footed guard saw he had a mismatch, with the 7-1 Dirk Nowitzki guarding him. Even Turner analyst Danny Ainge predicted trouble, saying Nowitzki "was going to need some help" guarding Jackson straight-up.
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After a few quick dribbles between his legs, Jackson exploded to his left, beat Nowitzki to the baseline and took to the air. Jackson floated from the side of the key, then pumped once, twice ... three times before hitting a reverse layup and getting fouled by Wang Zhi-Zhi. The Sacramento fans erupted. Jackson lay on the floor, screaming in elation.
Or maybe Jackson was screaming out of relief. After struggling through the first round against the Jazz -- and then the first three games of the Dallas series -- Jackson had finally hit his stride in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Semifinals.
For the top-seeded Kings, Jackson's return to form couldn't have been timed any better. The Kings have their sights set on the NBA Finals this season, and while they have a bevy of options on offense, Jackson's unique combination of scoring and smothering defense make him a vital cog in their postseason push.
Jackson's early playoff struggles were especially surprising, considering the 6-1 guard out of Minnesota ended the season on a high note, as he finished second in voting for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year Award. But his first-round performance certainly didn't garner any awards, as he averaged just 5.8 ppg on 9-for-25 shooting in four games against Utah. The start of the second round saw more of the same, as Jackson went just 9-for-26 from the field in games 1-3 against Dallas. He was averaging just 7.1 ppg over the first seven games of the playoffs, and visibly slumping.
Jackson scored 41 points total in Games 4 and 5 of the West Semifinals
(Nathaniel S.Butler/ NBAE/ Getty Images)
Then came an untimely injury to starting forward Peja Stojakovic. This was Jackson's time to shine.
With Stojakovic lost to an ankle sprain, Jackson started Game 4 and responded with possibly the best game of his career, going for 26 points, four rebounds and five assists. More importantly, however, Jackson teamed with starting point guard Mike Bibby to take over the game when go-to-guy Chris Webber fouled out in the fourth quarter. The unlikely backcourt tandem carried the Kings to the series-breaking overtime win in Dallas.
"Mike and I love being in the game together because it frees up a lot of opportunities for both of us," said Jackson after the game. "We can get out and push the ball. We make the other team play defense."
He then came off the bench in the Game 5 clincher and delivered another strong performance, with 15 points and six rebounds. Overall, in the final two games of the semifinal series, Jackson shot 16-for-32 from the field, including 4-for-6 from three-point range, and averaged 20.5 ppg.
"You're going to make shots and miss shots, but you've just got to continue to shoot when you have shots and just continue to play hard," Jackson said after snapping out of his slump. "I was feeling good and my teammates were getting me the ball. That's what it's all about.
Jackson has rediscovered his game just in time for the Lakers series, arguably the most anticipated series of the postseason. While Jackson knows the road through L.A. is a tough one -- the Kings were swept by the Lakers in last year's playoffs -- he isn't lacking for confidence.
"Just come out and whip their (butt), I guess," Jackson told the Sacramento Bee when asked how to clear any lingering mental hurdles the Kings face against L.A. "That's how you overcome it. There ain't going to be anything else. We've just got to take care of business on the court."
And if Jackson's "business" includes more 26-point outbursts, then the Kings might be able to hold court against the defending champions after all, especially considering that Stojakovic is expected to be out for at least the first two games of the series. Peja's injury means the Kings will need Jackson's scoring and steady defense more than ever.
And maybe a few more triple-pump reverse layups thrown in for good measure.