- Chris Palmer, ESPN the Magazine
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DALLAS -- There are 12 minutes -- one good quarter -- in every seven-game playoff series that go a long way to making or breaking a run for a championship. It seems odd that in a season that could potentially last over 100 games that 12 minutes can mean so much.
For the Dallas Mavericks, those 12 minutes came during Tuesday's 112-93 victory over the Sacramento Kings in Game 5 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Mavericks used the third quarter to show the still-favored Kings that they weren't ready to go fishing or hit the links just yet.
In the third quarter, the Mavericks went on a 28-11 run which saw the Kings shoot 3-of-25 and set in motion a 31-point reversal of momentum. Here's why those 12 minutes were so important: If the Mavericks had not taken control of the game, Sacramento would have delivered its knockout punch thanks to the hot hands of Doug Christie and Bobby Jackson. The Mavericks would be down 3-2 heading back to Sacramento, where the Kings would surely have closed them out.
Now, the Mavericks, at the very least, locked up two more games and the opportunity to try to win the series on their home floor. The American Airlines Center is fast becoming a very difficult place for road teams to win.
"Whoever says home crowds don't make a difference, well, they don't know basketball," said Dallas head coach Don Nelson, who loved the fact that the Mavericks' fans turned the building into a college fieldhouse-like atmosphere.
At the end of the second quarter, frat-boy genius Mark Cuban told his soundman to turn the P.A. system "way up." The public address announcer all but pleaded with the crowd to be as loud as they've ever been. The request was made, but all the fans needed was something to shout about. Enter Raef LaFrentz and Raja Bell. The Big Two, if you will, carried the Mavericks while Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki were in a funk for most of the first half.
In the first four minutes of the third quarter, LaFrentz blocked four shots (two on the same possession) to go along with his two rejections from the first half and finger-tipped another that he didn't get credit for.
"With LaFrentz having his way out there," said Kings head coach Rick Adelman, "he showed us how much we missed Chris (Webber) tonight."
On the other end of the floor, LaFrentz scooped in a layup, knocked down a three, then found Bell for his first pull-up jump shot of the game. Ah yes, Raja Bell. After LaFrentz's block party, Bell hit four consecutive jumpers and played excellent help defense on virtually everybody in a purple jersey.
"I just want to show that I can contribute no matter what the situation," Bell said. "I want to pick up the slack whenever I can."
"He's been our best player for the last two games," Nelson said.
Bell brought the house down with a drive and dunk over Scot Pollard that summed up the night for both teams.
Though he praised the energy and timely playmaking of Bell and LaFrentz, Nelson routinely referred to his team's success in Game 5 as "luck." Not quite, Nellie. Sure, there's no denying that special something that can carry a team during those do-or-die 12 minutes, but a 31-point turnaround against an offensive machine like Sacramento isn't luck. When role players go above and beyond the call of duty, it can be a psychological blow for the opposing team's starters. The Kings, for all of their talents, couldn't get over the fact that they were being outhustled and outplayed by Bell and LaFrentz.
But it would be foolish to think the Kings are through. They will regroup. Vlade Divac will be much more of a factor in Game 6 and they'll have the home crowd.
And no doubt, the Kings will be looking for 12 special minutes of their own.
Chris Palmer is a senior reporter for ESPN The Magazine.
Thanks to the timely efforts of Raja Bell and Raef LaFrentz, the Mavericks took control of Game 5.