Spurs' turn to regroup from stunning last-second loss

Updated: April 29, 2006, 7:33 PM ET
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Although Kevin Martin's game-winning layup over Tim Duncan was a moment to remember forever, the Sacramento Kings' young guard spent the following day trying to forget it for the time being.

Martin's improbable basket catapulted the Kings to a 94-93 victory over San Antonio on Friday night, cutting the Spurs' lead in their first-round series to 2-1. Martin was mobbed by his teammates and the Kings' owners in a bedlam postgame scene that turned a bit overzealous for a club still 15 victories away from an NBA title.

But as the Kings returned to practice before Game 4 on Sunday night, Martin was doing his best to heed the words of teammate Corliss Williamson.

"One of the vets told me once midnight comes, it's a new day -- good or bad game," Martin said Saturday. "So I'll just take that advice from him, because the same thing could happen in Game 4 and go their way. They could have a luck bounce, too."

Forgive Martin, the Maloofs and the Kings for their enthusiasm. After a Game 1 blowout, a Game 2 heartbreaker and an excruciating fourth quarter in Game 3, Sacramento thought it was finished when Michael Finley hit a go-ahead 3-pointer and Ron Artest made a turnover.

But Manu Ginobili's turnover led to Martin's layup at the buzzer -- and while the Kings got a cathartic celebration, the Spurs suddenly were forced to regroup after their own difficult loss.

San Antonio has been outplayed for long stretches of the last two games of the series, but the NBA's best road team could take a prohibitive lead in Game 4. After three championships in the last seven seasons, Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich have been here before -- and the Kings know it.

"They want to go home so they can finish it," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "So we've got to be better, got to get better every game. We got better [Friday night] in a lot of areas, and we've got to get better Sunday."

The Kings' biggest adjustments should be on defense after the Spurs made 51.5 percent of their shots in the first three games. With rebounds and turnovers exactly equal, San Antonio's superior shot selection and execution has been the difference in the series, Sacramento's Game 3 steal notwithstanding.

The Spurs made several defensive adjustments of their own in Game 3 with the return of Artest, who allowed his teammates to get more involved in the offense after taking 21 shots in Game 1.

Sacramento still played its most complete offensive game back home in front of a sellout crowd -- even though Duncan had his best game of the series, racking up 29 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"We did a lot of good things defensively, and we held them under 100 points, which was one of our goals," Duncan said. "We obviously didn't do enough, but there were a lot of positive things to take into [Game 4]. We played almost well enough to win. We just got beat on a crazy shot."

With Artest's elbow to Ginobili's head in Game 1 and the last-minute shenanigans of the last two games, this matchup has been among the NBA's most entertaining first-round sets. San Antonio fully expected a tough challenge from the Kings, who won 25 of their final 36 regular-season games to surge into the postseason.

And though Adelman has done some of his best work this season while integrating Artest into a team that was floundering before he arrived, the coach hasn't stopped to consider whether Sunday night's game will be his final trip to the Kings' sideline.

Adelman doesn't have a contract after this season, and the Maloofs' quiet courting of Phil Jackson last summer was embarrassing for both parties. Adelman has been the Kings' most successful coach since they won their only NBA championship as the Rochester Royals in 1951, but he has hinted he might not even want to return.

"We're just thinking about the task ahead of us," he said earlier in the series. "Nobody is worrying about what's beyond the San Antonio Spurs. They're enough to think about."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press