SAN ANTONIO -- Sitting here in the press room at the AT&T Center, in the wee hours on Tuesday, it is still hard to comprehend how the Kings lost this game. Even more perplexing, is how they could have been on the verge of a shocking victory without their three most important players making major contributions.
Ron Artest, of course, was somewhere in the area watching the game on television. But Mike Bibby and Brad Miller -- touted as two-thirds of the team nucleus as recently as midseason -- were outplayed by several of their teammates. Miller, who offered only one rebound in the series opener here Saturday, played 27 minutes and spent most of the fourth quarter and overtime on the bench. Bibby, who emerged as such a clutch postseason performer before his struggles last year against the Seattle Sonics, converted only 3 of 16 shots and committed five turnovers.
I wondered if he had become fatigued, thereby becoming careless with his passes. He played 48 minutes, which is a lot for anyone, especially a player who is relatively slight for his position (6-foot-2, 180 pounds), and is his club’s primary ballhandler and leading scorer. The Spurs’ Tony Parker, by comparison, played 43 minutes.
But Bibby insisted that he was fine. He acknowledged that he just rushed a few shots, but that was about it. One thing is for certain, though. The Kings need more out of Bibby and Miller if they plan to extend this series -- which they certainly appear capable of doing. Tim Duncan just doesn’t look right. One longtime NBA coach I spoke with recently said Duncan’s right foot problem (plantar fasciitis) is worse than the Spurs are admitting, and said he wouldn’t double-team the two-time MVP unless he established a dominant inside presence. Interestingly, Shareef Abdur-Rahim repeatedly scored on the 6-foot-11 Duncan in the fourth quarter, mostly with jump hooks. Who expected that?
Another thing I found intriguing last night, was that whatever tension exists between Abdur-Rahim and Kenny Thomas seems to have subsided, at least temporarily. The Kings’ high-low game -- Thomas usually finding Abdur-Rahim down low -- was very effective, and the two power forwards, who were on the court together much of the night, really appeared to be looking for each other. I was really impressed with the way Kings coach Rick Adelman had his players prepared, emotionally as well as tactically, given the tenor of Saturday’s loss, along with his decision to go with Abdur-Rahim and Thomas, particularly in light of Miller’s ineffectiveness. Though the lineup is undersize, the Kings play a faster, more athletic game. Gotta fix that defense, though. Abdur-Rahim was candid about his mistake on Brent Barry’s three. He failed to stay with Duncan, who set the screen that kept Bibby from chasing after Barry in the right corner.