SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Predrag Stojakovic, his right hand free at last from the brace that had been inhibiting his play for a month, gave the Sacramento Kings the offensive spark they needed to stay alive in the playoffs.
Now the Los Angeles Lakers are refocusing their attention on the reserve forward as the teams prepare for Game 4 of the first-round series on tonight.
Stojakovic, who scored three points in each of the first two games of the playoffs, had 10 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter Sunday as the Kings used an 18-2 run to beat the Lakers 99-91 and pull within 2-1 in the best-of-five series.
Tony Delk added nine of his 11 points in the fourth period as Sacramento's self-proclaimed "Bench Mob" outscored the Lakers' reserves 21-0 in the quarter.
"Our bench obviously wasn't as productive as theirs, they had a great lift off the bench from Delk and Stojakovic," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Both of them gave them a great bump."
Stojakovic sprained his right thumb and index finger on March 21 against Washington and missed three games. He wore a brace on the hand the rest of the season and the first two games of the playoffs, but took it off before warmups Sunday.
"I won't wear the brace, because I don't think it helped me a lot," Stojakovic said Monday at practice. "Every time I try to go to the basket, somebody always bumps me on my hand. The brace doesn't help it any.
"I kept the brace on because I had pain. I tried to protect it. But it was really tough to protect it. I couldn't feel the ball at all with my (index) finger. So I just decided to do something different -- I just took it off."
Kings coach Rick Adelman said Stojakovic, who averaged 11.9 points per game off the bench this season, was much more aggressive on the offensive end Sunday.
"We told him he needed to be more active, and not let them hold him," Adelman said.
Jackson said Stojakovic worked himself free several times Sunday, especially when the Los Angeles defense was slow to react when the Kings grabbed offensive rebounds.
"I thought we didn't identify on him really well. We left him open several times," Jackson said.
The Bench Mob, which had little success in the first two games of the series, outscored the Lakers' reserves 34-11 in the game.
Stojakovic and Delk played the entire fourth quarter and reserve Jon Barry was on the court for 10 of the 12 minutes. Starters Corliss Williamson and Nick Anderson did not play in the fourth quarter, and starter Jason Williams played two minutes in the decisive period.
"Their bench wasn't a factor in the first two games," Lakers forward A.C. Green said. "In Game 3 they were able to have a breakthrough. Peja (Stojakovic) made some shots. Delk did some things."
The Kings took their first lead of the game at 73-72 early in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Stojakovic after Delk twice kept the possession alive with offensive rebounds. During the 18-2 run that began 90 seconds later, Stojakovic had five points and Delk had four points and a steal.
"I'm just always in there trying to get an offensive rebound or trying to knock the ball out of somebody's hands," Delk said. "I think when the team sees me in there playing with a lot of energy, it makes them play with even more energy."
The Lakers still have history on their side. In each of the previous three seasons, Los Angeles has won the first two games of its first-round series, then lost Game 3 and wrapped up the series in four games.
And the Kings are trying to become just the 13th team to win a series after trailing 2-0. No club has done it since the Houston Rockets in 1995.
So while the Kings are still alive, the Lakers remain extremely optimistic.
"Last time I checked we were still ahead, right?" Jackson asked at practice Monday. "We're not eliminated if we lose the next game."
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