- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

DALLAS — Raja Bell was the unlikely hero for the Dallas Mavericks, who usually depend on their big three.

Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley all had solid games for the Mavericks, but it was Bell who outshot the Sacramento Kings in a game-turning third quarter of a 112-93 victory last night.

Dallas took a 3-2 series lead heading into tomorrow night’s Game 6 at Sacramento.

“That’s what we needed,” Mavericks forward Raef LaFrentz said. “We can’t just rely on three or four guys to carry us. Raja was huge and really helped us.”

Bell provided a big boost for the suddenly re-energized Mavericks with four baskets and nine of his 13 points in the third quarter. That was one more basket than Sacramento managed while being outscored 29-10 in the period.

“Bell was our best player in Game 4, and that is not saying a whole lot, but he was really the only player that did well in that game,” Mavericks coach Don Nelson said. “He played well again tonight. He was being active and rebounding. He is physically able to do some things that our players can’t do.”

Plus, Bell is much more rested than the Mavericks’ superstars.

Bell made only his second start this postseason, filling in for the injured Adrian Griffin. He had scored 16 points, matching the team high, in Dallas’ 99-83 loss in Game 4 on Sunday.

“It’s fun to contribute,” Bell said. “Other guys on our team command double-teams. They’re so unselfish. It’s a credit to them. Early, I passed up on a few open looks. I made a concerted effort in the second half to let it fly.”

Nash, held to just six points in the Game 4 loss, scored 25 points. He was just 5-for-12 from the field but hit 15 of 16 free throws. All five starters, plus Nick Van Exel, scored in double figures for Dallas.

“Tonight was an absolute perfect picture of a team performance,” Nash said. “It’s a lot of fun when we play like that.”

Dirk Nowitzki has 16 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high nine assists, falling just short of the first triple-double in Dallas postseason history.

And after playing three games in four nights, the teams are going right back to Sacramento.

The Mavericks are one win away from reaching the Western Conference finals for only the second time. Last year, Dallas was eliminated in five games by Sacramento in the second round.

If a seventh game is necessary, it will be Saturday night in Dallas.

Bell’s 3-pointer with 8:20 left in the third period broke a 65-65 tie and put the Mavericks ahead to stay. That also started a 15-4 run he ended with a putback layup that made it 80-69 with 1:59 left.

“They have so many guys who can attack you,” Kings coach Rick Adelman said. “It’s like a wind tunnel when they come at you. They were coming at us in waves.”

The Kings were just 3-for-25 in the third quarter, when their 10 points were the fewest ever by a Dallas opponent in a postseason quarter. Bell was 4-for-5 in the period.

“I thought we were in control, but at halftime, everything went out the window,” Adelman said.

After trailing by as many as 15 points in a lethargic first half, the Mavericks opened the second half with an 11-2 run, tying the score on Bell’s 21-foot jumper.

“They came out aggressive, hit some big shots and that put us on our heels,’ said Doug Christie, who led Sacramento with 21 points. “We were a little rattled. They got very active on the boards, they got all of the loose balls and made all of the hustle plays.”

LaFrentz’s basket gave the Mavericks their first lead at 65-63. Peja Stojakovic hit two free throws to tie the game for the third — and last — time.

Stojakovic had 19 for Sacramento, which is without star forward Chris Webber (knee injury).

Sacramento never got closer than 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Playing their third game without leading scorer Webber, who got hurt in Game 2, the Kings led 61-54 at halftime. Dallas missed 13 of its first 17 shots.

But while Dallas was struggling, Sacramento’s big men were getting in foul trouble. Vlade Divac had two fouls in the first quarter, and his primary replacement, Keon Clark, had three. Both finished with five points and five fouls.

With Divac and Clark spending so many minutes out of the game, LaFrentz had five blocks. Finley and Nowitzki had three each, giving the Mavericks a postseason franchise high of 11.

Van Exel finished with 18 points and Finley had 16.

Jackson, playing with a fractured cheek bone, had 14 points for the Kings, who shot just 36 percent (33-for-92).

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