Doug Christie looked like the Doug Christie who played at Pepperdine, racking up a near triple-double in a throwback game to his previous life as an offensive threat. Anthony Peeler, meantime, sank as many 3-pointers as Steve Nash, Michael Finley and Antoine Walker combined, and needed nine fewer attempts to do so.
In the hours since these developments in Sacramento, you have undoubtedly heard someone describe them as bonuses.
For the Kings? Such performances are every-day necessities now, with Bobby Jackson most recently spotted in a grey suit.
Sunday's strong Game 1 finish doesn't change the Kings' predicament. Even though they scored a much-needed 116-105 victory, and even though it's now the Dallas Mavericks who are inching toward crisis mode -- they'll pretty much be there with a Game 2 loss -- Sacramento still has needs. To do anything in these playoffs, and simply just to outlast the Mavs, Sacramento will have to consistently get a significant Christie contribution at both ends, along with a few nightly daggers from Peeler. The reasons are threefold.
Reason No. 1: For all the focus on Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki and Vlade Divac and the clubs' shared aversion to defense, guard play has historically been the difference-maker in this for-the-fans matchup. Mike Bibby and Jackson outdueled Nash and Nick Van Exel in a five-game Sacramento romp in the spring of 2002. Nash and Van Exel exacted revenge, after Webber went down in Game 2, to push Dallas to a seven-game triumph in 2003. In 2004, with the Kings convinced that Jackson is out for the series (and probably the season) with an abdominal injury, Bibby is going one-on-two unless Christie and Peeler play the way they did in the opener to give Bibby some help.
Reason No. 2: Nash's tag-team partner is undrafted rookie Marquis Daniels, whose solid playoff debut (13 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals) was somewhat stained by six turnovers. Yet if you've followed the Mavericks at all this season, you know that Daniels learns fast. The bet here is that he doesn't have another six-turnover game. The bet here is that Daniels will have a line or two like Christie's line Sunday before the series is over.
Reason No. 3: Jackson told us the other day that he wouldn't be the Kings' savior anyway even if he were healthy enough to play. He told us that the panicky locals in Sacto were expecting far too much when they were suggesting that Jackson's return alone could arrest a slide that resulted in the Kings losing eight of their final 12 regular-season games.
When we spoke, Jackson was still hopeful that his abdominal problems would not prevent him from gutting through the playoffs, after he was forced to sit out 28 of Sacramento's final 29 games. Although it'd be a big mistake to rule out a gamer like Jackson this early in the playoffs, the Kings fear that their sixth man will have to sit out the entire playoffs, to avoid a tear that knocks him out long-term.
If it's true, that's a massive loss for Rick Adelman, the coach whose top seven players rank as the league's best seven-man unit ... and the coach who never had all seven healthy this season. Peeler is the new seventh man, and he's a nice fallback, having led the league in 3-point shooting at 48.2 percent. Jackson, though, is far more than a fallback. He's arguably the Kings' rock.
It can also be argued that Jackson has actually surpassed Christie as the Kings' top defender. What can't be argued is that Jackson is the prime source of speed in Adelman's rotation, at a time when the Kings have noticeably slowed down, largely because Webber and Divac (and even Bibby) are not runners anymore. And without Jackson as a fourth-quarter backcourt mate, Bibby is bound to wear down as the playoffs deepen, attempting to carry the quarterbacking load himself.
Then there's this reality: Only five players in the entire playoffs -- Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Baron Davis, Kevin Garnett and Sam Cassell -- have a better fourth-quarter scoring average than Jackson, the only sub in the group. At 5.3 points per fourth quarter, Jackson ranked ninth in the league in 2003-04; Bryant (7.4) and Pierce (6.3) are the only playoff participants over six.
None of the above is meant to suggest that the Mavericks don't have problems, too. Game 1 was totally set up for Dallas to take, with Jackson in that suit ... and the Kings' confidence negligible ... and Nowitzki's shot doctor, Holger Geschwindner, having arrived from Germany to help his protégé tune up for the postseason ... and with an extra day of rest after avoiding a Saturday opener against the Lakers ... and knowing that Divac would likely be a bit groggy lining up for one of those 12:30 p.m. tipoffs he hates. The Mavericks also managed to keep Divac and Brad Miller (two points in 20 minutes) mostly rooted to the bench by going with Small Ball alignments that kept the pace up and in their favor.
Yet they eventually wasted it all. Twenty of the 44 baskets Dallas surrendered were layups or dunks, and an uncharacteristic seven fourth-quarter turnovers sealed the defeat. Another loss Tuesday would represent something even more daunting than a 2-0 deficit -- Dallas, instead of keeping the Kings down, would be guilty of restoring a fair bit of Sacramento's lost swagger if it drops Game 2.
Which is a good possibility if the Mavericks see this Christie and this Peeler again.