It was the third time the two teams played each other in five seasons.
Utah beat Sacramento in the deciding fifth game of their 1999 matchup, while the Kings took out the Jazz in four games in 2002, with each game decided by seven points or less.
Sacramento finished the 2002-03 season 59-23 and was the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, while Utah went 47-35 in what was the 18th and final season of Karl Malone and John Stockton’s run with the franchise.
Malone started off hot, scoring the first seven points for the Jazz and finished with 13 in the quarter to help Utah take a 25-19 lead after 12 minutes.
The Jazz opened an eight-point lead with eight minutes to go in the second, but the Kings would use their defense to go on a massive run to take the lead. Jimmy Jackson came off the bench to hit a pair of threes, Peja Stojakovic made one as well, leading Sacramento on a 13-0 run, capped off by a Keon Clark dunk, to take a 34-29 lead.
The Kings didn’t score another point for the next five minutes, but the Jazz only managed to put up points to bring the deficit down to one before Sacramento got a pair of free throws from Jackson and a Chris Webber jumped put the Kings up 38-33 at half-time. The Kings held Utah to 3-of-17 shooting in the quarter, outscoring the Jazz 19-8.
Coming out the break, Mike Bibby hit a three and then Webber scored four points before Sacramento went cold from the field. The Kings scored seven points over a 7:44 stretch that allowed Utah to cut the lead to 50-49 with two minutes left in the third
Sacramento’s bench mob got the squad rolling again late. Jim Jackson, Bobby Jackson and Hedo Turkoglu combined to score nine points over the final two minutes and helped the Kings take a 61-54 lead in the fourth.
Utah was a tough veteran team and wouldn’t go away easily. Led by Greg Ostertag (seriously, this was the game of his life,) who scored six straight points in the fourth to keep things interesting, the Jazz got it down a three point game.
That’s when the Kings’ lead dogs took over. Webber, Stojakovic and Bibby combined to score Sacramento’s next 14 points, including two 3-pointers from Peja to put things out of reach.
The Kings went on to a 96-90 win, led by Webber’s 27 points, 11 rebound performance. Malone had 25 in the loss, while Ostertag finished with 18 points and 11 boards. As I said, the game of his life.
“They get us ready, just like last year,’’ Bibby said to the AP after the game. “They beat us up last year, and I think it got us ready for what we had to do down the road. I think they’ll do that to us again.’’
Sacramento took the 1-0 series lead and never looked back. Although the Kings lost a tough Game 3 in Utah, this was the closest game out of their four wins in the series.