Vlade Divac picks up his intensity as the third quarter progresses, attacking Shaquille O'Neal off the dribble. He's hitting jumpers, trying to draw Shaq out from under the basket and battling for rebounds. The Kings are in control, dictating the flow of the offense, swarming on defense and gang rebounding.
At the 8:40 mark of the third, Shaq air balls a hook shot and the Lakers have already tallied four team fouls.
The brilliance of the pesky underdogs from Nor Cal is on full display.
Following a missed shot by Hedo Turkoglu, Divac snags the rebound and instead of throwing it back out to the perimeter for a guard, scans for cutters. He finds one in Chris Webber who drives to the basket, draws two defenders and dumps a bounce pass back off to him for a clear path dunk.
An absolute hoops work of art.
Arco Arena is shaking.
The Kings are playing smart basketball and extend their lead to 61-54. For the moment, the growing pile of missed free throws is forgotten.
Later in the third, the Lakers put together a run and pull to within three. Suddenly, the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant, begin imposing their will and Divac is forced to the bench with foul trouble. The Kings have lost their offensive flow and with 3:34 left in the quarter, they give up a 15-5 run. The ball movement and free flowing offense stalls.
They are now 9/19 from the free throw line.
The Kings could use a lot more of their sixth man Bobby Jackson during this lull, but head coach Rick Adelman chooses to sit him until the final seconds.
Despite the run by the Lakers, the Kings still find themselves up by 74-73 after three. They finish the quarter hitting one of two free throws.
Leading into this Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals, you could feel the energy inside Arco Arena through the screen, which likely seeped out onto that sprawling parking lot (watch the first two minutes of the video below and tune out the commentary and just listen to that crowd). This Kings franchise was on the cusp of its first NBA Finals appearance in the Sacramento era, after all. The cowbells were ringing at peak levels just for Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, who had brought his squad together that morning with the team psychologist for a meditation session.
Kings sharp shooter Peja Stojakovic was nursing a sprained right ankle, but still suited up coming off the bench.
Webber was asked what the moment meant for him, the fans and the franchise.
The tension builds during the fourth quarter, as it should considering the stakes. The runs level out and the game morphs into the blow-by-blow heavy weight match it is meant to be. The 61-21 Kings against the back-to-back Shaq and Kobe champs.
Throughout the fourth, the Kings just can't seem to get closer than within a point.
If this were a movie, the sounds of a suspense score would be slowly increasing, and it likely is in the minds of the 17,000-plus who can't help but stand.
With 1:40 left, the Kings take a 94-93 lead.
Moments later, after tying the game at 96 on an offensive rebound and put back, Divac comes back down the floor and locks down Robert Horry on the perimeter yes, Vlade with the superb perimeter defense. What happens next likely seals the fate of these beloved Kings.
Divac fouls out diving with Bryant for a loose ball. He finishes the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes. Bryant goes to the line and misses one of his two free throws, much to the glee, and possibly the result of, that Arco crowd.
The Lakers are up 1.
The 7'1'' Divac wasn't the most talented player on the Kings roster, but he was key to what the Kings liked to do pass out the high post. And with Stojakovic not himself (he air balled a wide open three with 13 seconds left in the fourth) and Christie having an off night from the floor, he was vitally important to alleviate some of the pressure on Webber and Bibby. Most importantly, he was the only guy on the roster who had a chance at minimizing the power of the 7'1'', 300-plus pound Shaq.
Scot Pollard, who is 6'11'', was overmatched by Shaq (and no fault in that, most were).
With 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Kings find themselves down two and the ball. Kobe picks up his fifth foul with 8 seconds left and Bibby makes both free throws (they are now 16-30 from the line). The game is tied at 100 with 8 seconds left.
On the final play of regulation one of the best defensive efforts in Kings history is needed, and it happens.
Christie, who has struggled with his shot throughout the game, does an outstanding job of denying Bryant the inbound. Meanwhile, Webber has taken it upon himself to guard Shaq with Divac fouled out. He manages to push Shaq nearly out to the free throw line where he gets the ball and is forced into attempting a long hook shot. He misses and we have free basketball in Sacramento!
Stressful, gut-wrenching free basketball.
Cue the suspense score.
Overtime is full of two things: the Lakers attacking the rim because the Kings don't have a center on the floor and the Kings settling for jump shots.
Shaq misses a power dunk with a minute left that would have put the Lakers up 4. The Kings, however, turn it over after Turkoglu passes up an open three.
The minutes are piling up on Webber who is trying to hold his own defensively. With Peja injured, Divac fouled out and Christie not on from the perimeter, the scoring is pretty much shouldered by Bibby here. Down 108-106 with 25 seconds left, Bibby drives along the baseline and draws literally all five Lakers. He dishes out to a wide open Christie for three.
The ball goes up.
Doug Christie is a beloved player in Sacramento and in recent years, has been a great addition to the local media scene and community. He also was so important to this Kings squad with his on-ball defense, particularly against the late Bryant (Rest In Peace) in this series. Shout out to Doug, but I can imagine the pressure and nerves that were there in this moment, not to mention the physical and mental exhaustion.
It misses wildly off the backboard.
With 14 seconds left, the Kings are forced to foul and Derek Fisher drains both of his free throws. The writing is on the wall and all over the faces of every player on the Kings bench as they gather for a timeout.
In their final attempt, Webber gets a good look at an open three that takes a decent bounce and has a chance to go, but ultimately rattles out.
Final score: 112-106.
As Bibby is interviewed on the floor after this absolutely crushing loss, he says, Hopefully there will be many years to come of this.
It didn't turn out that way.
Ultimately, I think the Kings lost this game for four specific reasons:
- The free throw shooting
- Divac's foul trouble
- Peja's injury
- The poor shooting from three.
Let's take a quick look at the stats.
Kings 16-30 for 53 percent
Lakers 27-33 for 81 percent
Shaq 11-15 for 73 percent
Threes the Kings went 2-20 from three for 10 percent.
The Kings had an eight-man rotation with Peja nursing a bad ankle coming off the bench. He finished with only 8 points, but also had 8 rebounds. Christie went 2-11 from the floor, but grabbed 9 rebounds and had 5 assists. Jackson finished with 12 points and Turkoglu with 10. Bibby went 11-25 for 29 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists, and Webber nearly had a triple double with 20 points, 11 assist and 8 rebounds in 51 minutes.
For the Lakers:
Kobe 30, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 fouls in 52 minutes
Shaq 35 points, 13 rebounds and 4 blocks
Rick Fox 13 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists
Robert Horry 16 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists
The Kings, of course, never really recovered from this loss. Rob Hessing did a great job detailing the team's history in his Sactown Chronicles series, and it lays out what happens before and after this game (enter the era of Kangz!).
There was a lot that went on in this series, of course the bad calls by the refs, Horry's game-winner in Game 4, the big shot by Bibby in game 5. The reality is, the Kings had an NBA Finals appearance and inevitably an NBA championship (against an inferior opponent in the New Jersey Nets) in their hands with one win.
Game 7 was the most important game in the Sacramento era for this franchise.
It's a tough game to rehash. Losing is part of sports and life though. The fan base came together during the rise that led to it, experienced the high leading into this game together and felt pure anguish collectively as it all came crashing down.
This was a great team and it will remain cherished despite coming up short. Just look up in the rafters at the Golden 1 Center.
Everyone longs for the days when the Kings are back to this level, on national TV every week and resting the starters at the end of games during the regular season. Playing a fun and competitive brand of basketball.
And it just so happens that the Kings now have a chance to make the playoffs this season, which would be the first time in 14 years. It is under completely different circumstances with a completely different set of expectations, but hey, at least it's a start.
Surely, they will get back to the cusp of a Finals appearance one day. They will, right? Maybe?