Lakers' last meeting at Arco Arena rekindles memories of contention with the Kings
They're a decade removed from it all, but assistant Lakers coach Brian Shaw and former Kings star Chris Webber still debate. They bring up the contentious history between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings -- meeting in the first round of the 2000 playoffs, 2001 West semifinals and 2002 West Conference Finals. They relive the subplots surrounding the series. And Shaw makes sure to boast how the Lakers proved to be the better team, winning all playoff series en route to an NBA title.
"When we bring it up and we talk about it, I say, 'You guys looked at it as a rivalry,' " Shaw said. "But you never beat us. How could it be a rivalry?"
Much has happened since those matchups. The Lakers' franchise fragmented after the 2003-04 season, when the team traded Shaq, fired Jackson, Derek Fisher left via free agency and Kobe Bryant was left to lead a less talented team. The woes stacked up with a missed playoff appearance in 2005, early first-round exits in 2006 and 2007 and an offseason in which Bryant demanded to be traded. But the Lakers have since appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals and won two NBA championships after acquiring Pau Gasol and Fisher in 2008. Meanwhile, the Kings followed their elimination in seven games in the 2002 Western Conference Finals with two consecutive semifinal losses in 2003 and 2004, two first-round exits in 2005 and 2006 and are likely relocating next season to Anaheim. Many of the best elements of the Sacramento Kings -- Coach Rick Adelman, a frontline in Webber and Vlade Divac and sharp shooting in Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic -- have long been gone.
The Lakers' 116-108 overtime victory Wednesday against the Kings offered up major storylines -- the franchise's last game at Arco Arena, the Lakers securing the No. 2 seed and facing New Orleans in the first round and ending the season on a positive note. But the cowbells, contentious atmosphere and Bryant's late-game clutchness conjured up memories of those playoff series nearly a decade ago.
"It's fitting the game would end like this at Sacramento," Bryant told KCAL-9's John Ireland after the game. "I guess the ghosts of the past have still been haunting us."
But in the Lakers' case, they're relishing it, Shaw believes, because "there were a lot of memories that took place that made the series a lot of fun."
Shaw seemed most fond of recalling the Lakers' Game 7 victory that clinched the 2002 Western Conference Finals, but little of it had to do with what happened on the basketball court.
Sure, he eagerly swiped at the Kings' long-held contention that the Lakers did not fairly win the 2002 Western Conference Finals -- a charge supported by disgraced referee Tim Donaghy -- because of officiating that granted the Lakers 27 free throws in the fourth quarter of Game 6; Shaw pointed to the Kings' poor free throw shooting (16 of 30) and three-point shooting (two of 20) in Game 7. He also noted Vlade Divac's season-long contention that the Kings couldn't lose a series to the Lakers if they had home-court advantage. But Shaw's eyes widened the most when he told the story of how the Lakers, after the Game 7 victory, gave some Kings fans tit for tat. The group of Sacramento fans had mooned the Lakers when they first arrived at Arco Arena.
So, "we all got up against the window in the back of the bus," Shaw said, "and we all mooned them back on the way out. We got a big kick out of that."
Shaw had more stories of off-court shenanigans. In 2002, the night before a preseason game in Las Vegas, Shaw, Shaq and Derek Fisher arrived at Rain nightclub in the Palms Casino and Resort and noticed several Kings players, Mike Bibby among them, on the dance floor. Shaw said he and Shaq had the DJ play an Eminem instrumental so they could free-style trash talk about the Kings. The trash talk didn't end there. Shaq famously called the Kings the "Sacramento Queens." And Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was known to have described Sacramento as a "cow town."
There's the basketball side of it too.
"They were trying to find their way and we were trying to find our way," Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons said. "It just so happened that we both were from the state of California and two pretty good teams."
That's why the 2000 first-round series proved to be something of a wild card. The Lakers at the time frequently struggled against early playoff exits. That all changed under Jackson's watch, of course, but this proved to be the beginning. Sacramento, after coasting through the first two games in L.A., seemed to light a fire under the Lakers prior to Game 3 and the emotions stoked a 2-2 tie. The Lakers put away a contentious five-game series to rest with a 113-86 Game 5 victory that featured Shaq out-rebounding nearly the entire Sacramento team in the first half, Shaq and Bryant sitting out most of the fourth quarter and the Kings' starters outside of Webber shooting a combined seven-of-22 from the field. But the playoff combat was just beginning.
The Lakers sneered at the Kings the following year for celebrating their first-round victory against Phoenix, their first playoff series win since 1981, and swept them without a sweat. Not so much in 2002, where they split the first four games, Bryant suffered what was believed to be food poisoning prior to Game 2, Robert Horry hit a game winner in Game 4 that Divac considered lucky, and Bibby hit a game winner in Game 5 that put the Lakers on the brink of elimination. But the Lakers won the last two games, matchups that provided both challenges and plenty of trash talk.
"Vlade was a little bit of a flopper, but that was his given personality," Cleamons said. "He wanted to win. You do what you think you need to do to try to win. It’s OK. At the end of the day, the best team is going to win nine times out of 10 anyway."
The Lakers were always the better team, and Shaw always reminds Webber of that notion. But all the name-calling and animosity revealed something special about how the Lakers viewed the Kings, even if they didn't consider them a rivalry.
"We respected them, but the way we showed them the ultimate respect was by showing them no respect at all," Shaw said. "That’s how I’d sum it up."
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives past Kings guard Francisco Garcia in the first quarter Wednesday night in Sacramento. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press / April 13, 2011
Bottom photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks to pass after drawing Kings defenders to him under the basket in the first half Wednesday night in Sacramento. Credit: Cary Edmondson / US Presswire / April 13, 2011