We all know how the movie ends. The ragtag misfits, buoyed by their passionate home crowd, upset the purple-and-gold Goliath in the last game of the season. Their wealthy owners, encouraged by the mayor who still fondly recalls his glory days, have a change of heart and keep the team where it belongs.
Trust the Los Angeles Lakers to stray from the script. Their 116-108 victory over the host Sacramento (For Tonight) Kings would be unpalatable at the box office. It had some great action sequences, but was ultimately an anticlimax.
The home team’s start offered signs of encouragement, with Marcus Thornton accounting for 15 points in the first quarter and the Sacramento Kings’ big men protecting the rim admirably. The Lakers punched back, stretching their lead to eight at halftime and 18 at the end of the third quarter. It seemed that the Hollywood ending would elude the hosts.
Then the game turned cinematic all over again. Tyreke Evans, Thornton, and Jason Thompson led an improbable surge as the Kings outscored the defending champions 29-11 in the period. Thompson’s dunk gave Sacramento its first lead, at 97-95 with under two minutes left. The teams traded misses until Thompson hauled down Kobe Bryant’s errant jumper with 12 seconds remaining, leading to two Beno Udrih free throws and a 99-96 lead.
The Lakers stuck to the script, as Bryant’s three from the right wing tied the game with 4.8 seconds left. Thornton couldn’t get off a shot as time expired.
In overtime, Derek Fisher’s deja vu three-pointer drew first blood. the teams then traded baskets until Lamar Odom’s dunk and Bryant’s long jumper put the Lakers up by five just under the two-minute mark. That was enough to put the pesky Kings away and secure the second seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The Kings’ likely impending exit from Sacramento produced a palpably bizarre energy in the building that manifested itself in small vignettes throughout the evening.
The officials, perhaps feeding off the nervous atmosphere, called an inexplicable double-technical on DeMarcus Cousins and Pau Gasol less than four minutes into the game, apparently for the unpardonable crime of gently battling for low-post position. Joe Smith, in a rare game appearance, hit an improbable fadeaway jumper, only to have it wiped out minutes later when replays showed it did not beat the shot clock. In overtime, a mechanical malfunction froze the shot and game clocks during a Laker possession.
Evans was tentative and ineffective for the first three quarters, clanging wild drives off the rim and getting abused down low by Ron Artest. He turned up his energy in the fourth, hitting several critical jump shots and finding open teammates during Sacramento’s furious comeback. In doing so, he served notice that his disappointing second season may have been part injury, part aberration. The Evans who led the fourth-quarter charge is a player who could serve a winning team well.
HIs hoped-for sidekick, Cousins, had a rough night, displaying his two greatest failings: an inability to avoid fouls, which limited him to 14 minutes; and an uncontrolled temper, which flared enough to warrant a fourth-quarter ejection.
Cousins’ early exit didn’t stop his team and the fans from sticking around as long as they could. The fans stayed in the building long after the final buzzer, grateful for the gift of a thrilling game tonight and 26 years of professional basketball in the state’s capital.
In a pre-game interview, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson revealed that he was only watching the first quarter of the game, before catching a red-eye flight to New York City for an NBA Board of Governors meeting. Johnson said that fans in Sacramento deserved an NBA team.
For tonight, they had one, maybe for the last time. Their last memory won’t be of victory but of a team that didn’t quit under trying circumstances, only to find that their effort wasn’t quite enough.
That may not be consolation for the fans’ impending loss, but it will have to do for now. This movie had an ending, but no resolution.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.