Last week for Thank God It’s Flashback Friday we went back to 2002 for an Eastern Conference Finals encounter between the Boston Celtics and New Jersey Nets. 2002 was one of my favorite years ever, so we’re staying there for another edition of TGIFF.
2002 Western Conference Finals Game 7, Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings
I was originally going to flashback to Game 6 of this series, but I made the executive decision to run with Game 7 instead for three reasons.
1: Game 6 is the NBA Conspiracy Theorists dream game and I’m not much of a conspiracy theory guy.
2: Game 6 featured far too many free throws, especially in the 4th quarter, and it’s difficult to make that exciting in a running diary.
3: There is no good reason not to watch a classic Game 7, in what happens to be one of the best seven game playoff series in NBA history.
Sacramento was 61-21 during the 2001-02 season, the best record in the league by three games. Los Angeles finished 58-24, good enough for the three seed in the Western Conference and about what you’d expect from a team that was going for their third straight NBA Title. You probably remember a lot about this series. Robert Horry’s game-winner in Game 4. Mike Bibby’s game-winner in Game 5. Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal combining for 72 points, 28 rebounds, and 28 free throw attempts in Game 6—you probably know this one as The Game Tim Donaghy Claimed the NBA had the Officials Fixed. Taking a quick two minute survey of my memory, this is probably one of the five most memorable NBA Playoff series that I can remember, and I was just ten years old at the time. So I promise, this Game 7 won’t disappoint.
The series is tied 3-3 and the series has shifted back to Sacramento’s Arco Arena. It’s time to bust out a somewhat scattered-brained version of my handy dandy notebook. I’ll be honest, I got a little giddy on this trip down memory lane.
- Calling the game for NBC is Marv Albert, Steve “Snapper” Jones and the immortal Bill Walton. No offense to Snapper, but we could’ve done without him this game. Marv Albert is an all-timer and Bill is Bill. Really, the two man booth would’ve worked just fine. I’d go as far as saying the same thing about the Mike Breen, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson announce booth. Let’s just get Mark Jackson in Cleveland already so Breen and Van Gundy can do the two-man show.
- The starting five for Los Angeles was Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Shaquille O’Neal, while Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac started the contest for the Kings. Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman were the coaches for the Lakers and Kings respectively. One interesting note related to these line-ups: the only two players on either of these rosters that are currently in the NBA are Kobe Bryant and Hedo Turkoglu. I for one am surprised that Samaki Walker—who my little cousin Luca used to affectionately call “Sucky Walker”—isn’t still getting consistent minutes in the Association.
- Speaking of Hedo Turkolgu, until I watched this game I had totally forgotten that Turkoglu once had frosted tips. The game hasn’t even started yet and I already know that this is going to be my favorite part of it. Just in case you were wondering, “Arka Sokak Çocukları” is the Turkish term for Backstreet Boys.
- Right from the get-go the Albert/Walton/Snapper trio is talking about the Webber/Bibby duo in the same conversation as Shaq and Kobe. Get that weak stuff outta here. I can’t remember if I thought it at the time, but NBC trying to push these duo matchups down our throats is just silly. The burden Shaq and Kobe were facing each night, combined with their statistical and big picture success with always grandfather them into any conversations of greatest NBA duo ever, even if their ego’s got in the way of winning five or six titles together rather than three.
Seriously, try and name another NBA Championship team that was as underwhelming from their third guy to their fifteenth guy as the Lakers of this era were. Derek Fisher was good for a timely bucket or two, as was Big Shot Bob, but nobody else on the Lakers could even consistently get themselves a good look from the field. Those two were just incredible. Hey, how about a couple more Shaq and Kobe points?
- Shaq was just as imposing as I remembered. My God, you needed to drop a freaking anvil on him to stop him from scoring once he got his hands on the ball in the paint. I’ve gone on record saying that Hakeem Olajuwon is the greatest center in NBA history. But there isn’t a more physically dominant player than Shaq. It was impossible to deny him position in the post without fouling, and it was pretty damn hard to force a miss without getting away with some contact on the shot.
- Equally as fun as prime Shaq was young Kobe. Don’t get me wrong, I really have enjoyed prime Kobe and even Kobe’s twilight years—you know, the cagey, good footwork and impeccable mid-range version of Kobe—but young Kobe is delightful. He was armed with a lightning quick first step and serious bounce. The few times when the Lakers actually got out and ran Kobe was like a gazelle taking off. All that was missing in this game was the mini-fro.
- In less profound news, Derek Fisher is wearing his headband over his ears—yet another early 2000’s nugget that I forgot about. Are coaches allowed to wear headbands on the sideline? If so, Fisher should consider doing it to try to muffle all of the boo’s he’s been hearing at Madison Square Garden.
- Ready for a shocking opinion: I don’t think Vlade Divac was as much of a flopper as people make him out to be. Don’t get me wrong, he embellished quite a few calls—and there is nothing wrong with that; I’m of the persuasion that if the refs are dumb enough to make those calls, then there is nothing wrong with embellishing in order to make them blow their whistle … and yes, I was one hell of a flopper during my high school basketball career—but I truly believe that at least 40 percent of Vlade’s exaggeration to contact was just based on the fact that he was clumsy. Think about it; he’s seven feet tall and wasn’t the most nimble guy in the world anyway. It’s entirely possible that he just couldn’t stay on his own two feet.
- With five minutes left in the 2nd quarter and Los Angeles on the run, Bill Walton assertively says, “Somebody has to be the lead guy for Sacramento.” You probably remember the lead guy for the Kings being Chris Webber, but the conclusion to this game will prove otherwise. I’ll touch on it again in a bit, but Webber wanted no part of the ball late in the game.
- Let’s move on to the 2nd half. Sacramento, who led 54-52 at halftime, go on a 9-2 run to opener the 3rd quarter. This was probably the most important four minute sequence of the game. Sacramento’s lead expanded to nine, but they missed a few makeable buckets and didn’t cash in on five free throws. That Sacramento lead could’ve very easily ballooned to about 15 or 16 points, but they let Los Angeles hang in there. If they knock down those free throws we probably aren’t talking about a Lakers three-peat.
- The third quarter was played much more at LA’s pace. Even though young Kobe was a stallion, the Lakers were better off playing a grind-it-out half-court game, especially against a team like Sacramento, who could be so breath-taking on the break. The change in pace from the 1st half is a huge reason why LA managed to survive that early Kings onslaught. The Lakers trailed by just one going into the 4th quarter.
- Bill Walton used the word “aroused” and he wasn’t even talking about Rick Fox. He was actually talking about Sacramento, and how driving and dishing could arouse their offense. I think he could have worded that a little differently. I’m going to start making inappropriate jokes if I keep up this notepad. I think it’s time to fast forward to the final minutes of this game and keep a running diary.
1:10 left in the 4th quarter- Alright, so just so everyone knows, right now Los Angeles is up 96-94. In the previous two possession we’ve had Mike Bibby knocking down a contested long-range two pointer, followed by Robert Horry doing Big Shot Bob things—i.e. knocking down a three to put the Lakers up two.
The Lakers are now paying much more attention to Bibby—that’s what you do when there is only one guy on the floor who looks like he actually wants to take a big shot—and it results in an open look for Frosted-Tip Turkoglu. The three is no good, but Shaq doesn’t box out Vlade Divac and he gets the easy tip-in. Tie ball game.
0:47- Vlade Divac answers the question, “Is it possible to flop when you get called for your sixth foul,” with a definitive “Yes!” that would make Marv Albert proud. Vlade gets called for the loose ball foul and he throws himself to the floor and proceeds to flop around like a fish out of water. What a vintage Vlade performance, and I’m not talking about the game he played (he had 15 points and 10 rebounds by the way). Anyway, Kobe knocks down one out of two free throws, so the Lakers are up 97-96.
0:39- Just so you guys know, we were damn close to living in a world where Mike Bibby was the crunch time assassin for an NBA Champion. He buries a long-two with Shaq and Kobe running at him to put the Kings up one. Just a ballsy shot. Imagine how differently we’d think about Bibby if the Kings actually won this game.
0:22- Kobe takes Doug Christie into the post and gets walloped as he spins toward the basket. Kudos to me for the appropriate use of the word wallop, and kudos to Kobe for coolly hitting both free throws.
0:10- Whoa, what a sequence! Armed with two timeouts, the Kings neglect to take one and still get a completely wide-open Peja Stojakovic corner three. Peja is a 40 percent career three point shooter and a two-time Three-Point Shootout Champion, and I guarantee he never airballed another three as badly as he did this one. He was all by himself in the left corner and missed that bad boy by about a foot to the right. In all fairness, he sucked the entire second half, not just on that shot. . No offense, Peja.
Shaq grabbed the rebound and got immediately fouled, and he managed to knock down one of the two free throws. So to recap, there are now 10.4 seconds left and the Lakers are up 100-98.
0:08- Well you don’t see this every day. Kobe was a little too aggressive trying to deny Mike Bibby the ball and the refs made the easy foul call. Based on what you’ve heard so far, you shouldn’t be surprised that Bibby knocked down both free throws. There is no doubt in my mind any other Kings player misses at least one of those two free throws.
0:00- The Lakers last possession is a mess, and it results in a one handed push shot from the free throw line from Shaq. Even when he’s wide open that’s not the look you want. We go to overtime, but because you’ve already read 2,000 words, the overtime period gets a brief summary.
Chris Webber opened up the overtime period with a mid-range jumper—by the way, Webber has been going back and forth between wearing a headband and not wearing a headband all game; that seems weird to me—but he was otherwise silent and that’s the problem. Maybe Sacramento had better players 1-15, and maybe they even had a better team. Maybe they should’ve closed out the series in Game 6, and maybe if they made LA pay in that four minute stretch early in the 3rd quarter they would’ve won this series. But they didn’t.
Maybe the Lakers were in some respects a two-man team, but it’s better than being a team like Sacramento, who had one guy out there who was totally fearless (Bibby), one superstar who wasn’t totally equipped to handle a big moment like that (Webber) and a bunch of other guys who shrunk in the spotlight. What this series came down to was Shaq and Kobe being Shaq and Kobe, Robert Horry making a couple huge shots and the Kings not finding that second consistent guy after Bibby. In the overtime period Bibby had four points and Webber had two. After that first basket Webber hovered between forcing it too much and being too passive.
The Lakers were collected the entire game. They made 27 of their 33 free throw attempts compared to Sacramento knocking down just 16 of their 30 attempts. The Kings were the 9th best three point shooting team in the league that season, but collectively made just two of their 20 attempts.
Plain and simple, LA was just wired to win this kind of a game. Sacramento wasn’t. Regardless, the Kings were the 2nd best team in the league that season and there is no shame in that. There is shame if you don’t check this game out at some point though. You can watch it by clicking here. It’s also shameful if you don’t come back next week for another edition of Thank God It’s Flashback Friday.