Season on the brink
Kings' win puts Lakers' backs against the wallPosted: Wednesday May 29, 2002 12:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday May 29, 2002 11:23 AM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Mike Bibby spent three long years in Vancouver waiting for the spotlight -- for a chance to make a dramatic shot in a big playoff game.
The Sacramento Kings' fans have been waiting many more years to cheer such a moment.
So when Bibby hit the jumper that sent the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of elimination, his joyous scream made him the quietest man in the building.
Bibby made the winning shot with 8.2 seconds to play as the Kings beat the Lakers 92-91 Tuesday night and took a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference finals.
"I wanted the shot all the way, and I knew it would go down," Bibby said. "I can't say why. I just knew it. It felt right."
Bibby scored 23 points, and Chris Webber had 29 points and 13 rebounds as the Kings moved within one game of the franchise's first trip to the NBA Finals since 1951. The euphoric victory erased the Kings' memories of their heartbreaking loss in Game 4.
In a thrilling series swinging on dramatic shots and superstar feats, Bibby and the Kings came through again. Bibby scored the game's final four points, and Kobe Bryant, who scored 30 points, missed a jumper with one second left that could have won it.
Game 6 is Friday night in Los Angeles. If necessary, Game 7 will be back at Arco Arena on Sunday.
Sacramento didn't show any lingering effects from the heartbreak of Robert Horry's buzzer-beating 3-pointer that gave Los Angeles a series-evening victory Sunday.
In fact, Bibby's poise on the final shot was an extension of the Kings' rapidly evolving late-game poise -- a trait that's become the Lakers' hallmark during their run to two titles.
"This is my first year here, and I'm just happy to contribute," Bibby said. "I think there are a lot of people on the team that can take that last shot. I just happened to hit it. My confidence level is really high right now."
It was yet another impossibly dramatic game in a series that has easily lived up to the possibilities of the NBA's best regular-season team facing the defending champs. Neither team took a significant lead all night, and the lead changed hands five times in the fourth quarter.
"We'll take our one-point defeat and move on to Friday," Bryant said. "We had our opportunities, but Mike made the big shot."
After Shaquille O'Neal fouled out with 3:22 left, every possession was fraught with tension. Los Angeles took an 89-88 lead on Bryant's jumper with 2:09 left. Samaki Walker and Bibby traded free throws, and Vlade Divac blocked Bryant's shot on a rambling drive to the hole.
After the ball was tipped out of bounds on the other end, the Kings called a timeout. Coach Rick Adelman diagrammed the Kings' regular inbounds play.
As Webber and Bibby walked up the court, Bibby said: "If you get me the ball, I'm going to make it."
Webber replied: "I'll get you the ball."
Bibby inbounded to Webber, who set a pick on the right wing while handing it back to Bibby -- and the Kings' point guard buried a 22-footer as Arco Arena exploded.
It's easy to forget that this is the first playoff experience for Bibby, who won a national championship in college at Arizona, but spent his first three NBA seasons in Grizzlies obscurity before last summer's trade for Jason Williams.
The Lakers got the ball to Bryant on the other end, but he may have waited too long to make a move. He settled for a 16-foot jumper with Bobby Jackson's arm in his face, and it bounced off the rim.
"I knew he'd try to spin baseline -- it's his favorite move," Jackson said. "I was thinking, 'Please miss. Please, please miss.' He's a great player. He doesn't miss many shots."
Fans, photographers and cheerleaders rushed the court as the Kings mobbed one another and Divac blew kisses to the crowd. Team owner Gavin Maloof ran across the court, leaped onto the scorer's table and pumped his fist dozens of times as the deafening volume increased.
The Lakers trudged off the court, aware of how tenuous their budding dynasty's health has become.
"We moved the ball well and played good defense," O'Neal said. "We were just one shot short."
O'Neal played another remarkable game, but foul trouble kept him stewing on the bench with an infuriated frown for much of the night.
O'Neal had 28 points -- 16 in a phenomenal third quarter -- and seven rebounds. But he shot just one free throw, and he was sitting 10 feet from Bibby when he hit the game-winner.
The Lakers haven't faced a playoff elimination game since the 2000 conference finals, when they memorably rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Portland in Game 7.
The return of All-Star Peja Stojakovic, who missed six games with a sprained ankle, didn't help the Kings much. Rick Fox, who struggled in the series' previous two games, held Stojakovic to two points while scoring 16.
The only constant in this series has been outstanding, pressure-free play by the visiting teams early in every game. Los Angeles shot 65 percent in the first quarter Tuesday night, moving the ball to create open shots with a fluidity they never showed at home over the weekend.
After rallying in the second quarter, Sacramento had a 10-point lead in the third, but O'Neal and Bryant erased it with their customary flair. The game stayed tight throughout the fourth, and O'Neal made his final eight shots before fouling out.
Notes: Lakers guard Mitch Richmond, who had seven outstanding
years with the Kings before he was traded for Webber in 1998, got
his first playoff action of the season in the second quarter. He
played three minutes, making one free throw. ... Several regular
courtside fans at Staples Center acquired nearly the same seats at
Arco Arena, including entertainment mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and
film director Penny Marshall. Titans running back Eddie George,
49ers receiver Terrell Owens and Notre Dame football coach Tyrone
Willingham also were in the crowd.