The 2002 Western Conference Finals were full of signature moments, including Mike Bibby hitting the biggest shot in Sacramento Kings’ history.
May 28th, 2002 – ARCO Arena (Sacramento, California)
They did not know it at the time, but the Sacramento Kings were in the midst of the most important playoff series in franchise history. They were squaring off against the 2-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, and the series was tied at two games apiece. Game 5 was in Sacramento.
After losing the first game of the series, the Kings took Games 2 & 3 by a combined margin of 19 points. Game 4 in Los Angeles, better known as “The Robert Horry Game”, will have its final shot featured on every Lakers franchise highlight, forever.
If the Kings were to come in to Game 5 completely demoralized, it would have been understandable. They were not.
Chris Webber scored 29 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in 45 minutes of play, and Sacramento trailed by one going in to the fourth quarter. A pair of Kobe Bryant free throws with five minutes left gave the Lakers a five-point lead, their largest since the opening moments of the second quarter.
Sacramento would claw back. The Kings found themselves down by one with 30 seconds remaining when Kobe Bryant had his shot in the lane blocked by Vlade Divac, giving Sacramento possession and a chance to take the lead.
After the Lakers knocked the ball out of bounds with 11.4 seconds left, the Kings took a timeout, and head coach Rick Adelman drew up a play for a quick shot that would be the biggest of the Sacramento era.
Mike Bibby was inbounding from under his own basket, in the corner hugging the Lakers bench. Derek Fisher was guarding the inbounds pass. A screen from Divac freed up Webber who was able to receive the inbounds pass cleanly. Bobby Jackson, who started near the top of the three-point arc, flashed through the lane to create space on the perimeter.
Webber took the inbounds pass as Bibby darted directly at him. Webber opened his hips, creating a screen on a trailing Fisher, causing him to crumble in a heap. Webber flipped the ball off to Bibby like a quarterback feeding a running back on a dive up the middle.
Bibby rose up on the wing, uncontested, from a foot inside the three-point line.
“Webber, back to Bibby, has the open shot…Yes!!!” was the call from Marv Albert on NBC.
ARCO Arena’s top blew off. The fans, known to be the loudest in the league, went insane. The pent-up frustration from the 51 hours that had passed since Horry’s shot came out in one thunderous roar.
The Lakers called timeout, and Bibby was mobbed by his teammates on his way back to the bench. Mateen Cleaves picked him up and twirled him. Lawrence Funderburke grasped him around the head. Doug Christie gave him a butt slap as Webber pulled him in for a hug.
The crowd remained spirited and buoyant throughout the ensuing time out. The Lakers still had eight seconds to make something happen. When Bryant missed a 16-footer that was rebounded by Peja Stojakovic, the buzzer sounded and ARCO exploded yet again.
Cowbells clanged and thunder sticks clapped, as Kings fans could begin to smell the Finals. Their team had just taken a 3-2 lead and had the momentum, as well as a guarantee of a home court advantage should the series get to a seventh game.
It was the highest that Sacramento Kings fans had ever been, and the highest they would be for the next 18+ years.
Just think. If Divac had grabbed that rebound in the closing seconds of Game 4 instead of tapping it out to a waiting Horry, Bibby’s shot would have been the series clincher that ended the Lakers dynasty a year early.