The Sacramento Kings made their last playoff appearance in 2006, but their championship window closed with a loss to the Timberwolves in 2004.
It has been so long since the Sacramento Kings have been relevant that it often feels like a different lifetime. It has been such a long and grueling fall from grace that it feels like those championship-contending teams played in a different NBA.
The 2002 Western Conference Finals are so often spoken of as a tragic loss, that it is easy to forget that the Kings remained contenders for a couple of years afterwards. Not only were they contenders, but the 2002-’03 team is widely considered to be the deeper and more talented of the two. Unfortunately for Sacramento, star player Chris Webber suffered a knee injury in the second round of the 2003 Playoffs and the team was quickly eliminated from contention.
Webber played in just 23 games the following year while recovering from microfracture surgery, but the Kings managed to grab the 4th seed for what felt like what would be their last shot at a NBA championship.
They made quick work of the Dallas Mavericks, who had beaten them without Webber a season before. Mike Bibby was huge for Sacramento in the opening round, averaging nearly 24 points as the Kings were able to advance after just five games.
Then came a series date with Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
A Date With The Top Seed
In 2003-’04, Garnett was enjoying his statistical season of any of the 21 that he played in his career. He averaged 24.2 points and 13.9 rebounds, both career-highs, and his rebound total led the NBA. He played in all 82 games, and the Wolves finished with 58 wins and the first overall seed in the Western Conference.
Like Sacramento, Minnesota also won their first round series in five games and were poised to do battle against one of the NBA’s most successful franchises over the previous few years. The second round series ended up being a classic.
The first two games were in Minnesota. Game 1 was a battle of the point guards, as Mike Bibby and Sam Cassell combined to score 77 of the 202 total points in the game. Cassell’s 40 was not enough as the Kings were able to steal the all-important first game. The Wolves would even things up behind a classic Garnett performance in Game 2 that included six blocks.
Game 3 was one of the most entertaining games in franchise history, despite Sacramento coming up on the wrong end of things.
A 10-foot jump shot from Garnett put the Wolves up 100-87 with just 3:45 remaining between them and a solid 2-1 series lead. The Kings had other ideas, as Bibby and Peja Stojakovic combined to score 14 of the team’s final 17 points to force one of the unlikeliest overtimes. ARCO Arena was rocking, but little did we know that this would be one of the last truly meaningful games in the building we’d come to love.
Overtime was as hotly contested as regulation was. Stojakovic scored every point for the Kings in the extra frame as he finished the game 29 points. He needed 31. With Sacramento down by one with less than four seconds remaining in overtime, he took a highly contested three pointer, one on which he wanted a foul called. There was no whistle, and the ball made it all of about ten feet. The Wolves got the rebound, the buzzer sounded, and the Kings were in a 2-1 hole.