Sacramento Kings: What Was Vlade Divac Thinking In Game 4?

If you’ve browsed NBA Twitter today, you’ve surely caught wind of the fact that today is the 18th anniversary of Robert Horry‘s buzzer beating shot against the Sacramento Kings in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.

In case you’ve been living under a Shaquille O’Neal-sized rock for the last two decades, here’s how it happened:

It was Game 4 and the Kings had a two point lead with ten seconds left. The Lakers had possession of the ball on their end of the floor. Kobe Bryant drove to the basket and missed a well-contested layup, of which O’Neal grabbed the rebound. His gimmie two-footer was a bit strong, and it bounced off of the rim and into the sea of waiting hands below.

Instead of coming down with the rebound by securing it with two hands, Vlade Divac swats the ball out towards the three-point line, where Horry is standing idle to the play. The ball hits the ground once, like a perfectly placed bounce pass, and Horry fires a three from the top of the arc. The buzzer sounds, the ball goes in, and the series is tied at two games a piece.

Sacramento Kings: What Was Vlade Thinking?

This could have been avoided. What was Divac thinking by slapping the ball instead of grabbing it and drawing an intentional foul?

Here is my theory:

Divac actually made a smart play, he just made it one second too early. He was aware of the clock and knew that time was winding down. Judging by the two bunny shots that were missed at the rim by Bryant and O’Neal, it looks like the Lakers were going for the tie rather than the win.

Divac is battling for a rebound with seven bodies surrounding him, and likely thinks that the last place that someone will be standing is at the top of the three-point arc. So instead of risking trying to coral the loose ball around so many hands, he swats is to where he believes no one is standing.

Had Horry not been standing in that exact spot, or if the ball had come off of the rim just a second later, we would have been applauding Divac for his heads up play. In practically any other situation, that swatted ball becomes a loose ball, and the ensuing scramble for possession would bleed the final ticks off of the game clock. In practically any other situation, the Kings win 99-97 and Mike Bibby’s Game 5 dagger sends the Kings to the 2002 NBA Finals.

But destiny had other plans for Sacramento that day. The team would put up a valiant fight for the rest of the series, but there was no denying that Horry’s shot took some very important wind out of the royal sails that day.

Was Divac right for doing what he did? Obviously not, or else we’d be talking about Kings rings instead of referee robberies. It is easy to question why he did what he did, but hindsight is always 20/20.

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