The end of a rivalry
2002 Western Conference finals, Game 7: Lakers 112, Kings 106 (OT)
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Game 7 was the only game I've ever covered that extracted a physical toll on me. When it was over, my ears were ringing and my head was pounding like a construction crew had used a jackhammer in my brain, thanks to three hours of continuous noise in Arco Arena. My stomach hurt from following all the twists and turns of the game, which looked as if it belonged to the Kings, then the Lakers, then the Kings and finally the Lakers for good after an extra five minutes.
This game was a perfect summation of the dramatic back-and-forth of the series, which included a huge Lakers comeback and Robert Horry shot for the ages in Game 4, a poisonous room-service meal consumed by Kobe Bryant, a game-winning shot by Mike Bibby in Game 5 and controversial officiating in Game 6. The only thing more you could ask of a series would be an overtime in Game 7, and we got it.
The Kings were more talented, but what mattered at the end was that the Lakers were more experienced. The Kings weren't quite ready for such a big moment, as revealed by their 16-for-30 free throw shooting in Game 7 and guard Doug Christie's admission that he was "scared to death" in that game.
We didn't know it then, but Game 7 marked the end of the NBA's best rivalry of the new decade, a passionate and colorful feud that had everything from Lakers coach Phil Jackson's darts at Sacramento ("semi-civilized") to Kings owner Gavin Maloof dancing on the scorer's table after a big win. Although I'll never forget Bryant, on his way out of Arco after that Game 7, crowing that it wasn't a rivalry at all because the Lakers had won three consecutive playoff series against Sacramento.
"They've got to beat us first," Bryant said. "C'mon, you know the rules."