Bryant's tying 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left in regulation forced overtime, and the Los Angeles Lakers regrouped to hand the Kings a 116-108 loss Wednesday night in what might have been the last game ever in California's capital city.
Phil By the Seed
Phil Jackson is entering the playoffs for the 20th time. He has had the best team in his conference nine times, coming away with the title eight of those times. All in all, Jackson's teams have won the title 10 of the 12 times they received the No. 1 or 2 seeds. Jackson teams are 1-7 when ranked third or worse.
— from Elias Sports Bureau
"I told Phil it's fitting it's going to end this way," Bryant said after sharing a laugh with Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
When the final buzzer sounded, thousands of fans refused to leave their seats, doing everything they could to protest the franchise's possible move to Anaheim. Some cried, others took pictures. But all cheered in one, booming voice: "Here we stay! Here we stay!"
"No matter what happens," Garcia said, grabbing the microphone, "this is always going to be our home."
For one, perhaps final night, it was.
A standing-room only crowd packed things beyond the 17,317-seat capacity, clanking cow bells and roaring louder than they had in years. They brought handmade signs, painted their faces and cheered their loudest to will their beloved team back.
And they nearly did.
Instead, the Lakers pulled away in overtime to earn the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, setting up a first-round series against New Orleans.
"I really feel for these fans," Jackson said. "I'm sure it's a sad, sad day for many."
Thornton had 33 points and Evans added 19 to help the Kings outscore the Lakers 29-11 in the fourth quarter to rally from 20 points down. They went ahead by three until the final seconds, when Bryant delivered a shot to crush Sacramento's hopes yet again.
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Fans stood for almost the entire fourth quarter and overtime as the Kings nearly capped an improbable rally. Jason Thompson's dunk with 1:22 remaining in the fourth gave the Kings their first lead of the half, and it would be a brief one.
After Bryant's shot forced overtime, the Lakers easily controlled overtime. They sprinted out to a six-point lead and never trailed in the extra session.
Afterward, the Kings' dance team stood at halfcourt, hugging, crying, and saying goodbye. Others took the court to take pictures for the final time, and coach Paul Westphal tipped his hand to the crowd in thanks.
How The West Was Won
No. 1* vs. No. 8
No. 2 vs. No. 7
No. 3 vs. No. 6
No. 4 vs. No. 5
* -- Chicago Bulls clinched home-court advantage throughout playoffs with Spurs loss Wednesday
"We're proud of the way we represented this city and this area," said Westphal, who got choked up in his postgame news conference. "We don't know if we'll continue doing that or playing somewhere else. We really felt it tonight. We know that through the ups and downs, these fans supported us. We think we're ending one of those down times."
Bryant finished with 36 points and Lamar Odom scored 22 for the Lakers, who played without injured center Andrew Bynum. They hope to have him back for Game 1 on Sunday night against New Orleans.
Leave it to the Lakers to deliver so much torment.
When the Kings had an NBA-best 61 wins in the 2001-02 regular season, the Lakers eliminated them -- in an epic Game 7 in Sacramento, no less -- that started the long, hard fall for this franchise. The Kings failed to recover from the end of the Chris Webber-Vlade Divac days, attendance dwindled and their outdated arena continued to age.
After years of political bickering and failed ballot measures to build a new arena, Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof started seeking other options. Now it seems the only thing stopping them from moving the franchise to Anaheim is a block by NBA owners.
The Maloofs are scheduled to make a pitch at the NBA Board of Governors meeting that begins Thursday in New York. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson -- a former NBA All-Star -- and Anaheim officials also will attend.
The Maloofs have until Monday to officially file for permission to relocate, and a vote would likely come within weeks of that request.
"This is my home," Evans told the crowd afterward. "I started my career in Sacramento, and I'll never forget the times we had."
The Kings played a video before the game to show the season's highlights. ... Bynum (hypextended right knee) and Lakers reserves Matt Barnes (sore right knee) and Steve Blake (chicken pox) did not play. They will be re-evaluated this week along with Bynum. ... Extra security, including bomb-sniffing dogs, roamed the arena during the game.