We might as well dig in and discuss the shot of the game.
Balls. BALLS. Big ol' matzo balls.
OK, ok, o.k., okay ... there was perhaps a bigger shot, a game-winning wing three in which a former MVP, former Finals MVP and -- hate him or despise him -- a big name shotmaker got wide open at the buzzer. When you saw him get so fricking wide open, and you saw him get the ball with time to set, and you saw the ball leave his hand a split second before the buzzer sounded ... yeah. I hate basketball. Go away, NBA.
During the first few moments of the game, I kept repeating that the Kings deserved to win this game. Spencer Hawes deserved to celebrate. Beno Udrih deserved to celebrate. Omri Casspi deserved to celebrate. Paul Westphal deserved to celebrate. Ime Udoka deserved to celebrate. The Kings offense was masterful, as good as its second half defense was bad. Funny that given how easily the Kings scored on the Lakers that the one critical possession in which Sacramento would come up empty would be a set of potentially game-sealing free throws. The trip to the line prevented a high Hawes-Udrih pick-and-roll, or a Casspi corner three. I'd take those plays over the free throws, at least against that defense at that time.
But it's fitting, and the youngsters need these scars, I suppose. Mike Bibby's bloody face can't inspire generations, but Jason Thompson's invisible tripping leg perhaps can. The next time the Kings and Lakers meet -- March 16 at ARCO, not a moment too soon -- L.A. fans will remember this, sure, and the Lakers themselves will remember the battles they've faced against these young punks. But we'll remember, and J.T. will remember, and Hawes will remember, and they'll all remember. And that will make the team stronger on March 16, and April 13, and next season, and the season after (by which time Kobe will have demanded a trade to CSKA Moscow).
Sacramento's rebounding was rather poor, despite Hawes's 11 defensive boards. Donte Greene (who obviously had to concentrate on not breathing within five feet of Kobe) didn't manage one rebound in 30 minutes, but what hurt most was Thompson's foul trouble and general ineffectiveness: he's the team's top non-Brockman offensive rebounder, and he played only 25 minutes. That allowed Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to easily dominate the glass. Defensively, the Kings fell apart in the second half, giving up 60 total points. Kobe is a fairly solid example of the difference in intensity for Sacramento's defense: Bryant went 3-11 in the first half, 10-16 in the second half.
That final defensive sequence -- Kings in a zone, Kobe pops out and pushes off on Sergio Rodriguez, Sergio slips and can't catch up, no one rotates out -- could have gone a million different ways. Kobe's not magick. He's not predestined to win games like this. But in retrospect, given the teams and player involved, it seems like canon handed down from the hill. It's not. Bryant is a great player. Great players score, often at critical moments. The Kings won't leave him open next time. If five guys have to fling themselves at him, he won't be open. That, you can count on.