Fourteen years later, it’s still unclear how the shot went in.
Kevin Martin is barreling towards the basket, with one chance to score, to take the lead, to get the Kings on the series scoreboard. In his path is Tim Duncan, maybe the greatest defensive players of his generation, right arm raised high to block Martin’s angle at the hoop.
The second-year Kings guard has no choice. He lofts a high-arcing layup off the glass, and it bounces three times, not unlike Kawhi Leonard’s shot in Philadelphia last year.
The horn sounds. The ball drops in. Mayhem.
Martin hugs Bonzi Wells, Rick Adelman delivers an exuberant fist bump, and the Kings cut the series deficit to 2-1. I think my favorite part is Ron Artest corralling the ball and running the length of the floor with it. He had been through the lowest of lows the year before after the brawl in Auburn Hills. Geoff Petrie brought him to Sacramento to keep the Kings’ contention window open a little bit longer, and then Artest was helpless in Game 2 as his team lost in overtime, unable to play because of what his team believed was an unfair suspension. But after Martin’s buzzer-beater, Artest just gets to enjoy being a part of a genuinely great basketball moment.
The 2005-06 season was the beginning of a new era for the Kings franchise. They started the season without Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Bobby Jackson, and Doug Christie, and ended up trading Peja Stojakovic midway through the year for Artest. The team that took the floor in the playoffs was almost unrecognizable except for Mike Bibby and Brad Miller.
Although Artest had declared the Kings “the team to beat” entering the postseason, they laid an egg in Game 1. That loss was compounded by Artest’s suspension in Game 2, which the Kings lost in overtime after Brent Barry’s ridiculous game-tying 3-pointer in regulation.
Sacramento needed Game 3 to make it a competitive series, and San Antonio was hoping to get its repeat bid started off on the right foot. Even as the defending champions, the Spurs still carried a chip on their shoulder as the team that never won back-to-back, and their 63-win campaign showed they had something to prove.
After being tied at 22 in the second quarter, the Kings took control of the game, building a 14-point lead in the third. But the Spurs kept clawing back, led by Duncan’s 29 points, and took their first lead of the second half with 9:47 to play. It was back-and-forth from that point forward; San Antonio had the ball up 93-92 with 27.4 seconds left, and Sacramento seemed content to not foul and to force a stop.
The Spurs gave the rock to Manu Ginobili. He drove into the paint and met the body of Miller, allowing Bibby to get his hands on the ball for the steal. Bibby led the break immediately and found Martin streaking down the other side of the floor for the biggest shot of the 23-year-old’s career. How strange that a man with one of the most recognizable jump shots in Sacramento history is remembered best for an off-balance layup with the wrong hand.
Martin finished with 10 points off the bench, the only reserve to make an impact for the Kings. Artest had 22 points and 12 rebounds, Wells added 19 and 14, and Bibby led the way with 25 points and 8 assists while playing all 48 minutes.
Sacramento eventually lost the series in six, but San Antonio wore down in next round, haunted by another gaffe from Ginobili in the final game of that series to stymie another repeat bid. Even in defeat, the Kings made their presence felt.