SACRAMENTO -- The night belonged to the fans. Playing in front of an emotional sellout crowd on Saturday night, the Sacramento Kings closed out Sleep Train Arena in dramatic fashion. The final score was a 114-112 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, but that was academic.
The real story of the night was the arena. The organization brought back every former player and coach possible to give the building formerly known as Arco Arena a proper send off.
“The ears are ringing a little bit, kind of like 96’ when my ears were ringing a lot from this building,” George Karl said. “It scared the hell out of me. Fans are incredible. Fans are first class.”
Members of the golden age of Kings basketball (1998-2006) filled the building, but they weren’t the only ones. Reggie Theus, Otis Thorpe showed up, as did Spud Webb and Walt Williams. The loudest cheer came for former head coach Rick Adelman and Pete Carril.
It was a party atmosphere that included a tricycle race between Brad Miller, Yogi Stewart and Olden Polynice, an appearance by members of the 2005 Monarchs championship team and even TNT analyst and former Kings guard Kenny Smith made an appearance.
“I remember just growing up in LA, I knew how tough Sacramento was because of their fans,” Darren Collison said. “To get this win for them - I’m sure it means more to them than it means to us.”
While the basketball being played on the floor has been hit and miss, the franchise has hit multiple home runs this season, be it with entertainment or throwing and end of an era party.
The team moves into the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento in October. Sleep Train Arena will be repurposed in some way, but this way the last scheduled game in a building known for sellout and incredible fan support.
A WIN IS A WIN
The Sacramento Kings captured the energy of an incredible crowd on Saturday night and for one of the few times this season, they played to the level of their competition.
The Kings forced turnovers, protected the ball and matched their opponents 3-point attempts and makes stride-for-stride on their way to a big victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
This Sacramento team continues to tease. With just two games remaining you can’t help but think what could have been. They have the talent to compete with anyone, but until the few weeks, they couldn’t put it all together.
“Obviously I wish we would’ve had a few more wins, had a couple more games at Sleep Train Arena this is how it had to end,” Rudy Gay said after hitting the game winning free throws with one second remaining in the game. “It’s how the dice rolled and we have to live with it, become better players and better people for next year.”
Gay finished the night with 24 points, eight rebounds, three assists, four steals and two blocks in 38 minutes. He looked like the Rudy Gay that NBA fans have come accustomed to over his career, not the player that has struggled to find a role on the this season’s Kings team.
He loves to face off with fellow D.C. native Kevin Durant. While KD put up 31 points, he needed 31 shots to get there and he also turned the ball over five times in the loss.
“He’s one of the greats,” Gay said of Durant. “He’s one of the greats in the game right now and it’s crazy because I’ve seen him grow up, I’ve seen him grow into the player that he is right now. I think we’ve always had a good match up, it’s always fun playing against him.”
It was a night of friendly battles against familiar faces. Collison matched up with former UCLA teammate Russell Westbrook, and in a similar way to Gay, he bested his opponent.
Collison finished with 17 of his team-high 27 points in the second half. He added a team-high eight assists starting in place of Rajon Rondo as he outdueled Westbrook.
“It was fun,” Collison said. “The crowd was amazing the whole night. They were on their feet pretty much the whole entire game. I’m just happy that we got the win for this last game for them.”
Seth Curry continued his hot streak, scoring 20 points off the bench in 33 minutes of action. He drilled five 3-pointers to start the game and went 6-of-10 overall from behind the arc as the Kings won for the fifth time in their last nine.
“If I had to give a game ball I’d give it to Darren Collison and Seth Curry,” Karl said. “Pretty damn good on both ends of the court.”
With the win, the Sacramento Kings improved to 32-48 on the season.
QUESTIONABLE CALL ALMOST SPELLS DISASTER
With the clock winding down and OKC trailing by three, Westbrook sprinted down court in an attempt to get off one last shot attempt. James Anderson tried to slow the star guard and send him to the line for two free throws, but Westbrook threw up a shot attempt and the officials gave him three free throws with just seven seconds remaining.
It’s a play that happens all the time in the NBA, but seldom does the offensive player get the 3-point attempt. Westbrook stepped to the line and tied the game, setting up a wild finish.
“I knew it wasn’t reviewable,” Karl said. “A judgement call is not reviewable. I think it proves to be a bad call from every memo and every handbook they have. That’s the call they don’t want to give to the team.”
In the end, it all worked out. Westbrook dropped in three freebies to tie the game at 112-112. Gay attacked the rim on the other end and with one second remaining, he drew the foul, hit the two free throws and the Kings celebrated a win.