Thursday, April 14, 2011

Los Angeles Lakers 116 at Sacramento Kings 108 (OT) - April 13, 2011

The Sacramento Kings are probably moving to Anaheim in time for next season. It's an unfortunate consequence of the recession and an outdated arena which has left the team unable to generate enough revenue to compete. It is even more depressing because Sacramento was once considered to have the best fans in the league. I can't disagree after paying a visit last night for what might have been the last game in the team's history.


When I planned this trip, I wasn't aware that the Kings' move was nearly a done deal, so I hadn't realized that ticket prices were through the roof. I was worried that I would be priced out but as game time approached, I noticed people lowering prices on the secondary market. With this information, I headed out to Power Balance Pavilion, paid the $10 parking fee, and went to the box office to see if anything was available.

I was surprised at how few people were in line to buy tickets just over an hour before the game. People in front of me were buying standing room tickets for $52 but these were to watch the game on TV inside a room, without a direct view of the floor. No thanks. So I asked if there were any singles. According to the ticket lady, there were six seats left, ranging in price from $150 to $330. I took the cheapest option, buying a ticket in the 3rd row of the upper deck at center court. It turned out those were the ticket lady's own seats but she couldn't sell them in time. That was good news for me as I was in the arena! It ruined the budget for a couple of days, but this was perhaps my only chance to see an NBA game in the arena so it was a no-brainer. It turned out to me more than worth it as I saw a city's love for its team and a pretty exciting NBA game to boot.

Power Balance Pavilion

Power Balance Pavilion (formerly ARCO Arena; it was renamed in January of this year) is just a few miles north of downtown in an area called Natomas. Parking is $10 and is plentiful, and easy to enter and exit.

Entering the arena is like stepping back in time. It was opened in 1988 and seems to be completely unchanged during the intervening years. There are just two levels, a single concourse, and few luxury suites. I loved it. Of course, the lack of revenue is why the Kings are leaving, but for me, it was a look back at sports before they became the cynical money-grab that they are today.

The arena was designed for basketball, which means there are no bad seats. When basketball courts are laid out in hockey arenas, many of the sideline seats are behind the baselines and don't even face the court. But here, there were almost none of those seats, and those that were faced the court directly as you can see below.

With just one level of luxury suites and no club section, the upper level is quite close to the action too. I just toured the concourse once and didn't see anything of note. It was a place to watch a basketball game, not an entertainment experience.

There was a bit of history inside the seating bowl. The Kings used to play in Rochester, Cincinnati, and Kansas City and were known as the Royals. As you can see in the photo below, the franchise honours past greats that played in those former cities.

The compact size of the arena makes it a great place to watch a game. The crowd is into it and I think the players feed off their energy. This was certainly the case last night when the Lakers came to visit needing a win to lock down the 2nd seed for the upcoming playoffs.

The Game

It was Fan Appreciation Night and the Kings thanked their devoted followers by having Dontae Green speak before the game (below). A nice touch.

The game unfolded as expected. Sacramento stayed close early but the Lakers used a couple of runs to build a 48-34 advantage midway through the second quarter. The Kings came back to go into the half down by just 8, but a terrible third quarter left the Lakers leading 88-70 with just 12 minutes to go.

This is when things got interesting. After Sacramento started the 4th with a single free throw, Cousins was ejected after receiving his second technical. A sad end to his rookie season. The Lakers scored the ensuing free throw and Lamar Odom added a jumper shortly thereafter to make it 91-71 with just 9:44 to go. The fans didn't give up though, and neither did their team. The Kings suddenly went on a 10-0 run and after exchanging a couple of baskets, completed another 10-0 stretch to tie the game at 95. Amazing! The place was rocking, and the Lakers' fans next to me were suddenly very, very quiet. When Jason Thompson dunked to give the Kings the lead with just 1:22 to go, the PBP went crazy. It was so loud, the improved acoustics being an advantage of a smaller arena. Everybody was on their feet as you can see below.

Unfortunately, the referees decided to get involved at this point, calling a defensive 3 second violation on Sacramento on the next possession. Noted loudmouth Kobe Bryant, fresh off insulting the homosexual population and $100,000 lighter in the wallet because of it, sunk the technical free throw. But he missed his next two jump shots and after Beno Udrih sunk two FTs, the Kings had a 99-96 lead with just 9.6 seconds left.

The Lakers had one shot, and everyone in the arena knew that Bryant would take it. The Kings couldn't foul Pau Gasol off the inbounds play and he dished to Bryant, who juked his defender to get an open look, then sank a miracle three to tie the game (below).

An incredible play and really the game winner. The Kings were deflated and muffed their last chance in regulation, failing to even get a shot. Overtime was merely a formality as the Lakers outscored their hosts 17-9 to win 116-108. Bryant finished with 36 points to lead all scorers.

Wow. This game had it all, but in the end, the Lakers showed their experience and talent. They aren't three-peating though.

The game itself acted as a metaphor for the Kings' move to Anaheim. When all appeared hopeless last week, the Kings have found a bit of hope these past few days. The move is by no means certain, and the NBA will be hearing presentations from the owners and city officials from both communities today. The result should be known early next week. Some have said that there are still obstacles to the move, but I think that, similar to what happened last night, the Kings will not be able to complete the miracle and will be playing in Honda Center next season.

The Fans

Finally, a word about the great Sacramento fans. After the game, a few thousand fans congregated down by the floor and began chanting "Here We Stay!" and "Sac-RA-Men-To". Many were teary-eyed while others were just glum and depressed. Some Kings came out to sign autographs and a few speeches were made that mentioned that the move was not yet official and not to give up hope. It was really an incredible experience as the fans stayed for over an hour chanting and cheering.

I hope the NBA sees this footage and decides to keeps the Kings in Sacramento. These are true fans and don't deserve to have this team taken from them. It's bad enough the NBA stole their 2002 title with shoddy officiating, but to lose the team just 9 years later is simply not fair. But money rules sports these days and so I think next year I'll be in Anaheim watching the Royals. Safe to say that their fans won't be nearly as good as those I saw in Sacramento last night.



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