With a little over a month of offseason left to go, now is the perfect time to dive into a few of the Lakers’ most memorable playoff moments. However, the goal here isn’t just to remember these moments, it is to remember the moments leading up to THE moment that overshadowed everything in that game, and sometimes the entire series. So let’s travel back in time history and recontextualize some of our favorite Lakers memories in order to fully appreciate their awesomeness.
In the first entry of this series, we talked about what happened before and after Derek Fisher’s 0.4 game-winner against the Spurs in the 2004 NBA Playoffs. Now, let’s jump into Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Kings — a game that turned on a mounting comeback followed by fireworks, and later, controversy.
Good things come in threes
This 2001-02 season saw the Lakers pursuing a three-peat as they tried to become the second NBA franchise to do so in the past decade after Michael Jordan’s Bulls did it twice between 1991-93 and 1996-98. Although a Lakers victory at the end of the 2002 NBA Playoffs would have created a new normal in the league of three-peats, the occurrence over the league’s history is much more uncommon than it may have seemed in that era.
The San Antonio Spurs never did it. No LeBron James-led team has done it. The Golden State Warriors haven’t done it. In fact, other than the Lakers and Bulls, the only other franchise to do it is the Boston Celtics, who won eight championships in a row from 1959-66 when there were like — I don’t know — three teams in the league?*
*This is barely an exaggeration. There were eight teams in the entire league during the course of that Celtics run.
But if Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Phil Jackson (yet again) were to cement their legacies amongst those Bulls and Celtics teams, they would have to go through the same road block they had to go through in both of the 2000 and 2001 NBA Playoffs while winning their first two championships.
The Sacramento Kings.
In a deep, deep hole
After meeting in the first round of the 2000 playoffs, and then the 2001 Western Conference semi-finals, the Lakers and Kings took their budding rivalry to the natural next step in the 2002 Western Conference Finals.
The first-seeded Kings owned home-court advantage in the series over the third-seeded Lakers, but the Lakers stole that advantage away to open the series. Winning Game 1 marked their 12th straight road playoff win as a franchise, but that — as a lot of events within this series — did not last long.
The Kings took Game 2 before pummeling the Lakers in Los Angeles’ Game 3; they held a 75-52 lead heading into the 4th quarter before an OG Laker fake comeback cut the deficit to a baker’s dozen by the game’s end.
As Game 4 got going, it seemed like the Lakers were about to lose their chance at a third straight title, going down 40-20 in just the 1st-quarter, inciting boos from the home crowd at Staples.
Mike Bibby led the way for the Kings in that opening quarter, drilling five different mid-range jumpers off of screens, leaving Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher with no answer for the man who would later go viral for pumping a lot of iron. The Lakers didn’t couldn’t muster a potent response on the other end either as the entire team, aside from Shaquille O’Neal (4-7 FG), shot terribly from the field (4-20 FG).
In the middle of the action, it was indicated by the broadcast team that Chris Webber said something before the game about the Lakers now seeming “human” in their eyes and that “they don’t look at them anymore like superheroes” after meeting them in the playoffs twice before.
While they may have seemed merely mortal to begin the game, their powers seemed to be returning as they neared halftime.
The Lakers went on a 16-6 run towards the end of the 2nd quarter, with the score ending at 65-48 with just a few seconds before the teams were to head to the locker rooms. But with 4.6 seconds left, the Lakers decided they weren’t done.
To cap off the run that turned a probable blowout into a competitive contest, the Lakers got some help from one of the unlikeliest candidates in Samaki Walker.
Walker had not attempted a 3-pointer for the Lakers that season and had only attempted five total in the five seasons of his career up to that point. But at this moment, he cashed in a near half-court three that would end up being much more important than any of us could have imagined in the moment. At half, the Lakers were down 65-51.
The Lakers cut the gap in half in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Kings 22-15 behind some much more ferocious perimeter defense that finally shut Bibby down (for now) while Shaq decided he was going to get deep post position against Vlade Divac again, and again, and again. The big man had seven points in the frame, Kobe had six of his own, and the Lakers cut the Kings’ lead to seven with one last chance to save their season on the brink.
The Kings of the 1st quarter returned for the closing quarter with some more help from that pesky Mike Bibby. Spamming the same screens he leveraged over and over at the beginning of the game, Bibby drilled another deep 2-pointer to make it 94-86 with only 4:36 left.
To continue this comeback, the Lakers got some help from Shaq in a surprising way: free-throws. He notched a perfect 6-6 on free throws in the 4th quarter, including two to make it 94-88 and then two more to make it 98-97 with 26.9 seconds left.
But he wasn’t the only player on the Lakers putting the team on his back.
Big Shot Rob
In terms of shooting, Robert Horry was nowhere to be found for the first three quarters. He had only taken three field goals in that time, missing his lone 3-point attempt. He did have 11 rebounds and five assists though, proving that he could always do what was needed out of a role player alongside Shaq and Kobe.
But in the 4th quarter, Horry came through again, proving why Lakers fans still fondly refer to him as “Big Shot Rob.”
He made two 3-pointers, including one that the Lakers desperately needed to make it a 96-93 Kings lead with only 1:39 left in the game.
Divac answered with a long 2-point jump shot to stretch the Kings’ lead to 98-93 with 1:17 left, but after Shaq’s clutch free throws, Divac missed the one of two that could have made it a three-point game for the Lakers with 11.8 seconds left.
Somehow, not only was the door open for the Lakers to send this game into overtime after being down by so many points heading into halftime, they could win it with a 3-pointer, down just a pair.
The Lakers didn’t necessarily need a miracle to come away with the win, but they got one anyways...
Big Fix Tim
The Lakers and Kings weren’t done with dramatic endings yet in the series. After Horry evened the series at 2-2, Kobe missed a game-winner in Sacramento’s Game 5 with the Kings again taking the series lead on a 92-91 victory. Luckily, the Lakers would win the next two games and advance to the 2002 NBA Finals, where they would then complete the three-peat via a four-game sweep of the New Jersey Nets.
And while Horry’s heroics may have been the biggest storyline for Lakers fans, the Kings’ supporters were hung up on one of the most contested NBA sub-plots in recent memory.
If you don’t know Donaghy, he was an NBA referee who resigned in 2007 and would later be found guilty in the federal courts for gambling on and fixing NBA games.
In that trial and in the media during the time, Donaghy widely claimed that Game 6 of that Lakers-Kings series was fixed for the Lakers to win behind two of the three officials of the game (Donaghy was not working any of these games) wanting a Game 7 while Commissioner David Stern wanted the Lakers in the Finals due to the Lakers having a drastically bigger market than the Kings.
Look, I’m not here to analyze whether this is true or not. In fact, I like to live in a state of ignorance regarding it at all times. Now, with that said, there was a disparity between the Lakers and Kings’ free-throw attempts during the final quarter of that Game 6 of 27 to 9. Donaghy specifically called this quarter out in interviews.
I’m just here to talk about how awesome Horry is. If you want to do some investigations yourself, check out this video of the full 4th quarter of that Game 6 which, I reluctantly admit, does feature some questionable calls.
Ice in his Veins
Even though Fisher’s 0.4 second game-winner is still up there if not right behind Horry’s shot against the Kings in terms of my all-time favorite Lakers moments, Horry’s still reigns supreme due to the circumstances of the series and, of course, the fact that it came against the Kings.
Horry had already earned the nickname “Big Shot Rob” at that point, but this really cemented his status as one of the clutchest shooters in NBA history and is easily his most memorable game-winner. It saved the Lakers’ chances at a three-peat, endearing himself to the fanbase forever, and paved the way to his current connection with the franchise as a studio host on Spectrum SportsNet’s coverage of the team.
Just like you can’t talk about the Shaq and Kobe era without mentioning the likes of Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson, you can’t forget Big Shot Rob.