BLOG UPDATE: (5:30 P.M., Jan. 5
Since this finish remains a hot topic, I added a few relevant tidbits on our Facebook page about the final shot and what the Kings were dealing with - Click here to join.
Box score (including video)
Game notes (Ron Artest remains out, talks about his injuries)
LOS ANGELES - First things first, I'm taking a mulligan on the first version of the game story that went out tonight.
My in-person look at the final play was shielded by John McEnroe's oversized head, so it actually looked like Sergio Rodriguez left Kobe Bryant before he hit his 24-foot layup from the left sideline to beat the Kings 109-108. It was fixed in a subsequent version of the story, however, so all you Kings fans who are just looking for someone to take your Laker hate can just move on.
All that being said, the fact remains that Rodriguez was half of a Kings backcourt chosen to be on the floor with 4.1 seconds left and the game's most clutch player in the Black Mamba. The other half? Beno Udrih, who also qualifies as pint-sized for these purposes. And I'm just not understanding that reality.
Andres Nocioni was the natural choice to be in for defensive purposes, but he was on the bench. Omri Casspi was on the other side of the floor, but his length and quickness would have been better served sticking near Bryant. You almost wonder if they could have thrown Tyreke Evans in for the final sequence.
Yes, it would have been gimmicky and a certain backfire move if he came in cold and was burned, but he told me before the game that he plans on playing on Saturday so he's obviously not hobbling all that much.
Even Bryant found it funny that the diminutive Rodriguez was his closest obstacle to his latest game-winner.
Having already answered my question about Rodriguez with a crack about how the Spanish point guard was too small to make any difference in that moment, he kept the comments coming on his way out of the locker room.
"Come on, man," he said with a smile. "That (rhymes with brother trucker) had his chance in Beijing."
Alas, Bryant wasn't flawless late. His reference was to the Spanish team that fell to Team USA in the gold medal game of the 2008 Summer Olympics, but Rodriguez didn't play on that team. It was an incredibly disappointing experience for Rodriguez to be left off the roster, but this qualified as a downer as well.
"I am so proud of our team, but at the same time it's disappointing," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "We have played well enough to beat these guys twice and we have now gone home with two losses. We have seen it before from the Lakers and I'm sure we'll see it again. They have a knack at the end of games that we are hoping to acquire."
There was a long list of contributors for the Kings, who saw Spencer Hawes and Omri Casspi reach career highs in scoring (30 and 23 points, respectively) while Udrih scored 19 points and had a career-high 13 assists against just one turnover (let that stat marinate for a moment). He made Derek Fisher look one step away from retirement and more than a few steps slow, as the Lakers point guard hit just 1 of 10 shots and had just one assist while being limited to nine second-half minutes by Phil Jackson.
The Kings certainly could have used more from Nocioni (1 of 5 shooting, 0 of 4 from three-point range in just 10 minutes), and Jason Thompson was held scoreless for just the third time in his career. Hawes, though, was the one who turned this into a slugfest.
He hit threes (4 of 5), runners, dunks, spinning floaters - just about everything in the arsenal while adding 11 rebounds and five assists.
"For the most part, everyone played their (butts) off," Hawes said. "And it really hurts to come up short in a game like that. If guys are having an off night and you lose, it's (one thing). But to have everyone playing so hard for so long and to have a dagger like that, there's no way you can get used to that or be prepared for that feeling.
"We're missing three of our best players. One Rookie of the Year (Evans), one 25-a-night scorer (Kevin Martin) and Cisco (Garcia), who is really one of the leaders - if not the - leader of the team and a playmaker. We know when we get those guys back it's just going to take off from there."
As for Hawes' huge offensive night, he said his confidence was rolling early.
"Just getting the ball in the right spots, really," he said. "Getting going early with the passing got me in the flow of the game, and when they tried to take that away that's when the shots came."
The Kings, of course, came up one shot short. - Sam Amick