Sacramento, CA – It was a playoff atmosphere. Fans began tailgating early in the parking lot while former NBA legends and staff celebrated an arena that they once called home. More than fifty players and coaches returned to Sleep Train (aka Arco Arena) to say goodbye to the memories and good times shared by all.
In the arena finale, former Kings head coach Rick Adelman, Reggie Theus, TNT’s Kenny Smith, and Mike Bibby were among many in thanking the fans for their support. While it was a nostalgic night, it was business as usual for Sacramento who beat the Thunder 114-112 in their final home game of the season.
“First thing I wrote in my notes is we’re playing a playoff team that will have a playoff atmosphere because of a great historical event,” said coach George Karl. “I don’t think anybody was disappointed with what happened. We rode the wave of the crowd and the energy.”
A season of ups and downs that led to the Kings falling short of a playoff run didn’t put a damper on the outcome of the game or appreciation for the fans. Darren Collison recorded a team-high and season-high 27 points and eight assists. Seth Curry came off the bench and dropped a career-high 6 3-pointers finishing with 20 points. It’s his third 20-point game of the season.
“I try to change the energy when I come in the game and I was able to do that tonight,” Curry said. “These are some of the best fans in the NBA and we knew how bad they wanted a win. It was a great atmosphere, as soon as we came out the tunnel you could feel it.”
This was Sacramento’s final game in the arena, now known as Sleep Train Arena. The first game in the arena, first known as ARCO Arena, was Nov. 8, 1988. Since the building opened in 1988, the Kings have sold out 780 of 1,122 games. The 26 sellout this season are the most since 2006-07. It’s obvious the team hasn’t been that good since Adelman’s playoff team that reached the Finals in 2001-02.
“My fondest memories were coaching the team that got us a chance to play the Lakers in the Finals,” said Adelman. It was a special, special situation where a team came together from the style they played and the way they played, you can’t find that to many times in this league.”
OKC was certain they’d get a win especially since they had led the series 2-1 coming into the game. Sacramento forced the Thunder to turn over the ball 21 times and matched-up well in the in the final minutes of the game. DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and seven rebounds, but fouled out with 3:26 remaining and struggled missing 17-of-24 shots.
Kevin Durant had 31 points and eight assists. He had made two free throws to tie the game at 101-101 with 3:26 remaining after Cousins fouled out. Darren Collison hit a 3-pointer to push the Kings ahead. But it was Rudy Gay’s late free throws that gave Sacramento the win in the final seconds after he missed two of four free throws in the final minute.
“They trusted me with the ball at the end and I had to perform,” Gay said.
“It was fun. The crowd was amazing the whole night, they were on their feet pretty much the whole entire game,” said Collison. “I remember growing up in LA. I knew how tough Sacramento was because of the fans. They’ve always had a good fan base. I’m sure this win means more to them than it means to us.
Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points and 10 assists, he was fouled on a 3-point attempt and made all three free throws to tie the game again 111-111 with 7 seconds left. On the other end Gay was fouled driving in for a layup. He made both free throws for the win.
“We fought back after being down by eight or so late in the fourth and we tied the game up,” Durant said. “They put it in the refs’ hands again in the fourth and the end of the fourth. Gay made those two free throws. I thought we played great defense, but it’s their last game in here. I know how it goes.”
No championship was ever won at Sleep Train, but there’s a good chance to start over leaving behind the many loses, different coaching changes and poor conditions of the arena. Golden Gate 1 will be the new arena to start the 2016-17 season. The opportunities are endless and the Kings want nothing more than to make new memories in their brand new downtown arena.
“Brand new venue and chance to builds a legacy there,” Gay said. “From what I hear, it’s state of the art – who doesn’t want to be a part of that?”