It's hard to call the Sacramento Kings' Game 7 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night a choke job. The T-Wolves were favored, after all, and playing at home, and they have the league MVP, Kevin Garnett, who had 32 points, 21 rebounds and five blocked shots in an 83-80 win that earned the Wolves a date with the Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight in a Game 7 did it again, losing one for the third straight year. In five of the six years in their current run as a good team, the Kings have played a Game 7 of a best-of-7 series or a Game 5 of a best-of-5. They're 0-5.
The Kings didn't tank spectacularly the way they did two years ago against Los Angeles in the conference finals, but their throats weren't exactly clear either. They came out sleepwalking and fell behind by 13 early. They eventually made up the deficit and actually had a chance to send the game to overtime, but Chris Webber's shot at the buzzer went in and out.
Though the Wolves are rightly getting credit for playing some tough defense -- a Garnett block on which he simply grabbed the ball one-handed in midair will be a highlight staple for years to come -- the Kings also just shot poorly, a Game 7 habit. Wide open and poorly chosen shots clanked away to the tune of 39.5 percent shooting, seven percentage points below the season average. There was an 11-shot missing streak in the first half. Mike Bibby and Peja Stojakovic, the heart of the Kings' offense, shot a combined 7-for-25.
Yes, the Kings were thin because of an injury to Bobby Jackson and the suspension of Anthony Peeler, but even the latter can go in the bone-in-the-windpipe category. You just don't go getting yourself suspended from a Game 7 by swinging your elbow at the league MVP's neck in Game 6, even if you're just a backup point guard.
This version of the Kings appears to be done. Webber, still recovering from knee surgery, was a shadow of his former self in these playoffs, and even if he recovers well in the offseason, he'll be 32 next year, and can't be expected to be the player he once was. The Kings will reportedly try to shop him. Doug Christie is old. Vlade Divac is so old he doesn't even bother flopping much anymore. Coach Rick Adelman is on the chopping block, as he should be. A playoff collapse year after year is a reflection of the boss.
But why are we talking about the Kings, when the real question is this: Are the Nets and Pistons ever going to play their Game 7?
Wait, that's not the question. The Nets and Pistons are playing Thursday night, though the complexion of that series has changed significantly now that the stars of Game 6, Julius Erving and Dave Bing, have retired.
The question is whether the Timberwolves can beat the Lakers and go to the NBA Finals. The answer is yes, of course, but the Lakers showed in the last round what you get by betting against them, which is wallet space.
Garnett figures to make Karl Malone look his age. He makes a lot of people look Malone's age. And I don't know that the Lakers have an answer for the energy and effectiveness of Latrell Sprewell, who against the Kings showed exactly why the Wolves traded for him last summer.
But I also don't think that will be enough. The thing that should worry Timberwolves fans is that their lads didn't bury the Kings in Game 7, which they should have done. Sam Cassell hurting isn't good news either. I know I'll get at least one letter saying the return of Wally Szczerbiak will be some sort of key. These are only slightly less amusing but no less charming than the letters about Michael Olowokandi being a good player, which have stopped coming.
Lakers in 7.
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Foreign team crashes Stanley Cup Finals! [PERMALINK]
It was a bad night all around for fans of Northern California teams, a group of which your humble servant is a member. The Calgary Flames eliminated the San Jose Sharks by winning Game 6 of the Western Conference finals 3-1, the first home win in the series.
It's the first time since 1994 that a team in the Stanley Cup Finals comes from Canada, which I'm told is a whole nother country, where people drive on the right side of the road, call their money "dollars" and live in dwellings known as "houses" and "apartments." A team from Florida has been to the Finals more recently than any Canadian team. This is galling to Canadians. It's probably even galling to Floridians.
The Flames will play the winner of the Tampa Bay Lightning-Philadelphia Flyers series, which the Lightning lead 3-2 pending Thursday night's Game 6 in Philly, and Canada seems to be pretty excited about the whole thing.
National Post columnist Mark Spector reported Thursday that the Flames' playoff run is killing business in Calgary's strip clubs. One dancer said, "It's hard to dance to 'He shoots! He scooores!'" And not only that, but nobody in Calgary budgeted their beer money for the Flames to last this long, and now the Flames'll be playing at least four more games.
There are real crises going on north of the border, but these are exciting times. Fans of the other Canadian teams -- Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver and Edmonton -- are said to be pulling for the Flames out of national pride.
I think many Americans will be pulling for the Flames too, not just because they'll be underdogs but because we Americans love our Canadian neighbors with a heartfelt condescension that's even more galling to them than all those U.S. teams playing for Lord Stanley's hardware. "Canadians are so cute," we're fond of saying. "They're all so nice and they say a-boat!"
Hockey is Canada's national sport. Actually it's Canada's co-national sport, along with lacrosse. That's just weird and wrong, though not as weird as if hockey shared the distinction with curling, and I say that as a fan of curling. But all the same, I hope the Stanley Cup finds its way north. And then I hope Calgarians will do their civic duty by returning to the strip clubs.
This story has been corrected since it was first published.
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