The Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers gave California’s capital city quite a season finale.
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Those in Sacramento only hope it’s not for good.
Jamal Crawford scored 24 points, including several big shots in the final minutes, and the Clippers secured home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs by holding off the Kings 112-108 on Wednesday night.
”Getting the home-court advantage was very important to us,” Crawford said. ”That’s what you’re playing for all season, to get home court in the playoffs. We have unbelievable fans and it will be great to play that first game at home.”
With NBA owners still deciding whether to approve the sale and relocation of the Kings to Seattle, the Clippers had to overcome one of Sacramento’s best performances of the season.
Chris Paul had 25 points and 11 assists to lead the Pacific Division-champion Clippers (56-26), who earned the Western Conference’s fourth seed and will open against fifth-seeded Memphis (56-26). The Clippers won three of four games against the Grizzlies this season.
Game 1 of the best-of-seven series starts Saturday in Los Angeles.
”I’m proud we stepped up,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”We won the last game and got home-court advantage.”
DeMarcus Cousins had a season-high 36 points and a career-best 22 rebounds, and Marcus Thornton scored 21 to rally Sacramento from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter before the Clippers took control.
Cousins shot 14 of 24 from the floor and hit 8 of 11 free throws. The often volatile center added three assists and three blocks and showed just what kind of unstoppable force he can be when focused.
”I gave it my all,” Cousins said. ”I did it for the fans. It was also a statement going into next season. I want to do more for the fans and win more games.”
If this really was the last game in Sacramento, the Kings had the home fans rocking one last time.
Thornton hit a 3-pointer to pull Sacramento to 91-88 midway through the fourth, then Cousins blocked Matt Barnes’ short jumper into the stands and belted out a roar along with the announced sellout crowd of 17,317.
Patrick Patterson’s shot from the corner arc puts the Kings up 98-97 with 2:31 to play. He pointed his right hand to the crowd and flexed three fingers around his eye as the Clippers called a timeout.
Crawford came back with consecutive 3s, the second right in front of Sacramento’s bench. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate stared back at Thornton after putting Los Angeles ahead 103-100.
Crawford shot 6 of 8 from long range. He finished with 149 3-pointers this season to break Rasual Butler’s franchise record of 145 set during the 2009-10 season.
Cousins and Blake Griffin traded emphatic two-handed dunks. Then Cousins hit two free throws, Griffin answered with a put-back layup to give the Clippers a 107-102 lead and Los Angeles sealed the game on free throws.
”It may have taken 82 games to get us to play how I think this team can eventually play and get us to cross over to playoff territory,” Kings coach Keith Smart said. ”The potential is there.”
Smart’s squad couldn’t ignore what they tried to for most of the season:
The Maloof family has had a signed agreement since January with a group that wants to buy the Kings, move them to Seattle and rebrand them the SuperSonics – who left the Pacific Northwest for Oklahoma City in 2008. Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who sat courtside eating nachos while cheering on the Kings, has streamlined a new arena plan and put together a competing investor group to buy the team.
NBA Commissioner David Stern said a decision is unlikely until at least May.
Fans were loud during player introductions and often cheered ”Sacramento!” Dozens held up signs during timeouts with phrases such as ”NBA Please Don’t Take Our Team” and ”This is NOT goodbye.” Thousands stayed about an hour after the final buzzer and chanted ”Here we stay!” and ”Save our team!”
Coaches and players also returned to the floor after showering and getting dressed to thank fans for the support.
Del Negro, drafted in the second round by the Kings in 1988, said before the game that he thought the atmosphere would actually give his team a boost.
Paul and Chauncey Billups certainly had no problem quieting the crowd. The backcourt tandem carried the Clippers to a 50-39 lead late in the second quarter
Griffin walked to the locker room with a few seconds remaining in the first half because of back spasms. He still started the third quarter and played through any pain.
Sacramento surged ahead 60-59 behind a pair of 3-pointers by Thornton. The Clippers closed the quarter on a 17-8 run, and went ahead 81-70 on Crawford’s 3 at the beginning of the fourth.
”It was a great crowd tonight that brought a lot of energy,” Griffin said. ”It was another good test for us going into the playoffs.”
NOTES: Kings G Tyreke Evans sat out with a left quad strain, which occurred during Sacramento’s loss at Oklahoma City on Monday. He will be a restricted free agent this summer. … Officials whistled Cousins and Clippers reserve Ryan Hollins for technical fouls in the final seconds after both got caught up in a small scuffle.