by Jeff Case
In the two seasons we’ve had the Horry Scale up and running, we’ve never encountered a game-winning buzzer-beater quite like the one we saw in Houston last night.
As a refersher, here’s the rules on what makes an Horry Scale shot:
For those that are new around these parts, the Horry scale examines a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety Kings-Pistons game?) and celebration (is it over the top or too chill? Just the right panache or needs more sauce?). Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, the patron saint of last-second daggers.
All well and good, the rules above, but they don’t quite address how to handle James Harden‘s shot last night, which ended up being good … only because the Suns’ Jermaine O’Neal reached up and goal-tended it at the last second. Technically, Harden gets credit for the 3-pointer and the game-winning shot, but it’s definitely one of the more odd Horry Scale entries we’ve ever encountered.
We’ll attempt to break this puppy down and give it a fair shake on the Scale, but be warned … this isn’t your usual ending to a Horry Scale, so the rating might not be what you think it is.
How does Harden’s finish Tuesday night stack up? Without further ado…
Not exactly a tough shot for Harden. Fellow backcourt-mate Jeremy Lin inbounds the ball to Harden with 9.1 seconds left and he dribbles the clock down to 1.9 seconds before hoisting a 3-pointer over a decent contest by second-year forward P.J. Tucker. The Suns play this shot pretty well, as Tucker gives Harden space early on and closes out on the shot while teammate Jared Dudley leaves his man to provide an additional hand in Harden’s face. The jumper caroms high off the back iron and looks like a brick. But then, Jermaine O’Neal — a 16-year veteran and former six-time All-Star — goes up to get the ball on its second bounce. The only problem? The ball hit the rim when it fell and O’Neal swats if off there, constituting a goaltending call and a win for Houston.
To expound on why O’Neal went up and batted the ball away, The Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro caught up with the Suns big man after the game, who explained his actions thusly:
Suns center Jermaine O’Neal has played in the NBA for 17 seasons and never has seen a team lose like how his team did Wednesday night.
…After a Suns timeout, O’Neal was blocked by Omer Asik inside and Scola missed a scoop shot to set up Harden for the buzzer 3. It hit back rim and then the front rim before O’Neal hit it after the buzzer.
“Jermaine O’Neal touched it while it was in the cylinder,” official David Jones said. “The ball was on the rim and in the cylinder. He doesn’t go up through the net.”
O’Neal said he thought the ball had come off the rim and he was trying to prevent a Rockets tip-in. Coach Lindsay Hunter said he will need to re-examine the rule after the explanation he received.
“But there were a lot of other calls that were quite questionable leading up to that,” O’Neal said. “So I guess you put that with the rest of them. Especially in the fourth (quarter), there were some calls that I’m not quite sure about.”
Can’t say that makes what O’Neal did any clearer. When does preventing a tip-in require goaltending a shot? Isn’t that the same (or worse) than allowing a tip-in in this situation?
Greg Smith rebounded Luis Scola‘s missed jumper with 16.9 seconds left — a shot that would have given Phoenix a 100-98 lead — and calls timeout to set up the Rockets’ play. The score is tied at 98 when the wild sequence between Harden and O’Neal happens.
Heading into Tuesday night, the Suns had already tied the 1987-88 squad for the second-most losses in the single season in team history. Another defeat would move this current iteration of the Suns into sole possession of the second-worst season in team history. You can almost hear Suns fans cheering over that one. But a loss keeps Phoenix in the running with Orlando and Charlotte for a good chance to land the No. 1 pick in the 2013 Draft, which is perhaps what the Suns need more now than victories.
The Rockets had a chance to lock up their first playoff berth in four seasons on Saturday in Denver, but got waxed by the Nuggets. A return to the Toyota Center, where Houston was 27-11 entering last night, and a win over Phoenix would realize Houston’s playoff dream. While Houston is the No. 7 seed in the West, it remains a game behind Golden State for No. 6 and a chance to avoid either the Thunder or Spurs in the first round. In short, a win is something Houston needed for more than one reason.
After the officials review the play, the Rockets get to celebrate, but there isn’t much video proof of it. There are a couple of great Getty Images of Houston celebrating with Harden once his shot is ruled good, but the whole review of the last shot kind of sucks the fun out of any happy time.
1 Horry. The last time we had a 1-star shot on the Horry Scale? It was back on March 27, 2011, when Jameer Nelson hit a pretty boring game-winner against the Nuggets in Orlando. Much like that shot, Harden’s was a mediocre-at-best shot that had just as good of a chance of rimming out (had O’Neal not helped out unintentionally) as it had of going in. Still, the Rockets will take the win (and the playoff berth) that comes with the game-winner no matter how it happened.
What sayeth you?