The Horry scale

Horry Scale: Cousins adds to Suns’ buzzer-beater misery

VIDEO: DeMarcus Cousins bounces in a buzzer-beater

The Phoenix Suns can’t catch a break. They’re fighting with the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder, teams that feature two of the best players in the world, for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. And they keep getting their hearts broken.

DeMarcus Cousins did the damage on Sunday, beating Phoenix at the buzzer with a shot that bounced off the rim five times before dropping through the net, another painful way to lose for a team that lost on a Blake Griffin jumper that somehow bounced in off the bottom of the rim and a Khris Middleton shot that hit off the glass first.

Throw in a James Harden step-back and the Suns have lost on four buzzer-beaters this season. They’re 2-10 in games determined by three points or less or in overtime, a brutal mark when that playoff spot could come down to a game or two.

DIFFICULTY

Cousins’ shot was a leaning, contested jumper from 19 feet out. But with 2.5 seconds on the clock after the Suns had missed their own opportunity to go ahead, he had time to get Markieff Morris in the air and get himself a clear look at the basket.

GAME SITUATION

The Suns had come back from 14 down to start the fourth quarter and, behind Isaiah Thomas, had taken the lead with just over a minute to go. But Cousins tied it back up quickly and Phoenix went away from Thomas on their final two possessions, both of which came up empty.

The score was still tied and Cousins, for once, wasn’t in foul trouble. So they still had a good chance to win in overtime had he not made the shot.

IMPORTANCE

The win doesn’t do much for the Kings, but the loss was huge for Phoenix — and New Orleans and Oklahoma City. The Suns need every win they can get, and if they fall short of the playoffs with 45-plus wins for a second straight year, we’ll remember this game, as well as the others they lost in similar fashion.

 CELEBRATION

It was delayed as Cousins and his teammates had to wait for the ball to bounce around the rim for a while. A fist pump and some jawing at no one in particular.

GRADE

The game was tied, the play design wasn’t all that special, and Cousins needed a friendly bounce (or five) to get the Taco Bell. One Horry.

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Horry Scale: Brow Beater lifts Pelicans

VIDEO: Anthony Davis shocks the Thunder with a buzzer-beating 3

Anthony Davis has done it all for the Pelicans in this very impressive breakout season … well, almost everything, until Friday night. Scoring, rebounds, blocked shots, steals, assists? The only thing missing from his resume in 2014-15 was a buzzer-beater, and that was signed, sealed and delivered in the nick of time to bail out the Pelicans and, more importantly, keep the Thunder at bay in the race for one of the final playoff spots in the West.

Yes, it was only fitting that his first buzzer-beater happened in a big moment and a big game. The Pelicans came to OKC with a one-game lead over the Thunder for ninth place, and this was designated, at least by folks in OKC, as the game in which the Thunder would make their move in the standings. They used much of the last two months digging out of a tough start this season caused mainly by injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. With the season nearly two-thirds over, time is of the essence, not only for OKC but New Orleans, since both are sitting on the playoff bubble.

Something had to give … and did with no time left on the clock.

DIFFICULTY

Davis isn’t the first player you’d choose to shoot the ball from 3-point range. Actually, what was he doing so far away from the basket, with the score tied? A more reasonable spot for Davis would be near the basket for a tip-in off the inbounds pass. Oh, well. He was checked closely by Durant, but wiggled free and took the pass from Tyreke Evans with 1.2 seconds left. Davis was moving to his left from the top of the key, then leaped in the air, hanging about a split-second longer than Durant. He double-clutched just to make sure and created just enough air space to release a shot beyond the reach of Durant. Not many big man are athletic enough to pull off the mid-air gymnastics that Davis did. The game-winner was Davis’ first made 3-pointer since March of last season and only his third career make in 24 tries. You know what’ll happen this March? Davis turns 22.

GAME SITUATION

The Pelicans nearly choked this game away. Evans missed a pair of free throws on New Orleans’ next to last possession that could’ve iced the game. And then, up three points, Quincy Pondexter ran out to guard Westbrook beyond the three-point stripe, which is really a defensive sin. Pondexter couldn’t stop his momentum and made contact with Westbrook, who released the shot quickly, on the way down. Westbrook had a monster night with a career-high 48 points with 9 rebounds and 11 assists (after scoring 45 points against these same Pelicans his previous game), and calmly hit all three free throws to tie the game with 1.2 ticks left.

IMPORTANCE

Davis finished with 41 points and 10 rebounds in the 116-113 win and, as we already mentioned, the Pelicans are in a fight with OKC and the Suns for the eighth spot, which Phoenix is clinging to at the moment. OKC and the Pelicans met two nights earlier in New Orleans and Westbrook torched the home team in the win. And so: Westbrook scored a combined 93 points in back-to-back games against the Pelicans and OKC only managed a split. The Pelicans are on their best roll of the season, losing only twice since Jan. 19. In their next 12 games, they’ll only see teams with winning records three times. With a soft schedule, it’s the best time for New Orleans to make a strong move. The Pelicans also now hold a 3-1 head-to-head tiebreaker over the Thunder, who have have lost five of their last eight and no doubt hear the clock ticking.

CELEBRATION

Davis was mobbed by his teammates, with two potential goats, Evans and Pondexter, leading the charge. Seriously, had that shot missed, it would’ve been a long flight out of OKC for two players who only needed to do the right thing to avoid the last second drama.

GRADE

This shot wasn’t exactly heavy on theatrics, but it did involve Davis, and it was a rare three-pointer from him, and the game carried a fair amount of importance for February. Therefore, the Brow Beater was better than most. We’ll give it four Horrys.

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Horry Scale: The Beard Does It For The First Time!

VIDEO: James Harden dooms the Suns with a step-back jumper

Someone, P.J. Tucker is a good place to start, in that Phoenix Suns locker room has some explaining to do. Did they not read the scouting report? Don’t they know how much James Harden loves to play basketball in the Phoenix area? The Southern California native did paint the town (well, Tempe) for two years as an Arizona State Sun Devil.

So it’s only fitting that his first buzzer-beater (at least in the NBA) came on somewhat familiar turf. And after the way the Golden State Warriors pushed them around in their previous game, Harden’s Houston Rockets couldn’t afford another humbling defeat. Giving the NBA’s leading scorer 16 seconds to work is pretty unfair, if you ask me. That’s more than enough time for Harden to figure out how to take advantage of any elite defender and find a good shot.

If anyone was going to rescue the Rockets in the state of Arizona with a shot at the buzzer … someone find that darn scouting report.

DIFFICULTY

Kevin McHale didn’t waste any time on the white board in the huddle. This was Clutch Bucket 101. “Give the ball to James and everyone else get the heck out of the way.” Without an immediate double-team of Harden that would have forced him to give the ball and make anyone but the best scorer in the league this season beat you, the Suns were baked the moment the ball was thrown in bounds. Again, Clutch Bucket 101!

GAME SITUATION

The Rockets played the final three quarters without Dwight Howard, who left early with a sprained ankle. So that meant Harden spent his entire night going bananas on the Suns. He finished with 33 points, 10 assists and six rebounds and was his usual wicked self from the free-throw line (14-for-17). And somehow the Rockets still needed his heroics to outlast the Suns after leading by 16 points midway through the fourth quarter. The Suns are 24-2 this season when leading at halftime, so the final outcome should not have been in any doubt.

IMPORTANCE

The Rockets need to do everything they can to keep pace with the other teams at the top of the Western Conference standings, so this was a huge game the same way every game they play the remainder of the regular season will be for a team jockeying for playoff position. The Suns are trying to hold off the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder for that eighth and final playoff slot in the West, making each and every lost opportunity a potential dagger down the road.

CELEBRATION

Harden’s hands down, head-to-the-sky individual celebration was done the right way. Act like you’ve been there before (even if, technically, you have not during your NBA career). The Rockets bench showed their leader the appropriate love, but would rather it not be necessary the next time they are up 16 midway through the fourth quarter.

GRADE

I’m an old school enthusiast in just about every way imaginable. That’s why the iso-NBA leading scorer routine worked for me. Someone better read the scouting report next time, though. We’ll give it three Horrys.

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Horry Scale: Bucks finally get a beater


VIDEO: Khris Middleton gets the friendly roll to drop Suns

The Bucks are off to a better-than-expected start to this season, and just imagine if they weren’t on the wrong side of a pair of buzzer beaters. In the season opener, the Hornets’ Kemba Walker made not one, but two beaters — at the end of regulation for the tie and in OT for the win — and then Monta Ellis dropped a stunner a few weeks ago.

Well, the last shot finally belonged to Khris Middleton and Milwaukee in a thrilling win Tuesday in Phoenix, when the teams combined to score eight points in the final dizzying 23 seconds. Markieff Morris (25 points in a terrific game) made a layup, followed by a Brandon Knight jumper, followed by a Morris jumper from the free throw line with four seconds left, setting up the dramatics.

This was another solid showing by the Bucks who, after losing five out of six, beat the Clippers and now are above .500 after the first of a four-game Western swing.

DIFFICULTY

The Bucks did the old give-and-go, with Middletown inbounding the ball to Jared Dudley, then getting it back. Middleton had a rather decent look at the rim from 28 feet and, with precious seconds ticking, took the open 3. The ball skidded off the rim, then kissed off the backboard before falling in at the buzzer. It wasn’t the prettiest, but when did style points ever gout when the game’s on the line?

GAME SITUATION

The Bucks and Suns played a fairly tight second half and the basket-swapping in the game’s final half-minute was fun to watch. Interestingly, the Suns looked for Morris, whose offensive game is growing steadily, and he responded. Even more interesting: Phoenix was ready to inbounds the ball with 4 seconds left but quickly called timeout when the Suns’ defense proved to be alert. Jason Kidd drew up a completely different play and instead of using Knight as the inbounds passer, switched to Middleton.

IMPORTANCE

The Bucks are testing the always dangerous West Coast waters and so far, so good for a team that’s trying to see where it stands and how much further it needs to go. The only blight on the victory over the Suns was a knee injury to rookie Jabari Parker, who had to be carried off the floor. Fortunately, it was initially diagnosed as a sprain. Meanwhile, Phoenix is one of those West teams that sure wishes it played in the East.

CELEBRATION

As you might have expected, there was joy from a Bucks’ team that had lost a pair of games to buzzer beaters this season. Middleton was mobbed at mid court by the bench and then the players sprinted off the floor while the shot was being replayed by officials. The Bucks didn’t care. They already knew the result.

GRADE

The execution by the Bucks was solid and Middleton’s shot was sure, although it did require some friendly bounces off the rim and glass. We’ll give it three Horrys.

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Horry Scale: Harris ends Hawks’ streak


VIDEO: Harris’ streak ender

Tobias Harris was already enjoying a season with obvious forward progress, to the surprise of no one who had been tracking his career progress. One of the least-known parts of the Magic rotation or not, next to Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and 2014 lottery picks Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, Harris had established himself as an early candidate for Most Improved Player.

Add Saturday night to the resumé. Harris hits the 15-footer as time expires to give Orlando a 100-99 victory over the Hawks.

DIFFICULTY

Tough shot. Not only was time running down, not only was Harris on the move while dribbling to his left, but DeMarre Carroll played good defense. It was commendable defense, actually, the way Carroll fought off a pick, fell down, got up just as Harris received the pass and stayed on Harris the entire way. And when Harris released, Carroll’s left hand was contesting the shot.

It didn’t matter. Harris was fluid and unhurried as he cleared the defense, before the buzzer sounded after the release.

GAME SITUATION

There were 15 lead changes and 10 ties. The biggest advantages were six for the Hawks and five for the Magic. This was a game that deserved to go down to the final play.

Atlanta went up 99-98 on Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds remaining. Orlando called timeout. The Hawks put Carroll in for defense. The Magic, wanting another shooter, put Channing Frye in for Payton.

Harris had pretty much been in the entire way, playing 39 minutes while missing nine of 15 shots before the timeout. Unfazed, he worked his way from near the baseline, through Carroll’s tight defense, called for the ball on the right wing and then dribbled. He was just to the left of the free-throw line when he pulled up.

IMPORTANCE

There went Atlanta’s nine-game winning streak. Not only that, the victories had come by an average of 14 points per. Harris ending that impressive run should get headlines around the league because of what the Hawks had been doing, and also because it is another step in Orlando building confidence. These kind of nights help a lot.

CELEBRATION

The Magic got the importance. It helped that Harris made the shot on the side of the Magic bench. He basically drifted into waiting arms after the release, He was swarmed there, while the Hawks walked dejectedly off the court at the other end.

GRADE

It was a big moment all around. Long winning streak on the line, the Magic wanting to make a statement about being able to step up to the moment, Harris needing to create his shot against tough defense and then convert when the opportunity did come — that was big even for mid-December. Three Horrys.

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Horry Scale: Beal’s timely tip-in


VIDEO: Beal’s timely tip-in

A road win is a good win. It doesn’t matter if you’re in second place in the conference and your opponent is five games under .500. If you can go into someone else’s building and leave with a ‘W’, it’s a good night.

So Bradley Beal and the Washington Wizards won’t be apologizing for the way they pulled out Wednesday’s victory in Orlando, coming back from five points down in the final minute, with the inexperienced Magic leaving time on the clock after an attempted game-winner when they didn’t have to.

And who should apologize for a brilliantly designed and perfectly executed game-winning buzzer-beater?

DIFFICULTY

Beal’s role in the play wasn’t all that difficult. Where the ball was placed, he just had to catch it and lay it in.

It was inbounder Andre Miller who had to loft a perfect pass over 7-footer Dewayne Dedmon. And Miller did just that.

GAME SITUATION

The Magic gave this one away. They were up five with a minute left. After Elfrid Payton stole the ball from Paul Pierce with a three-point lead and 40 seconds left, they didn’t run down the clock, and Tobias Harris got whistled for an offensive foul on a fast break.

After John Wall cut the lead to one, the Magic didn’t use much clock again. And after Victor Oladipo missed a layup, Willie Green committed one of the worst fouls you can commit, a loose-ball foul on your own end of the floor with your opponent in the bonus.

The Magic were lucky that Washington missed two of its three final-minute free throws. But when they had a chance to win the game with the shot clock off, Oladipo launched his game-winning attempt with more than three seconds left on the game clock. That left the Wizards with 0.8 after they grabbed the rebound.

IMPORTANCE 

The score was tied, so a bad pass or a blown layup wouldn’t have killed the Wizards. And since the opponent was a non-playoff team, the game didn’t have the importance of one against the Raptors or Cavs.

CELEBRATION

Beal went with the standard, jumping, sideways chest-bump. Wall, meanwhile, ran through the tunnel like the Wiz had won Game 3 of The Finals.

GRADE

The play design deserves and ‘A’. The execution too. But this was a tie game against the Magic, so there could have been much higher stakes. Three Horrys.

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Horry Scale: Blake’s lucky bounce


VIDEO: Blake’s bouncing winner

In the history of lucky basketball bounces, none can touch Don Nelson‘s late shot in Game 7 of the 1969 Finals, helping the Celtics secure their 11th title. The ball hit back rim, went straight up and then dropped through the basket and into the hearts of the Lakers.

That happened at the Forum, which is now closed. But roughly 25 minutes from that site (or 30, depending on L.A. freeway traffic), Blake Griffin had a similar brush with lucky fate when he put the final touch on a 121-120 overtime Clippers win over the Suns in what could be the No. 1 thriller of the NBA season thus far.

The contest was what you’d expect from a pair of high-scoring teams that love to play freestyle, free-wheeling basketball. The guard-heavy Suns thrive in the open floor and the Clippers, blessed with point guard Chris Paul, favor the fast break as well. The contest was back-and-forth all night, and five extra minutes were tacked on after regulation. As a fan at Staples Center, could you ask for anything more?

Well, yes. A Clippers victory. Which was in doubt until Griffin took an inbounds pass from Paul with the Clippers down a pair and the clock ticking.

But we’ll get to the winning sequence in a minute. First, about Griffin. He had a monster night with 45 points, two shy of his career high. If these teams meet in the playoffs, the Suns might want to watch video of this game (minus the last few seconds) and figure how to keep Griffin from getting to the line (he made 15 of 17 free throws) and how to keep a body on him.

OK, on to the details.

DIFFICULTY

After taking the inbounds pass from Paul, Griffin faked a pass back to Paul, then faced the basket, took a step-back and let it fly from the right elbow beyond the arc. The ball bounced off the rim, then the top of the glass, then fell in. He had to do all of that in 2.6 seconds, which he managed to pull off without a hitch. But not without a few bounces. Hey, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

GAME SITUATION

Blake was only in position to take that shot partly because Jamal Crawford was ejected for the first time in his career in the fourth quarter after arguing a foul call. Normally, Griffin would not get the ball to launch a 3-pointer; he’d attempted only nine all season prior to the shot. Also, the game went into overtime because Paul had his game-winning attempt blocked by Eric Bledsoe (27 points, 16 assists, 11 rebounds) at the fourth-quarter buzzer. Also, the Clippers had the ball because the Suns committed a shot-clock violation. Finally, with a foul to give, the Suns grabbed Griffin just before his game-winner. But instead of shooting while getting fouled, Griffin passed off. He could’ve put himself at the free-throw line with a chance to tie instead of the Clippers being forced to inbound the ball. But it turned out okay for him.

IMPORTANCE

The Clippers stumbled out of the gate to start the season, drawing the ire of coach Doc Rivers and perhaps having owner Steve Ballmer wonder what in the heck he was getting for his $2 billion. But all is well now. The Clippers have won eight straight and are clearly on the rise. Teams in the West have no choice but to see the vortex from L.A. heading their way (hint: It’s not the Lakers). It was the second straight loss for the Suns, whose only real issue is they don’t play in the East.

CELEBRATION

After the swish, er bounce, Griffin took off sprinting down the floor, followed quickly by Paul. As you might also might have expected, Staples was in bedlam. Speaking of Staples, Rivers said he wants the building to be a home-court advantage like it has been (or rather, was) for the Lakers. If the Clippers intend on playing like this, Rivers won’t have any reason to worry about the crowd or the noise level.

GRADE

Look, we realize Griffin got a little lucky. OK, a lot lucky. Still, the shot was the cherry on top of a tremendous performance for him, so we give it three Horrys.

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Horry Scale: Walker’s Walk-Off


VIDEO: Walker’s Winner

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — The New York Knicks were off to a franchise record-worst start. The Charlotte Hornets had lost ten in a row. But despite initial appearances, tonight didn’t do anything to remedy the situation for the Knicks.

Twenty-four hours after losing a close game at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, tonight in Charlotte the Knicks mounted an impressive comeback to hold a one-point lead with four seconds left, only to see their win float away with a lay-up from Charlotte’s Kemba Walker.

And it’s not like the Knicks, off to a 4-17 start and losers of six consecutive coming in, were the only team struggling here. The Hornets, a team tabbed by many to compete for a Southeast Division title, came into this game riding a 10-game losing skid with a 5-15 record. But it all ended in the capable hands of Kemba Walker. (And not for the first time.)

What is the Horry Scale? For those who 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.

One thing I’d like to clear up: The Horry Scale does not measure only a game-winning shot; the Horry Scale measures several facets of a Game-Winning Buzzer-Beater. So we’re talking about not only the shot, but also the play that creates the shot, the situation and the drama, the celebrations … basically, everything surrounding and including the shot. So when I gave Randy Foye a 3 Horry rating, that wasn’t only a reflection of his shot, which was admittedly remarkable, as I wrote, but also the play, which was awful. Taj Gibson’s lefty layup wasn’t the toughest shot, but that inbounds play was terrific. Basically, everything matters.

Let’s get to the game-winner…

DIFFICULTY
To be honest, it should have been harder. With 4 seconds left on the clock, the Hornets had the ball out of bounds along the sideline, down one. The Knicks had J.R. Smith — not noted for his defense — guarding the inbounder. And Hornets center Al Jefferson set what was basically a cursory screen on Knicks guard Pablo Prigioni, as Kemba Walker popped free to receive the pass.

And then — and this is the weird part — Walker just dribbled directly down the left side to the basket and shot a lay-up to win it. Amar’e Stoudemire tried to help out and contend against the shot, but his defense seemed more unintentional than anything.

Did Prigioni think he had help behind him? The Knicks had a foul to give, did they think someone was going to take that foul? Did Knicks coach Derek Fisher try to call a twenty-second timeout from halfcourt before the play?

There are more questions than answers. All we know is that Kemba Walker got a layup to win the game.

GAME SITUATION
Both teams needed — desperately — a win tonight. And the Knicks mounted an epic comeback, losing at one point by 21, and entering the fourth quarter down 16, 85-69. But despite the comeback, on that last play the Hornets just seemed to want it more.

IMPORTANCE
Like we said, it was huge for both teams, but Charlotte arguably needed this more than the Knicks. (Ten game losing streak > six game losing streak.) After adding Lance Stephenson in the offseason, the Hornets were supposed to be better than they were a year ago. Instead, they’ve struggled mightily. Someone had to lose, and tonight it was the Knicks. Again.

CELEBRATION
Walker ended up on his back under the basket, after extending himself to get the shot up and over Stoudemire. When the ball dropped through, Gerald Henderson and Marvin Williams jumped atop Walker and helped him to his feet, and Lance Stephenson arrived moments later. In the clip above, we even get one of those cool long-range crowd shots where you see the entire arena rise to their feet as one when the game-winner drops.

GRADE
It was a nice play, a nice shot, and nice win for a Charlotte team that needed a win. But it was also incredibly simple, and came during a regular season game. Prigioni seemed to think he had help coming from behind, as Walker basically walked directly to the rim for the winning bucket. I don’t want to discount the skill required to get a shot off over a big man, but to be honest, the Knicks couldn’t have defended the play much more poorly.

So I’m giving Kemba Walker’s game winner 2 Horrys.

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What say you? How many Horrys would you give Kemba Walker’s GWBB?

Horry Scale: Monta magnificent in clutch


VIDEO: Monta Ellis lifts the Mavs over the Bucks with his game-winning buzzer-beater

You know, if the Mavericks decide in the future to give the ball to Monta Ellis instead of Dirk Nowitzki, that wouldn’t be such a terrible move, you think?

Look, this is still Dirk’s team, but Ellis proved once again Wednesday night that, in the clutch, he’s every bit as reliable as his future Hall of Fame teammate. With Dirk on the bench resting a creaky back, Ellis chopped down the Bucks and this is starting to become habit-forming. He’s proving to be quite the go-to guy this season and it could end up putting him in the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.

It was his sixth career game-winning basket in the final 5 seconds and the first since last December against the Blazers. But look at this recent closing streak by Ellis: 15 points in the fourth quarter against the Raptors … 14 in the fourth and OT against the Bulls … and against the Bucks, he scored the Mavs’ final eight points and 10 of their last 13. That’s dominance.

Keep in mind that the Horry Scale measures more than just the game-winning basket. Other factors are weighed that make the buzzer-beater truly epic, or merely run-of-the-mill. Although I think we can all agree that no buzzer-beater is routine. That said, let’s study the scale of Ellis’ latest clutch bucket.

DIFFICULTY

Ellis went one-on-one against O.J. Mayo and it really wasn’t a contest. Ellis backed Mayo down, made a quick move and then from 17 feet launched his game-winning bucket on a fadeaway off one foot. From a cosmetic standpoint, it wasn’t the prettiest, but it was effective. Strangely enough, the Bucks didn’t send any help for Mayo, perhaps fearing a wide-open shot by Chandler Parsons. But given Ellis’ play of late, maybe you take that chance.

“They’ll be watching that shot for the next day and a half on SportsCenter,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.

GAME SITUATION

Ellis wasn’t having the most accurate shooting night (11-for-26) but the Mavericks needed him. Dirk played 42 minutes of a double OT game the night before in Chicago. In the other uniform, Brandon Knight was willing to get into a fourth-quarter scoring exchange with Ellis and for a while was winning that contest. Knight hit a jumper over Tyson Chandler with 8.9 seconds left to tie the score after two Richard Jefferson free throws. The game was suddenly up for grabs, which means it was a situation suited for Ellis.

IMPORTANCE

Well, any game the Mavericks win especially without Dirk, is important if only because they’re playing in the West. In a conference that once again is amazingly deep with quality, every loss counts. Oh, and Kevin Durant is back for OKC and you can expect the Thunder to rise in the standings. So there’s that as well. The Mavericks improved to 8-3 on the road, the mark of a team to be taken seriously.

CELEBRATION

Monta did a little strut as he sashayed off the floor, followed by his teammates, who dashed through the tunnel. It had to be especially sweet for Ellis because he played for the Bucks two seasons ago. Maybe he felt he wasn’t as appreciated in Milwaukee, but based on his performance, he is missed.

GRADE

Ellis is clearly on a tear and there are nights when this is his team, even with Dirk on the floor. This was one of those nights. He rescued the Mavericks when they appeared to be reeling against a very improved and frisky Bucks’ team. Milwaukee wanted to use this game to make a statement about where the franchise is and where it’s headed. The Bucks are better than anyone thought, based on the first month of the season. But the statement instead was made by a player who’s one of the more underrated guards in the game, and perhaps the most talented player never to make the All-Star team. Give it four Horrys.

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Horry Scale: Solomon is King of the Hill


VIDEO: Solomon Hill’s tip-in at the buzzer puts Pacers over Hornets 88-86

Lance Stephenson made his return to Indianapolis on Wednesday and of course Lance Stephenson’s replacement made the biggest splash of the night. Yes, of course.

In the past, the theatrics for the Pacers, both good and bad, were left to Lance, who then bolted for the Hornets last summer for reasons that still aren’t particularly clear-cut. Meanwhile, Solomon Hill was mainly relegated to bench ornament last season, biding his time, wondering if he could ease the burden, or erase it completely, of Stephenson’s departure. For all of his nuttiness, Stephenson was a dogged player on both ends of the floor who was a valuable chip for a Pacer team that simply couldn’t get beyond LeBron James and the Heat.

Anyway … Stephenson returned to Indy to a mixed reception (booed whenever he touched the ball after a decent greeting), delivered an even performance, and then watched as his night was stolen by Solomon. We say “stolen” because up until the last few seconds, Solomon was rather tame (six points, five rebounds, 38 minutes). And then he gave himself the honor of landing on the Horry Scale, named after the great last-second shot artist Robert Horry, who helped three different teams win seven titles by coming up clutch when asked.

Keep in mind that the Horry Scale measures more than just the game-winning basket. Other factors are weighed that make the buzzer-beater truly epic, or merely run-of-the-mill. Although I think we can all agree that no buzzer-beater is routine. That said, let’s study the scale of Solomon’s biggest moment in the NBA.

DIFFICULTY: This was a fluke mixed with flair, because the play wasn’t designed for Solomon, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, like Lorenzo Charles when NC State upset Houston. We should point out two things here: The hero was supposed to be Rodney Stuckey, who isolated on Stephenson and totally lost Lance on a step-back … only to launch an air ball. When the ball approaches the rim but doesn’t touch it, some players simply watch the flight. Others react to it. That’s what Solomon did, helped in part by his angle on the play. He was being boxed out rather effectively by Gerald Henderson and found himself under the basket, which gave him a solid vantage point. Here’s where the poetry came into play: Solomon reached, grabbed the air ball with his back to the rim, and flipped it over his head. The ball hung for a split-second on the flat part of the rim before falling through. Look, maybe he misses that shot 6 out of 10 times. This wasn’t one of them.

GAME SITUATION: The Pacers were down 18 early, but after that, the game was tight. What’s really interesting is the Pacers are really flying without a parachute in these situations. All of their proven game-saviors are either gone (Stephenson) or injured and sitting (Pauk George, David West, George Hill). Seriously, who deserves to have his number called in these situations? This is where the Pacers learn something about players who, in the past, were either on the bench or setting picks for the go-to guys mentioned above. Stuckey had moments in Detroit, but not many of them. If anything, the Pacers have been getting some good play from Donald Sloan, and yet this time they went to Stuckey and got Luck-ey. (OK, I’ll stop now.)

IMPORTANCE: This was a pick-me-upper for the Pacers, who understandably and expectedly are struggling to score points and win games without Stephenson and Paul George. Just as well, the Hornets have lost three straight and are reeling since Kemba Walker opened the season in thrilling fashion with a pair of buzzer-beaters himself (end of regulation, then OT) against the Bucks. They’ve gone 3-8 since. Can you imagine the reaction had Stephenson, and not Solomon, put himself on the Horry Scale?

CELEBRATION: The Pacers haven’t given the home crowd much reason to cheer this season, but they did beat Utah (and Butler boy Gordon Hayward) at Bankers Life and beating Stephenson in his return would’ve been worth two victories, in a sense. The building spring to life when Hill’s basket fell through, but beyond that, everyone knew it was one mediocre team beating another.

GRADE: Hill is averaging 12.6 points and 6 rebounds which is very acceptable considering the tough spot in which he was placed. He’s not going to be Stephenson and certainly not Paul George but in a pinch, he’ll do for now. He gets both hustle points and style points for not giving up on the play and also the backflip. That said, this game wasn’t particularly well-played nor did it carry any significance other than Lance. Even Hill was understated in the aftermath. “If it was like the Finals, I probably would’ve run around the building with my shirt off. But it’s a regular season game and we got another one coming up.” So we give it three Horrys, and there’s no shame in that.

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