Maybe Kent Bazemore should have blown in Lance Stephenson‘s ear.
That tactic, innovated by Stephenson against LeBron James in last spring’s Eastern Conference finals, might have been enough to throw off Stephenson’s rhythm or aim when he launched his 33-foot desperation heave with time running out in the second overtime Friday night in Charlotte.
Then again, why do anything to wake or rile up the Hornets’ new shooting guard? Stephenson already had gone 0-for-7 from outside the arc in 2014-15 and generally was struggling offensively since joining Charlotte from Indiana as a prized, and surprising, free-agent acquisition in July.
In the end, all Bazemore could do, like the rest of the Atlanta Hawks, was watch in disappointment and extreme fatigue as Stephenson’s hoist banged off the glass and through the rim at the horn. The shot gave Charlotte a 122-119 victory and earned Stephenson a spot not just in the hearts of his new city’s fans but on the Horry Scale.
That’s right, with his game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB), Stephenson shook off a bad two weeks to gain acclaim on this blog’s tribute to one of the NBA’s all-time clutch shooters. Such moments, the lifeblood of NBA excitement whether they occur in June or October, are evaluated according to difficulty, game situation, importance and celebration. Then they get an overall grade, represented with 1-5 Robert Horry stars, in honor of the vagabond marksman who helped the Rockets (two), Lakers (three) and Spurs (two) capture seven titles in his years with them.
We reiterate, the Horry Scale does not measure only a game-winning shot; the Horry Scale measures several facets of a GWBB. 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, the total package
Thirty-three feet – the official distance listed in the NBA’s official gamebook afterward – ain’t easy. But there wasn’t anything outrageously athletic or instinctive required here. Stephenson passed the ball inbounds to Marvin Williams near the top of the arc, then ran to him to take the handoff. Kyle Korver, Stephenson’s man, switched off and stuck with Williams, while Bazemore – forced to scramble to the perimeter in chase of Williams after big Paul Millsap switched onto little Kemba Walker – got there a tick too late.
Stephenson, a bundle of raw skills, rose up, kicked his feet behind him and flicked his shot as if calling the bank all along. It caromed in as Bazemore’s right arm, raised to contest but too late and too far, stayed in the air as the gym erupted.
Everybody in the joint – players, coaches, referees, fans – was nearing the end of his or her 58th minute of basketball. They all were ready to go home, with only the Hawks’ traveling party resistant to the idea of it ending right there, right then. After all, they’d had their own chance to win it with 2.7 seconds left, except that Korver got called for an illegal screen as Atlanta inbounded, flipping the script in Charlotte’s favor.
Walker had missed a chance for his own GWBB at the end of the first overtime, rushing across midcourt and firing a long 3-pointer that wasn’t close. Late in the second OT, he never got the ball to the rim, firing it into Al Horford‘s arm pit in a botched move that turned out well; it was ruled a shot-clock violation, allowing first Atlanta (Korver’s bad screen) and then Charlotte again to try for heroics. Stephenson was the one who snagged some.
A key clash in the Southeast Division? That didn’t involve the 2010-2014 Miami Heat? Guess we’d better get used to it. Besides, Charlotte had dropped its last six home games against Atlanta and was eager to assert itself in the division, backing up its victory Wednesday over the Heat.
Never underestimate Stephenson’s knack for the grand gesture, the look-at-me grab of the spotlight. As soon as he hit his banked 3-pointer, Stephenson scowled, shrugged off the grabs and slaps of teammates and vaulted onto the scorer’s table. He beat on his chest and mouthed all sorts of adrenaline-fueled invective as the other Hornets hauled him back down to the court and mobbed him.
A bonus came from Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s smiling mug – with gauze shoved up both nostrils. Earlier, he had gotten whacked in the nose when he ran smack into a Horford pick. He had been bloody and angry in that moment, but he was a happy Hornet chasing after Stephenson when it ended.
Stephenson needed this. The Hornets, who had gambled on the mercurial Pacers guard when he hit free agency without all that much clamor in the market, needed it too. Though he had averaged 10 rebounds and 5.6 assists to rank among the league leaders in both categories through his first five games, Stephenson was sputtering along at 6.6 points while shooting 12-of-45 to that point. He had scored in double figures, reaching 14, only once.
This time, Stephenson finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds, while logging 47:11 in his busiest work night since signing with Charlotte. Had his offensive troubles continued, NBA media surely would have revved up the what’s-wrong-with-Lance angles and perhaps plunged Stephenson into an even greater funk. So the timing of this, for getting him on track in what the Hornets intend to be a meaningful season, hardly could have been better. Give it four Horrys.