The Cavs passed their first big test of the second LeBron era. They were down 2-1 in the series. They were down 11 points late in the third quarter. Kyrie Irving was dealing with a foot injury and James himself turned his ankle midway through the third.
But they came back with some big shots from J.R. Smith and strong defense in the final period. And James provided the finishing touches on Cleveland’s biggest win of the season.
A little nudge from James knocked Jimmy Butler off-balance, and he wasn’t able to close fast enough. James’ momentum was taking him toward the Bulls’ bench, but the space Butler provided (and the lack of a second defender) allowed him to square his shoulders and keep his balance, with his toes on the 3-point line. Of the three buzzer beaters we’ve seen in the last three days, it was the easiest shot.
After coming back from 11 down, the Cavs blew a five-point lead in less than 30 seconds, thanks in part to James’ eighth turnover of the afternoon, an offensive foul with 14.3 seconds left.
Still, if the shot misses, they have another chance to redeem themselves in overtime.
The playoffs appear to be wide open, especially in the Eastern Conference. If the Cavs lose this game, they’re in a situation – down 3-1 – that few teams have come back from.
But the win gives them back home-court advantage. Since Jan. 19, they’re 23-2 in Cleveland, where they will play Game 5 and 7 (if necessary).
A clumsy mob that spilled onto the scorer’s table.
It’s the playoffs. It’s two teams that have a good shot of reaching The Finals if they get through this series. It was a high-leverage game. Five Horrys.
Did you call bank? Paul Pierce was asked after putting the dagger in the Hawks.
“I called game,” he responded.
Perfect. And clutch. And another part of his Hall of Fame legacy. And a funny summation.
Pierce hitting the 21 footer — off glass — to give the Wizards a 103-101 win Saturday in Washington and a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals was everything, delivering in the moment and also the emotional boost of a close victory, or any victory, with All-Star John Wall sidelined by a broken left hand.
Pierce supplying a much-needed veteran presence in the wake of the emotional hit of losing Wall would have been plenty. It really would have been a big contribution as the Hawks charged back from a 21-point deficit with about 10 minutes to play. The shot, though, was a highlight moment even for a player who has had so many through the years.
It wasn’t just a clutch shot. It was a tough shot, slightly fading away and under defensive pressure from Dennis Schroder. Pierce was near the top of the free-throw circle, took a one-bounce dribble to his left and elevated with the additional clearance at 6 foot 7 over the 6-1 Schroder. Kent Bazemore came over for the double team, but it was too late. The ball was away.
Pierce shouldn’t have been needed to play the hero. The Wizards were up 21 early in the fourth quarter, until the Hawks went on a 17-0 run to close within three points with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining. When Mike Muscala connected from behind the arc with 14.1 seconds left, Atlanta had erased the entire deficit. It was 101-101, setting the stage for Pierce.
Rhetorical question, right?
Pierce’s momentum took him backward and to the court, where he stayed, on his back with his arms up and outstretched. Bradley Beal, the first teammate to get there, stood over Pierce and delivered a series of soft punches to the gut and chest — right, left, right, left, right. The other Wizards charged over to mob him, including Wall in suit and tie, as the crowd exploded in delight. The shot was the thing, but high marks for the reaction as well.
Five Horrys, because five is the limit. This should break the scale, though. Five isn’t enough. Ten wouldn’t be enough. Maybe 34 would be.
Is it OK to say this was the sweetest moment for Derrick Rose since 2011? Yes, it appears so, because what could be more uplifting to a player who’s been to injury hell and back (three times) than sending a sucker punch to LeBron James and the Cavs here in what could be a tightly-contest second-round playoff series?
Over the last few years it has become customary, even tired, to proclaim “He’s Back!” whenever Rose did anything that remotely resembled his MVP season. To be honest, Rose will never be “back” until he displays the consistency of that season, but let’s put that aside for a moment. On this very play, with this very shot, he was “back” for a fleeting microsecond, even if the three-point buzzer beater than put the Bulls up 2-1 in the series required a kiss from the basketball Gods to bank off the glass.
As it is, Rose is being celebrated today in the same city that heckled him during his clumsy comeback from knee surgery a few years ago. Good for him, because if anyone needed a lift from a crazed crowd and a game-winning shot, it’s Rose.
Well, when you’re running to your right and need to shoot over a defender who has the wingspan of a prehistoric bird, then yeah, this shot was a bit tricky to pull off.
Rose took an in-bounds pass with three seconds left and after shaking free of ImanShumpert, found Tristan Thompson flying in his grill. Of course, with time of the essence, there really wasn’t any time to think. And maybe that was a good thing. Three times on the Bulls’ previous four possessions, Rose missed one of two free throws and went 0-for-2 on isolation plays. This time, Rose simply launched it and didn’t call bank.
Before Rose’s game winner, the Bulls were stunned by a desperate three-pointer by J.R. Smith just seconds earlier. In a bit of bad decision-making by the Bulls and coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls refused to foul Smith while leading by three. In that situation, it’s better to send a player to the free throw line than risk having him tie the game, and the Bulls lost that gamble.
With Pau Gasol on the bench dealing with an injured hamstring, the Bulls couldn’t afford to play into overtime, not against LeBron. Speaking of whom, he poked the ball away from Rose on the very next play. Lucky for LeBron, he wasn’t called for a foul. And lucky for Rose, the ball went out of bounds, giving the Bulls another shot with three seconds left.
Bulls are up 2-1 in the best of seven. And the next game’s at the United Center on Sunday. C’mon.
Rose was rather subdued, as though he knew a 30-foot bank shot was going in all the way. Anyway, he was immediately lifted into the air by Joakim Noah, who sprinted off the bench, and soon mobbed by teammates. Of course, the UC went nuts, as it should, given that all of Chicago has been waiting to see something like this from Rose for nearly four years. Wish granted. If the Bulls win this series, don’t you think this shot will be raised as one of the reasons why?
Five Horrys, because of the circumstances: Rose’s continued comeback from injuries, it was a playoff game, LeBron was on the floor, and the ball was banked in. Yes, this is the max number of Horrys, but just the same, this isn’t some game in February. Please, after all he’s been through, don’t you think Rose should get lots of Horry love?
Jerryd Bayless headed to the sideline as if he hit a shot to end the first quarter, of a game in January, against a lottery team. He basically calmly walked off.
But that smile. It was bigger than the arena, a louder statement than the home crowd, more of a barometer of the new mood among the Bucks than the updated playoff standings. That smile, the one a lot of people in Wisconsin now have.
Jared Dudley made the great pass, Bayless made the twisting layup at the buzzer, and the Bucks had finally pushed through against the Bulls, going from the double-overtime loss on Thursday and the 0-3 deficit in the best-of-seven series to the 92-90 victory Saturday in Milwaukee.
For Bayless? Not much. He had to catch the ball going away from the basket and turn slightly to flip the ball in with his right hand while taking a slight hit from defender Derrick Rose.
The pass was the hard part. Throwing the ball in from the left sideline, Dudley completed a perfect pass, through Joakim Noah applying pressure on Dudley and through Rose staying close to Bayless. The pass could not have been better.
Rose’s eighth turnover of the day — a day he probably never forgets — gave the Bucks the ball with 1.3 seconds remaining in a 90-90 game. Coach Jason Kidd called one timeout, a full. Then another, a 20.
And the series situation. Milwaukee had already lost in overtime in the series, two days before, and likely would have had another extra period if it didn’t convert on this last try. Lose this one as well and the season’s over.
It was a great scene. Bayless may have been calm as he walked to the sideline, but once there, he was mobbed by teammates as the building went wild, at least the people who hadn’t made the drive from Chicago to watch. Even the scene looked good from overhead, with many Bucks fans waving the white T-shirts left on the seats before the game.
Five Horrys, and only because that’s the limit. A basket to win a playoff game, against a neighborhood rival, with the possibility of elimination looming — that easily deserves the max.
On the road? Against a good team? On a basket by Marcus Smart? All on the second night of a back-to-back?
Of all the heroes in all the situations in all the places, it would have taken a lot of searching to find a more improbable outcome than Celtics 117, Raptors 116 in overtime Saturday night in Toronto, a huge development in Boston’s attempt to keep its grip on the final playoff spot as the least bad team among the Eastern Conference hopefuls for No. 8.
Smart made six of nine attempts on the night, including the buzzer-beating layup, but after shooting 35.4 percent in February and 32.9 percent in March. His rookie season was ending badly, even as Boston continued to give him big minutes. And then this.
It was harder than it should have been. Smart was open under the basket, on the right side of the lane, thanks to Isaiah Thomas drawing the defense as he blew down the left side, but the dish-off was a little high. Smart grabbed it with his right hand, with no Raptor closer than a couple steps. Then he made an awkward plant to go up. At least the release was clean.
The Raptors led 116-115 on a Lou Williams three-pointer with four seconds left. The Celtics called timeout and advanced the ball to halfcourt. Thomas was near the free throw line at the other end when the referee gave the ball to Evan Turner on the sideline. Advantage: Celtics.
Thomas, fast enough without a head start, had built to lift-off speed by the time he took the pass from Turner about 40 feet from the basket, then went through the Toronto defense. He created the opportunity that Smart finished.
Large. Everything was a challenge except for the distance of the winning shot – the schedule, the location, the opponent. There has to be a special level of gratification. The importance in the standings is obvious. If the Celtics make the playoffs, this will be one of the nights that made it happen.
Eh. Several Celtics charged off the bench to embrace Smart. He got some hugs and smacks on top of his head, but there was no wild party.
The Celtics get marked down only because the win came on a wide-open layup, without a higher degree of difficulty beyond catching the ball. Everything else was big, though, from the situation and the importance to Thomas’ work. Three Horrys.
Just being in the game was accomplishment enough for the Bucks. Just getting the final shot was improbable enough for Khris Middleton.
But then for Milwaukee to come from 16 points down with 9:53 remaining Tuesday night and from 12 behind with five minutes left to beat the Heat 89-88? For Middleton to go from missing six of seven shots behind the arc and 12 of 16 overall to the hero with the three-pointer at the buzzer? The finish was nothing short of unreal.
Given the jerking change of direction in the game, the potential long-term implications in the standings, the unlikely star of the night and the emotional value for a team that would treasure so much as an uneventful win, it would be hard to find many bigger March moments anywhere in the league.
It had that too. Middleton was standing at the arc, a few feet left of straightaway, so he was able to have his feet set. What he wasn’t able to get was an easy look. He had to hurry to beat the clock. He had a defender charging at him, right arm extended for the block.
The only easy part — of the entire possession, actually — was the decision to shoot. With the game an instant away from ending in a Miami victory, Middleton had no choice. The result was near-perfect. The ball barely touched back rim before going down without a fight.
It took Milwaukee outscoring Miami 21-9 in the fourth quarter just to get the Bucks within 88-86 with a final chance off a jump ball with 9.8 seconds remaining at the free-throw line close to the basket where the Heat were defending. It had taken a lot of uphill climbing just to get in position to complete the comeback. And then it took more.
Jerryd Bayless, a a 6-3 guard, won the tip against 6-10 Michael Beasley, knocking the ball backward to Middleton. Bayless’ drove down the right side of the lane and missed a layup amid a crowd of Heat defenders with about five seconds left. Milwaukee’s Zaza Pachulia saved the ball as it was going over the baseline, twisting his body back toward the court and flinging a two-hand pass in the direction of the top of the key. Middleton controlled the ball and fired from 24 feet out with about five-tenths of a seconds to go.
The Bucks were on a six-game losing streak and staring straight at No. 7. They were sinking in the Eastern Conference standings, to where they were beginning to get a decent view of the lottery, and Miami was one of the teams putting pressure on them from behind. A lot of the good of 2014-15 was unraveling.
To say Tuesday night was an important win, then, doesn’t begin to cover it. Huge is more like it. If the shot turns out to be the launching pad to a Milwaukee recovery and the Bucks find solid footing again to reach the playoffs, it becomes their regular-season highlight.
A finish like that deserved a reaction like that. Middleton turned toward the other basket and ran into the arms of teammates who had come off the bench. The Bucks who had been near the other end rushed down to join the party. Middleton quickly disappeared under the madness of a gang tackle near one of the sidelines, at the feet of fans. Fun had broken out again in Milwaukee.
Crazy finish, tough shot, playoff implications, bedlam on the court in all the right ways — the Bucks delivered everything. It’s still only March and not the very end of the regular season, but skidding Milwaukee needed that in a big way. Four Horrys.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Greencommitted 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What say you? How many Horrys would you give Kemba Walker’s GWBB?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.