ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — One interesting side effect of having UConn and Kentucky play against each other for the national title last night was that there are plenty of NBA players, both past and present, from those two schools. The Charlotte Bobcats, for instance, feature current teammates from both schools — Michael Kidd-Gilchrist won a title with Kentucky in 2012, while Kemba Walker won a championship with UConn the previous year.
So the teammates got together last night to watch the big game. And when UConn prevailed, Kidd-Gilchrist posted a photo to Instagram of himself wearing a UConn shirt and looking rather nonplussed, alongside a thrilled Walker. As MKG captioned it, “Crown Them Uconn Boyzz #respect”…
Ladies and gentlemen, the Horry Scale has gotten more crowded.
On Wednesday night, the Knicks traveled to Charlotte to face the hard-playing Bobcats. With 3.4 seconds left, J.R. Smith took the inbounds pass at the top of the key and made his move left. He steps back and — with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all over the shot — nails another chance of a Bobcats upset this season.
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, and gives it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, who is kind of the patron saint of last-second daggers.
How does Mr. Smith’s shot Wednesday night stack up? Let’s take a look.
By J.R. Smith’s standards, this wasn’t that difficult of a shot. This isn’t to say it was an easy shot, but anybody who has seen Smith play has seen him hit more improbable shots. Rookie Kidd-Gilchrist did everything he could to send the game into overtime, coming this close to getting a finger on the shot. Perhaps the most taxing part of the play for Smith was his statline prior. Anytime a player is shooting 5-15 and you ask him to nail a game-winner on the road and he does it, a tremendous amount of focus was used. No matter who was guarding him.
Game knotted at 98. 3.4 seconds remaining. A miss simply sends the game into overtime.
What a difference a season makes, for the Knicks and J.R. Smith. The Knicks boast the best record in the East, with a showdown against the Heat tomorrow. Smith has similarly undergone a metamorphosis of sorts, crediting a more hermit-like off-court existence for his improved play. Case in point: Smith passed up a chance to put Knicks up by dribbling the ball back out on a 2-on-1 fastbreak after a steal. If this was a season ago, it’s a good chance Smith goes for the win here. But this is a new season. New York promptly called a timeout to set up the final shot.
Why was J.R. taking this shot instead of Carmelo Anthony? ‘Melo sat out the final two minutes because of an injured right hand (after diving for a loose ball). Smith stepped into the primary playmaker role and executed, despite a terrible shooting game (1-9 from 3-point land).
A stone-faced Smith stood erect on the sideline as teammates came mobbing. He didn’t break stare. It was a mild enough celebration that evoked memories of Barry Sanders immediately giving the ref the football after a 27-yard TD run. In many ways, the celebration encapsulates the Knicks season so far: gritty and focused. Even Rasheed Wallace got in on the act.
3 Horrys. This was an early season matchup between the Bobcats and Knicks (a game that just screams marquee matchup). However, it was an entertaining affair, with a charging ‘Cats team itching to build a rep and a high-profile New York team looking to prove they are more than hype.
J.R. Smith knocked down a shot (the stepback) that he’s made a living on for nine NBA seasons, but this is the first time the shot went in with game-winning implications. The biggest takeaway was his calm and total disregard of early-game shooting woes. As Horry would appreciate, the mental fortitude needed to step up like this on the road can’t be ignored. It’s another indication of improving times for the mercurial guard.
The Mavericks rolled into Charlotte Saturday with a 16-game winning streak against the Bobcats. Now that streak is at zero, as Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist put the ‘Cats on their back to stop — as my mom would put it — the madness. As for the latter, he proved that two shoes might not be a necessity to finish an incredible play:
Kidd-Gilchrist, the number two pick in the 2012 Draft, isn’t ready to be discounted from the Rookie of The Year discussion just yet.