Last year, in the midst of another season toiling in the D-League, looking for a way back into the NBA, former New York Knicks and Boston Celtics forward Bill Walker decided to make a change. So long, Bill; hello, Henry.
"It's just my middle name," Walker recently told Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "I'm just trying to mature and just trying to grow up, trying to change the perception about me."
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
So far, so good, Henry.
The Miami Heat called Walker, a 2008 second-round draft pick out of Kansas State, up from the D-League's Sioux Falls Skyforce on a 10-day contract this past Saturday to help give coach Erik Spoelstra some additional frontcourt flexibility after Chris Bosh was ruled out for the remainder of the season following the discovery of blood clots in his lungs. In his first Heat appearance, he scored 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting — three 3-pointers, one monster dunk — to help Miami beat the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.
His encore left a little something to be desired, however; he'd missed eight of his first nine shots, including all seven of his 3-point tries, through the first 47 minutes of Wednesday's meeting with the Orlando Magic. Luckily for our man Hank, though, NBA games still run 48 minutes, opening the door for some stunning closing-seconds heroics:
Walker hit two 3-pointers in the final 23 seconds of regulation to pull the Heat even with the Magic at 85 and extend the game into overtime. The first came off a baseline out-of-bounds play on which Spoelstra called Walker's number despite his ugly shooting numbers, with Walker rewarding his coach by splashing a wide-open jumper created by a stiff screen on Magic center Nikola Vucevic by recently acquired point guard Goran Dragic to cut Orlando's lead to 84-82.
The second, though — that was the real prize.
After Magic guard Victor Oladipo split a pair of free throws to put Orlando up by three, Heat star Dwyane Wade dribbled into the frontcourt seeking an equalizer with less than 20 seconds remaining. He took a high screen from forward Luol Deng and dribbled to his left, where he pitched the ball to Walker and set a quick screen to stymy Vucevic. Tobias Harris stepped forward to take away Walker's airspace, though, prompting a reset to Wade. The 11-time All-Star got Harris to bite on a pump-fake behind the 3-point arc, but rather than leap into the Magic forward to try to draw a three-shot foul, Wade fired the ball to Dragic in the left corner.
The point guard drove into the paint and kicked out to Deng, who was forced to put the ball on the floor by the hard-charging Willie Green; after beating the closeout, Deng elevated for a midrange jumper, only to think better of it and sling the ball to Wade in the left corner. As Vucevic lunged to contest, Wade fired the ball back out to Walker on the left wing, who lofted a deep bomb just over the outstretched arm of the recovering Harris that splashed through to tie the game at 85 with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Heat had about five opportunities to force up a desperation three. Instead they kept moving the ball and found a decent look. Overtime.
— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) February 26, 2015
The Magic couldn't answer, failing to get a shot off as Deng picked off an Oladipo pass to force overtime. Neither team could get anything going offensively through the first couple of minutes of the extra session, but Miami got just enough from Wade (four of his 18 points in OT), Dragic (two late free throws) and center Hassan Whiteside (the dunk that put Miami up for good with 2:49 remaining in OT) to get past the finish line ... thanks, in part, to Walker, who logged a pivotal steal on a strip of Vucevic with 19 seconds left and Miami holding onto a one-point lead, and who grabbed the rebound after Oladipo's last-ditch 3-point try to seal a 93-90 come-from-behind victory.
Interim Magic head coach James Borrego will be kicking himself after watching his team let this one slip away. Orlando led by as many as 10 points early in the second quarter, and by eight after a pair of Vucevic free throws with 42 seconds remaining. And yet, thanks to a combination of fouls, missed free throws, turnovers and Walker's sudden rediscovery of his stroke, Orlando coughed up that eight-point final-minute advantage, snatching defeat from the jaws of near-certain victory. Here's how close Orlando was to locking this thing up:
With an 83-75 lead against the Heat and 47.0 seconds left, the Magic had a 99.8% win probability, per @inpredict. Orlando lost by 3 in OT.
— Eddy Rivera (@erivera7) February 26, 2015
Life came at Orlando fast, and the Heat capitalized, with no Miami player acting more opportunistic than Walker, who finished with 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting, including a you'll-take-it-given-the-circumstances 2-for-11 mark from 3-point land, to go with six rebounds, two assists and two steals in 33 minutes of work off the Heat bench.
After finishing off Miami's third win in four games to improve to 25-31 on the season, a clearly emotional Walker spoke with Heat sideline reporter Jason Jackson about his journey back to the NBA, which included stops in Venezuela and the Philippines, and what it means to be getting this opportunity in Miami:
"Where I come from, man, we don't have nothing, man" Walker said. "I ain't got nothing to lose. That's how I feel. I'm from Huntington, W.Va., man. Stage like this? Can't be scared, man. I'm just glad they have faith in me. I'm glad Dwyane threw that thing to me, man. Glad I could hit it, man."
Hank Walker's postgame interview is what it's all about.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) February 26, 2015
A slightly more composed Walker offered a bit more on what was going through his mind in the winning locker room, according to Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
“I just wanted to stay aggressive and take shots that I know I can hit and play within myself,” Walker said. “Those guys do such a good job of creating for me and looking for me, and it was just matter of time before I hit those shots. That one I hit, D-Wade drew four people, so he kicked it out and, having faith that I hit those shots all the time, I let it go.”
And, in so doing, continued to make the most of this 10-day opportunity, and made it maybe a little bit more likely that hoopheads will both remember his new name and associate it with the ability to contribute under pressure.
More NBA coverage:
- - - - - - -