The NBA enjoyed two game-winning three-pointers on Saturday night, and while the execution of these two different plays couldn’t have been better, and the results were the same, the ways that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Charlotte Bobcats went about getting their game-winners could not have been more different.
Kyrie Irving struck first, earlier in the night, taking down the Toronto Raptors in Ontario with a gutsy bomb over Alan Anderson. Irving went against basketball orthodoxy by killing the clock even with his Cavaliers down two points in the final seconds. Usually you’re supposed to get as many shots up as you can, and quickly, when your group is down. Instead, Irving confidently rolled down the clock and didn’t release a shot until there were 2.4 seconds left on the game clock.
Apparently the guy knew what he was doing. Watch:
That’s chutzpah. Add yet another game-winner – the fifth of his career – to Irving’s brilliant initial 85 games of NBA work since 2011. Irving averaged 35.7 points per game on the week, a week that included being voted into the All-Star game by Eastern Conference coaches. Fine work, for someone who apparently had some sort of weird chip on his shoulder about not winning a game in Toronto so far in his career. From the Associated Press:
''I wanted to get a win,'' Irving said. ''It was personal for me. In a year and a half of being in the NBA, I hadn't gotten a win against Toronto. To hit a game-winner and beat them on their home court feels good.''
In case you were wondering, because of a lockout-shortened schedule and Irving’s various times spent on the injured reserve, he had played exactly one time in Toronto before, in a loss back on Jan. 4 from last year. What can I say? Some people carry strange grudges.
Charlotte’s game-winner, as mentioned above, got the job done. It didn’t feature the same sort of, um, single-mindedness as Irving’s clutch shot. If Kyrie did away with basketball orthodoxy by running the clock down, then the Bobcats embraced basketball anarchy in their approach. No fewer than five different players (two of them twice, including one member of the Minnesota Timberwolves) touched the ball between the :25 and :4.6-second mark of the fourth quarter before Gerald Henderson nailed a three-pointer to clinch it.
In case you’re scoring at home … stop. This isn’t baseball. But we can breakdown the brilliant play-calling behind both game-changers.
For the Cavs:
Kyrie Irving dribbles, waits, and pulls up for a game-winning three-pointer.
For the Bobcats:
Kemba Walker dribbles past half court, penetrates, and dishes on the right wing to Gerald Henderson. Henderson drives left into the paint, loses the ball, and Bismarck Biyombo picks it up. Biyombo attempts to pass it back out to Walker, has the ball slapped out of bounds, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is then asked as part of the play to dive into the photographer’s row to risk life and limb to chuck the ball some 40 feet backward toward a waiting Walker. Walker then has to dribble the ball off of J.J. Barea’s foot (some say "knee," I say “foot”) – and this is important – it’s imperative that the referee not call a violation on the illegally-kicked ball.
The ball then needs to bounce 20 feet into the opposing team’s side of the court before Walker picks it up. Don’t question this, because it is part of the play. Kemba then has to launch a dangerous cross court pass just as he crosses mid-court to Henderson, who then takes two dribbles to his right to lose staunch Timberwolves defender Ricky Rubio, pump fake to force Andrei Kirilenko (one of the finest shot-blocking small forwards of all time) into the air, and pull up for a 27-footer. The shot then must go in.
This is how you break a 16-game home losing streak, which Charlotte boasted heading into Saturday night. And as much credit as we give Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap for devising this brilliant play, the onus has to be on him for this swoon – he should have been calling this play months ago.
Bad jokes aside, there’s a tendency to hop onto League Pass and root for all the home teams in Saturday nights like these. Random games against opponents from out of conference are usually tickets fair-weather families and hardcore fans pick out alike, and it’s always nice to see an arena full of punters go home happy. For a home win to happen in Charlotte for the first time in almost nine weeks, on a play like that? Even better. Even if it wasn’t as direct as Irving’s application.
Kemba Walker, seemingly still out of breath following the game, reflected on Henderson’s move to the Associated Press:
''Man, I didn't think he had time to get it off,'' Walker said. ''He pump-faked. I didn't know if it was going in or not but he really took his time and he had a chance to gather himself. He shot it with confidence and it went in.''
Acting Minnesota Timberwolves coach Terry Porter wasn’t as awed:
''They were scrambling for the ball. We were scrambling for the ball,'' Porter said. ''We had two guys on (Walker) and he found a passing lane to get it to Henderson and in a low clock situation had to turn and shoot and he made it. That's just one of those things.''
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings, even. Good work, Cleveland and Charlotte.
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