Monday, June 08, 2009

Top 5: Where playoff blunders happen; Courtney Lee has company

The Orlando Magic's Courtney Lee has a place in hoops infamy, regardless of how people hair-split over his missed layup at the end of regulation in Game 2 of the NBA Finals last night.

People remember a blunder (if that's even what this was, it was a tough shot), since it's only human nature to seize upon the times when the gifted goofed up royally. It's more immediate and obvious than a true blunder, like Michael Jordan using the No. 3 pick in 2006 on Adam Morrison, who's now spot-welded to the Lakers' bench, or the entire history of the Los Angeles Clippers franchise.

If you're really generous, one view is that the Magic drew up a brilliant play and suffered the equivalent of a hockey player hitting the goal post or a football wide receiver the ball jarred out by a huge hit just before catching a touchdown pass. Lee was a right-handed player on the left side of the basket, but an NBA player is supposed to make those. Either way, Lee has plenty of company when it comes to roundball ruefulness:

Air Johnson (first round, 1981)

Magic Johnson led the Lakers to championships in two of his first three seasons, 1980 and '82. In between, there was a major bump in the road in 1981 when the Lakers lost to a 40-42 Houston team in the first round. The capper in the decisive Game 3 (the first round was best-of-3 at that time) was Johnson shooting an air ball with 10 seconds left and the Lakers down by one point.

That clip is worth watching just for the music, which is straight out of a Dirk Diggler movie.

Derek Harper's rookie mistake (Second round, 1984)

The Dallas Mavericks had a flair for the farcical long before Mark Cuban made his first million; hell, why do you think picked that team to buy? Derek Harper played 16 seasons in the league as a crafty point guard. However, in Game 4 vs. the Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Lakers in 1984, the score was tied in the closing seconds when the rookie Harper got the ball. Instead of working for a game-winning shot, Harper dribbled in place, believing the Mavs were ahead instead of tied. The Lakers, much as they did on Sunday, controlled the overtime and went on to win, taking a two-game lead in the series (3-1 in that case), and wrapped the series up two nights later.

Harper is one of one two players to notch 15,000 points, 6,000 assists and 1,800 steals. The other? Isiah Thomas. Now you know the rest of the story.

Joe Crawford's no-call (Western Conference final, 2008)

Everyone realized San Antonio's Brent Barry was fouled by Derek Fisher on a last-second play, except for the officials. Granted, it was the Spurs who got hosed, so no one outside Texas minded.

Josh Howard loses his brain (NBA Finals, 2006)

One comes not to bury Josh Howard, but to praise him. You remember the situation. The Mavericks were up by a point in the closing seconds of overtime in Game 5, series tied 2-2. Stopping the Miami Heat would gie Dallas two chances to close out the series on home court. Dwyane Wade, the eventual Finals MVP, was fouled with 1.9 seconds left. The strategy was obvious. Take a timeout after Wade's second free throw, so the Mavs could inbound at half court. Instead, Howard called time after the first freebie, forcing the Mavs to go the length of the court after Wade put Miami ahead 101-100. A desperation shot failed

The rub is the game is remembered for the mental mistake by Howard, who had put up 25 points and 10 rebounds. It's forgotten, probably by everyone other than Cuban, Bill Simmons and Henry Abbott, that Game 5 was marked and marred more by the officials, whose whistle-happiness led to the Heat going to the line 49 times, 25 by Wade alone. Howard's teammates Devin Harris and Dirk Nowitzki shot a combined 10-for-31, and of course, there's the whole question of why the Mavericks were down to one timeout.

Perhaps Howard was showing solidarity with the kneejerkers who hate the rule that gives teams the option of inbounding from midcourt after a timeout. No true hoops fans mind this, of course, since having a more confined space to run a last-second play tests a team's creativity much better than someone heaving a 75-foot no-hoper of a pass that works once (Christian Laettner, Duke, 1991), maybe twice (Bryce Drew, Valparaiso, 1998) in a lifetime.

Nick Anderson bricks it (NBA Finals, 1995)

No one ever said life was fair. Anderson ought to be remembered for more than four missed free throws. He was Orlando's first draft choice and played longer for the franchise than any member of the 1989-90 expansion team. He also came up with a huge steal on some guy named Michael Jordan which led to the winning basket in the opener of the Eastern Conference final. However, there is no getting past that the Magic had a three-point lead against the defending champion Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Finals and Anderson bricked four free throws in a row, at home no less.

Houston, which was the heavy favourite (just like the Lakers), swept the series. Anderson, adding to the pathos, went from being a mediocre 70% free-throw shooter to being able to make less than half. Since he now works in Orlando's front office, he's constantly reminded of it, but it was little to do with the Magic's current situation.
"People are bringing it up and they want it to happen to the Magic now. There's nothing you can do about it. You can't turn back the hands of time. People make it out to be the series. We had three other games. This year's team has nothing to do with what happened 14 years ago. You can't put the two together."
Alas, they will.

At least Courtney Lee handled it like a champ.

As a bonus, Can't Stop The Bleeding (thanks for the link) came through with a reminder of another moment of playoff infamy: The New York Knicks' Charles Smith getting stuffed four times in the final seconds of a game against the Bulls in the 1993 Eastern Conference final.


toasterhands said...

I still can't believe Fisher wasn't called for a foul.

As for the Lee play, not as easy as it looks. Transferring the ball from your left side to your right side while momentum carries you opposite the basket, that's not exactly a piece of cake.

Patrick said...

Good comparisons. It's too bad C. Lee missed that opportunity. I like his game. Wish that had gone down for him.

Anonymous said...

Derek Harper's gaffe:

Anonymous said...

Barry travelled, moved his pivot foot. Before the Fisher contact. BTW bottom line is you have to go for the basket (like that Mavs dude on Carmelo should have gone AFTER THE BALL instead waiting for the whistle), Barry should have made a shot trying to win instead being a smartass.
You NEVER WAIT for the whistle, you PLAY that possession ALWAYS. SAS SUX