Tag Archives: game winner

My Finals Memory: Michael Jordan’s Team Wins His Third Ring

I think we all knew it was coming. I know no one thought it’d come like that.

Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals was my second live professional basketball game, a ridiculously generous birthday gift from both a family friend and my Phoenix Suns, who were kind enough to make their way to the championship round the same year that my sports fanaticism was ripe for the picking. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that I didn’t end up a bandwagon Bulls fan. My first game was also against Michael Jordan and company; Basketball Reference says Jordan scored 40 on that November night, but all I can remember is being so alarmed by the ease with which he did, well, everything, that I lost my handcrafted sign that I’d smuggled into the third-to-last row of seats in America West Arena on my way out after the game. The idea that my poster board and markers could counteract that seemed silly, even at seven.

When every path offers least resistance, your opponents — and their fans — get very few moments of excitement. Clinging to that two point lead with 14 seconds left was one of those precious fleeting instances, in the way that playing with a downed live wire will make you feel alive for half a second. Once again perched in the crow’s nest high above the action, it was impossible not to feel the sparks flying from the generator clad in red and black, adorned with his 23 Theses on the reformation of your heart into a palpitating mess of terror.

I mean, he’d already done it on the previous possession. With 43 seconds left, Michael Jordan grabbed a rebound off of a Kevin Johnson miss; 5 seconds later, he was at the other rim, trimming a four point Phoenix lead in half. When Chicago got the subsequent stop and prepared to inbound for that fateful John Paxson 3, it seemed inevitable that Jordan would do something. And he did — he took the inbound pass, and he dribbled to halfcourt.

Then, he passed. And he faded to above the three point line, not really part of one the most crucial play in my seven-month old passion. Scottie Pippen drove into the lane, dished to Horace Grant, who found Paxson … and Jordan’s contribution was simply the most emphatic celebration.* The greatest player on the planet in my new favorite thing had, with the game on the line, trusted in his teammates to take him to the promised land.

*Check out the almost proto-modern movement of the ball from the Bulls on the play. Today, the player in Grant’s position would be spaced out further along the baseline, or even in the corner, depending on the set and the personnel. But the path of the ball is almost exactly the same: dribble penetration (by a small forward with guard-like quickness and handles, no less) leads to a collapsed defense and a pass to a sort of basketball pivot table. Grant has the opportunity to take a shot if it’s open or swing it to the next open shooter. Truly, all that’s different is the defense’s inability to station a defender in the lane prior to the drive (given current zone defense rules) and Grant’s spacing.

And it worked, twice! Because even after that Paxson three, the game wasn’t over; Phoenix had the ball with 3.9 seconds remaining. Kevin Johnson inbounded the ball to Oliver Miller, who flipped it back to KJ and set a clearly illegal screen on Jordan as he trailed behind Johnson. That left Horace Grant to contain the dynamic point guard, but Grant overcommitted and, for another electric second, it seemed the Suns might force Game 7, which would be at home again, and they’d shown they could take these Bulls to their limit, take the best that Jordan had to offer and …

But Grant recovered. KJ’s shot ended up going backwards; the man in the goggles had swatted that flicker of hope into the offseason. Jordan once again celebrated more jubilantly than anyone; given all the personal turmoil, it seems clear why he was so happy to get that third ring. Yet all I can remember is imagining that he was just that happy that his teammates had won the game.

It was a perfect first love, replete with loss and lessons. The Suns — my team — had lost on the brightest stage, but not to the best player in the world. They lost to the best team in the world. And that made all the difference.

Image by paloetic via Flickr

I Need A Hero(ball)

I’m ready to raze the advanced statistics movement — lay waste to its algorithmic ramparts and seize the Holy Land of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the name of Heroball.

These 2013 playoffs have certainly picked their spots when it comes to bringing us to our feet, but what moments they’ve been. And they’ve largely resulted from Heroball, the oft derided, amorphous shadow cousin of “the right way.” LeBron James’s performance in Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks was the paragon of efficiency, whether measured by counting or rate statistics: 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. An 86.4% effective field goal percentage. 10 rebounds. Assisted on approximately 43% of his teammates’ made baskets when he was on the floor. Each time James handles the ball is a moment to appreciate the inner workings of a mastermind, like being a fly on the wall in da Vinci’s workshop — with HD compound vision.

Yet for all the spectacle of watching James in his effective glory, the most astounding moments are the visceral, not the academic. LeBron’s passing will leave you shaking your head; his decision to take the basketball and turn everything around him into the defensive equivalent of third graders performing as trees in a school play will leave you unleashing tribal screams into the vast darkness of the universe. When LeBron James engages in Heroball, the world stops — for everyone but him. And while its largely because these acts of valor are so incredibly efficient that they have such resonance, the efficiency is tangential to the experience. It’s perfect for analyzing the minutes, but subpar for capturing the moment.

And for all of his improvement as a post player and passer, Carmelo Anthony was still at his most entertaining this weekend when he went into full on Melo-mode, isolating his defender and finding the most ridiculous ways to get shots off and knock them down. Heroball brought Madison Square Garden to its feet and gives lift to the already astronomical stylings of JR Smith; without it, the Knicks are the Atlanta Hawks with fewer playoff series wins in recent history.

The only thing that makes Heroball more fun is when it comes at the end of the game, though — unless you’re a Warriors or Grizzlies fan. Professor Andre Miller and Chris Paul, two of the wiliest players in the league, both worshiped at the altar of legends. Both reduced twitter to a rambling mess of capital letters, exclamation points and various appeals to deities, basketball and general alike. And both rendered advanced statistics absolutely meaningless.

Were there more efficient options? Maybe in a points per possession sense, yes. But in terms of providing us with the very best of what NBA playoffs have to offer?

Let Heroball reign. Its expected value is off the charts. Especially when the very act of Heroball is the most efficient decision on the court, as it was with Chris Paul at the last second last night. Heroball is at its most beautiful when it takes its singular, insular focus, turns it on efficiency, and renders the numbers meaningless.

Chris Paul, in the clutch, is ridiculously efficient. His Heroball will tell you that.