Issue 14: 5 Close, But No Cigar Basketball Moments

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The first-round series between the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz this year was riddled with excitement. Denver’s Jamal Murray and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell had a duel for the ages, scoring a combined 475 points in seven games.

But it was the end of Game 7 that gave us something sports fans love to debate — what if things had gone the other way? Let’s take a look at a few of those moments that were soooo close to turning out differently.

Mike Conley’s Three-Point Heave

Remember all those points I mentioned earlier? They weren’t coming very easily in this game. Both teams were stuck in the 70s in the final minutes.

After a nifty shot from Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets found themselves with an 80-78 lead. The Jazz came down with a chance to tie and…well, chaos ensued.

The Nuggets forced a steal, and rather than dribbling out the clock, went for a contested layup. That didn’t pan out well. OOPS.

The Jazz got the rebound with enough time to find Mike Conley for a three-point attempt. And, as Josh Reynolds here points out, Conley learned just how cruel basketball can be sometimes.

Tim Duncan’s Hook Shot

There’s a funny thing that happens in sports: If you’re too good, you become the villain. The Miami Heat know that all too well. After LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade, the team suddenly had three of the best players in the league on their roster.

As the saying goes: “They hate us ’cause they ain’t us.”

The Heat ended up making four straight NBA Finals, but it was 2013 that provided the most intrigue. Most fans remember Game 6 the most, when the Heat made two three-pointers in the final 20 seconds, including Ray Allen’s incredibly clutch one from the corner to tie the game. The Heat won that game, forcing a pivotal Game 7 against the San Antonio Spurs.

And Game 7 was just as exciting, with the teams going back and forth throughout. Once again, things came down to the final minute.

Down two, the Spurs passed to Tim Duncan — their rock, the man who won five championships with the franchise over the course of his career.

He turned in the post and flipped up a hook shot, one of his signature moves.

And it missed.

His ensuing tip-in also missed. The Heat got the rebound and put the game away at the free throw line. Miami won the championship, and the Spurs were the most sad.

At the time, Duncan said Game 7 was “always going to haunt me.”

But don’t feel too bad for Timmy. The Spurs won the championship the very next year against this very same Heat team.

John Stockton Can’t Best the Bulls

Growing up in Chicago, this is a game I remember vividly from my childhood.

Bulls, Jazz, round two. The two teams had met in the NBA Finals the previous year, with the Bulls also winning in six games.

Fans of The Last Dance docuseries may recognize this entire season, and certainly the championship, since it was covered extensively throughout the series.

And of course, Game 6 of the 1998 Finals has become one of the most replayed games of all-time because it features Michael Jordan’s final shot as a Chicago Bull.

Making a shot with five seconds left to win a championship is iconic for any player, but when it’s the greatest to ever play making it? That’s something else.

However, the narrative would be completely different if the Bulls didn’t play good defense on the final possession. That’s when Utah’s John Stockton took a pair of dribbles and put up a three-pointer.

For a shot that likely got partially deflected, Stockton’s comes remarkably close to going in the basket.

It didn’t, though, and the Bulls celebrated their sixth championship in eight years.

Gordon Hayward’s NCAA Championship Near-Misses

A lot of these emails focus on the NBA, but we can find plenty of “what if” moments in the NCAA, as well. And perhaps none of them are as “what iffy” as Gordon Hayward’s moments in the final minute of the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

In the final five seconds, Hayward had not one, but two chances to win the championship for Butler against Duke, a true David vs. Goliath battle. The first attempt (at the 4:23 mark in the video here) was a fadeaway jumper from the baseline that bounced off the rim.

The second? Oh, it’s just one of the highlights you see every March.

You may as well keep watching that video to see it. Hayward gets the ball off a missed Duke free throw, gets freed up by a PUNISHING screen that gives me the shivers every time I see it (imagine running full speed looking the other direction and then hitting a brick wall) and has a chance to make a halfcourt shot for all the glory.

As John Brenkus of Sports Science reported, Hayward’s shot came devastatingly close to going in. If he released the ball 0.5 MPH slower and at an angle less than half a degree from what he did, the ball banks in and Butler is celebrating a championship.

Gerald Henderson’s Incredible Pass

We’ve had a lot of heartbreak, so here’s a little something lighter to wrap things up.

The Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets) were playing in an early-season game against the Milwaukee Bucks, and…actually, you know what? We don’t really need any context here.

Just watch Gerald Henderson attempt to find a teammate with a pass and hit a fan in the head instead.

The woman who got hit was fine, but let’s also note the fan in front of her who continues to eat popcorn while everyone else is making sure she’s okay. Amazing.

That’s all ’til next time. Thanks for reading!


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