Issue 57: Big Cold Spells in NBA History

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Unless you happen to live in a small pocket of warmth across the globe, you’ve likely been COLD these past few days.

I’m in Austin, TX, and it was 70 degrees during Christmas. As I write this, it’s nine degrees outside with like five inches of snow on the ground. One of my dogs loves it, the other hates it, and neither wants to pee in it. I empathize there.

This burst of frost has inspired the topic of today’s email: when have players or teams had tremendous cold spells? Or in other words, when have they been very bad at doing good things on the basketball court?

Houston Rockets Miss 27 Three-Pointers in a Row

Over the past year, the Houston Rockets have turned from a perennial championship contender to a sinking ship. Their new owner Tillman Fertitta made much of his money in the restaurant and casino game, which is still hurting quite a bit thanks to Covid.

As Fertitta himself is hemorrhaging money (oh, boohoo, his net worth might have dipped below $4 billion? Whatever will he do?!), he’s trying to make cuts anywhere he can. That includes his basketball team; the Rockets have already traded away multi-time All-Stars like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and, most recently, James Harden.

The best result of any of those trades? The Rockets briefly got Caris LeVert from the Nets in exchange for Harden; LeVert was then traded to the Indiana Pacers, where the Pacers’ top-notch medical staff discovered cancer in his kidney.

The Rockets medical staff missed this (and so did Brooklyn’s when they gave him a physical during the offseason), so the trade may very well have saved LeVert’s life.

Today, the team is still okay but certainly not a title contender. Their closest shot was in 2018, when they took a 3-2 lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, and even led at halftime of both Game 6 and Game 7.

Then the Rockets went ahead and missed 27 three-pointers in a row during Game 7. This was a team that prided itself on being one of the best-shooting squads in the league. And it wasn’t just one person; most of their roster could step back and hit one or two from long range.

Except no one could do it that night. The Rockets led 42-30 when they missed the first three of the bunch, and trailed 89-76 when the last one clanged off the rim. Oof.

This type of bad shooting night is nothing new for Harden, though. He hoists up threes like they’re fists after winning a hot-dog eating tournament, and has missed 16 three-pointers in a game six times.

Here’s a three-minute compilation of all the Rockets’ misses. Spoiler alert: none of these shots go in.

Andris Biedriņš Had a 24% Free-Throw Shooting Percentage Over Five Seasons

Andris Biedriņš came into the league as a spry 18-year-old, but within a few years, the Latvian had become a solid contributor for the Warriors.

Now, this was back in the late oughts and early 2010s, so the Warriors weren’t yet the juggernaut they would become. But they were a fun squad, with a bunch of likable, rough and tumble players who were playing their best ball at the right time.

Biedriņš was one of those players, serving as basically a double-double machine from 2006 to 2009. During the 2007-08 season, he shot a decent 62% from the free-throw line. During the 2008-09 season, he hit 55% at the stripe.

Neither one of those are crazy impressive numbers, but Biedriņš is also a very tall man with an…unorthodox shooting style. So he was never going to be an elite shooter.

Still, no one expected him to forget how to make foul shots entirely. After that 2008-09 season, Biedriņš wrapped up his career by combining to shoot 20 for 84 from the free-throw line over the next five seasons, good for just under 24%. Yikes.

John Starks Tries Real Hard But Doesn’t Succeed

The 1994 NBA Finals are probably most remembered for the interruption of Game 5 to broadcast O.J. Simpson’s slow car chase with the Los Angeles Police Department (and there’s apparently an interesting reason as to why the car was driving so slowly).

But there was some basketball played, too. The Knicks won that Game 5 and seemed poised to return the Big Apple to hoops glory. One of their firecracker players was John Starks, a guard with a ton of confidence and a strong game.

Starks has a pretty cool backstory. He played one year of basketball in high school and then was on the “taxi squad” at Rogers College, which is a delightful way to say “you don’t dress and you don’t play unless someone gets hurt.” As an additional slap in the face, he didn’t even get to sit on the bench, he had to watch games from the stands.

But Starks kept hooping and attending junior colleges, working at a Safeway and studying business. He eventually transferred to Oklahoma State, where he drew some interest, but not enough to get drafted.

The Warriors signed him for one year (dang, the Warriors are showing up in every entry on this list) and then he played in a few other basketball leagues before the Knicks gave him a shot. Starks tried to dunk on Patrick Ewing — also known as Patrick Chewing — and Ewing threw him to the ground.

As a result, Starks twisted his knee. Thanks to a quirky NBA rule, the Knicks could only release him if his injury healed by December. It didn’t, which meant the Knicks had to keep Starks on the roster. The team figured it may as well put him on the court, and he did plenty of good things as a Knickerbocker.

One of those good things was leading the Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1994. Starks had a potential game-winning shot blocked by Hakeem Olajuwon in Game 6, and that was a foreshadowing of a dreadful shooting night in Game 7.

In that deciding game, Starks shot 2-for-18 from the field, including 0-for-11 from the three-point line. With only two made shots, it wasn’t like any quarter was particularly good, but the fourth quarter was especially painful. Starks made just one of his ten shots, and the Rockets eked out a 90-84 win, securing the championship.

Starks never did win an NBA title, but he’s referenced in songs by A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys. And that’s nearly as good.

Joel Anthony Plays 29 Minutes, Records Nothing But Fouls and Turnovers

Joel Anthony was never a star in the NBA, averaging just 2.2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. But when you play nearly 500 games (he got to 490) and win two championships, you’ve had yourself a solid career.

What Anthony did not have on January 9, 2011, was a solid game. Or, really, even an above-average one. You know, it was almost like Anthony wasn’t even there.

Anthony was on the court for 28 minutes and 46 seconds — about 60% of the game — and failed to notch a single positive statistic. He had zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, and zero blocks.

He did have one turnover and committed four fouls, though. So that’s…something?

We’ve talked about players recording “trillions” before, but this is taking it to new heights. It’s like the equivalent of going to a party to network and then just hanging out in the bathroom the whole night. And you also fumbled the small bowl of spinach artichoke dip you were carrying around and watched it crash messily to the floor.

Dennis Johnson Misses Every Shot He Takes in Game 7 of the NBA Finals

There’s been a lot of sadness (or at least crumminess) on this list, so let’s end with a good redemption story.

The 1978 NBA Finals were a matchup of teams that no longer exist: the Washington Bullets and the Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle’s Dennis Johnson was having himself a fine Finals, but when Game 7 came around, he couldn’t find the basket.

And I mean that quite literally. Johnson finished a spectacular 0-for-14 from the field, scoring just four points (all on free throws) with three turnovers.

Once during a youth league game, our team went through a similar slump (we were also about seven or eight years old, not pro NBA players). One of my teammates procured a dollar bill from…somewhere, and asked the ref if we could buy a bucket. The ref ejected my teammate for extortion and called the game right then and there.

Okay, not really. He just chuckled and shrugged. But I wonder if DJ made a similar offer to try and see the ball go through the hoop.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. The following season, Johnson and the SuperSonics found themselves back in the NBA Finals against the Bullets.

This time, Johnson played much better, winning Finals MVP and leading the SuperSonics to its only championship in franchise history. Johnson also went on to become a Hall of Famer (albeit posthumously), so it was a good way to bounce back from a cold shooting night.

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Other Reads and Watches

Bradley Beal went searching for a basketball under the stands and everyone made the same joke

Draymond Green rips NBA’s double standard for trading star players

Travel options will be limited for players during All-Star break

“He plays chess matches on the court”: How Joel Embiid draws fouls at a historic rate

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


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