The shot that should’ve been historic
Yesterday, Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News wrote about the Thunder’s Derek Fisher and the obvious bad memories that arise for Spurs fans when Fisher’s name is mentioned. I probably don’t need to remind you about one of the more famous shots in NBA Playoff history. It’s a shot that, to this day, I can’t watch without my soul dying a little, Charlie Murphy be damned.
What’s fascinating, and disheartening, to me is that what would’ve been one of the more famous shots in NBA playoff history is practically forgotten because of some craftiness on Fisher’s part and a clock operator with a slow trigger finger. Tim Duncan hit what one could argue was a more difficult shot than the .04 shot that Fisher hit and unfortunately it’s rarely mentioned because of the events that followed.
The shots came in Game 5 of the Spurs’ second round series against the Lakers in 2004. San Antonio swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round (these were the days before Pau Gasol was traded to the Lakers, but that’s a gut punch for another day) and went into the series with the Lakers holding home court advantage. After taking the first two at home, the Spurs dropped Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles.
That set the table for that fateful Game 5. The fifth game of a series tied at 2-2 essentially decides who will win the series, at least based on percentages. Back in the days of the Spurs’ dominant defense, San Antonio outscored the Lakers 18-10 in the fourth quarter in the lead up to the final two possessions. Remember the days when the Spurs scoring 73 points in a game was a thing? These days that’s a mid-third quarter score. Anyways, the Spurs lost every quarter heading into the fourth and it took a Herculean 18 points in the first 11:54 of the fourth quarter to have what was thought to be a last second shot.
Manu Ginobili was the inbounder on this play. Like the defense-first mentality of the Spurs, the eight man rotation Gregg Popovich ran with at the time seems archaic today. Rasho Nesterovic and Hedo Turkoglu started alongside Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen. Along with Ginobili, Devin Brown and Robert Horry were the only three players to come off the bench in the game. Malik Rose, Kevin Willis and Ron Mercer (!) were among the reserves not used in Game 5. And Mario Elie was an assistant coach. I love that team, even if for the sheer randomness of it.
Heading into the sideline out of bounds play with 5.4 seconds left, Duncan had 19 points and 21 rebounds to go along with four blocks. He also had a uncharacteristic seven turnovers. Ginobili faked a pass to Devin Brown cutting to the corner and inbounded the ball to Duncan near the elbow, with Shaq closely guarding Duncan. Ginobili faked like he was going to rub off Duncan towards the center of the floor, then cut the other direction towards the low block, taking Kobe Bryant with him.
As Ginobili runs Bryant off on Duncan, the Big Fundamental faces up on Shaq and attacks to his left, towards the top of the key. Two dribbles later, Duncan takes a very un-fundamental shot ,essentially a floater from the top of the key, fading to his left. It hits nothing but the back of the rim on its way through the hoop.
It really can’t be understated how difficult of a shot that was. In fact, it was eerily similar to the shot that followed from Fisher. The two major differences being that Fisher had even more of a time crunch than Duncan had, but TD had a full-bodied Shaq pressed up against him. This wasn’t the out of shape Shaq that refused to close out on a Tim Duncan 3-pointer, this was the in-his-prime Shaq that was actually engaged on one-on-one perimeter defense for a play. And Duncan still hit it.
For a few moments, we thought it was over. Spurs fans had watched years earlier as the team couldn’t defend the franchise’s first NBA title because of a Tim Duncan knee injury. We watched as the Lakers captured three titles in a row, two of those in which the Lakers trampled the Spurs en route to the Finals. The Spurs finally overcame the Shaq and Kobe Lakers again in 2003, a run that featured a 110-82 smashing in the clinching Game 6 of the second round in Los Angeles. This was going to be the year the Spurs repeated as champions.
There was no way the Lakers could score with .4 seconds left without some sort of backdoor play that resulted in a lob at the basket. That’s what I thought. Getting the ball anywhere out on the perimeter was going to take too long. There wasn’t enough time for a catch-and-shoot. Or so we thought.
Long story short: hate you Derek Fisher.
(Note: I recommend turning off this video at the 1:25 mark if you want to sleep without crying this weekend. Also note Doc Rivers doing the analysis in this game)