Dale Zanine, USA TODAY Sports
Yes, we’re all well aware of how the 4thquarter of Game 1 of the NBA Finals ended. A missed free throw that could have given Cleveland the lead. JR gets the rebound… and, well, decides to dribble away from civilization (and a shot at a win). This historic mental blunder ate at the Cavaliers, and they proceeded to lose in overtime.
Even if JR went for the shot and missed it, it would have been the right basketball play. Maybe the shock that his teammates (and the world) experienced does not occur if he makes that right play, and they are composed going into overtime. Nevertheless, we cannot rewrite history (or rewire JR’s brain).
Recency dominates our lives, and JR Smith will unfortunately dominate the news for the time being due to his mistake. The last 5 seconds of regulation were a historic example of a team losing a game it had in its hands, but it is not the first (nor will it be the last) example of this occurring.
Here are some other examples of victory changing hands in the craziest of ways.
Chris Webber (U-M) versus North Carolina
The first thing that many people thought of when JR took the ball and kept dribbling was Chris Webber. In 1993, Chris Webber and the Fab Five faced North Carolina in the NCAA National Championship Game. Michigan reached the championship game the year prior but lost to Duke.
Losing my two points with less than 20 seconds on the clock, Chris Webber takes the rebound of a missed free throw by UNC. He proceeds to walk with the ball, but it goes uncalled. Chaos ensures, and Webber dribbles the ball up the court. With 11 seconds left, he goes to the corner of the court and calls a timeout… but Michigan does not have any left. Calling a timeout when you do not have one is a technical foul. North Carolina gets a free throw and the ball, and they proceed to win the game.
Leon Lett ruins Thanksgiving
Leon Lett is no stranger to messing up (see Super Bowl XXVII). The one play I always see come up when historic mistakes are discussed is the play Lett made on Thanksgiving versus Miami in 1993. With little time remaining, Miami – losing 13-14 to Dallas – was going for a field goal. Dallas blocks the field goal. Problem is (as Jeremy Schaap says), as the ball rolls on the ground, if the opposing team touches it, it becomes a live ball, giving the kicking team a chance to recover.
Leon Lett, who was not a regular special teamer, decides to dive on the ball. But he lost control, and Miami recovered. Miami proceeded to go for a field goal again, and this time they made it. Miami wins, 16-14.
Kobe Bryant’ Air Balls (4x)
Believe it or not, the Black Mamba himself has struggled in the clutch. During his rookie season, the Los Angeles Lakers reached the Conference Semifinals, facing the Utah Jazz. In Game 5 (Utah leading 3-1), this was Kobe’s first elimination game. The Jazz and Lakers battled it out in a close game, and with seconds left, the game was tied. Bryant dribbled the ball up the court, as he drove towards the lane, he pulled up and… airball. Overtime
As overtime progressed, Kobe got the ball with open looks. Astonishingly, he took three shots that were airballs. The Mamba crumbled in OT, and the Jazz were able to pull away and win both the game and series.
Patrick Štefanv Empty Net
On a cold (come on, it’s Edmonton, of course it was cold) January night, the Dallas Stars had the game in hand. Leading 5-4, the Oilers had pulled their goalie, and were desperate to tie the game. With less than 15 seconds left, Patrick Štefan gained possession, and skated towards an empty net.
Maybe it was a ghost, maybe Chris Webber was in the crowd, but Štefan slightly lost his balance near the net, and missed an easy goal. The Oilers regained the puck with little time and were able to pull of the impossible and tie the game.
It gets through Buckner!
I’m sorry, but I had to. This would not be a fair discussion of all-time blunders unless I included Bill Buckner. To (quickly) recap, the Red Sox are leading in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. In the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox were ahead, and on the cusp of winning their first championship since 1918.
As the inning progressed, a rally ensued by the Mets. Shocked, Red Sox fans just wanted to make it through the inning. With two outs, and a runner on second, that was still possible. Mookie Wilson stood at-bat. He grounded the ball towards first, and a slow roller went towards Red Sox first basemen Bill Buckner. Buckner set himself up for a play he’d probably made thousands of times, and… the ball went through his legs. The Mets scored, winning the game and tying the series.
You know the rest.
Nick Anderson cannot hit a FT
Nick Anderson and the 1995 Orlando Magic are probably the one team who can completely relate to the Cleveland Cavilers after Game 1. Dubbed the team of the future, led by Shaq and Penny Hardaway, the Magic reached their first NBA Finals in 1995, facing Hakeem and the defending NBA Champions, the Houston Rockets.
As Game 1 reached a close, the Magic had a small lead, and what seemed like a victory. Nick Anderson was fouled. Leading by 3, all Anderson had to do was make one shot, which would give Orlando a two-possession lead (and a likely win). He went 0-2.
As the second free throw missed, Anderson jumped for the deflected ball, getting it back. He was fouled again. The same circumstances were at hand: make one, and ice the game. Nick went on to miss both shots AGAIN.
Houston got the ball back and called a timeout with 5.6 seconds left. Kenny Smith tied the game, and Houston proceeded to win the game in OT. The Rockets swept Orlando.
Here’s the chaos (start at 9:12)