Flashback Friday: Ray Allen and the Shot

BY BOZZA

He may not have graced a court since Game 5 of the 2014 NBA Finals, but it was only this week that the curtain officially was drawn on the Hall of Fame career of Ray Allen. A clutch performer, Allen scored more Playoff 3-pointers than any other player in NBA History. In all he drained 385 shots from beyond the arc at the business end of the season, but one will live longer in the memory than any other. This Flashback Friday we look back at ‘The Shot’, the iconic moment when Allen saved LeBron James’ Miami Heat from elimination from the 2013 NBA Finals.

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Game Six of the 2013 NBA Finals saw the Miami Heat trailing the San Antonio Spurs 3-2, and facing the unpalatable scenario of their ‘Big 3’ losing a second NBA Finals Series in three years. After a see-sawing encounter the Spurs had gained a seemingly insurmountable advantage, leading 94-89 with only 28 seconds remaining. NBA officials began their preparations for the Championship presentation to follow. These preparations mean that the Larry O’Brien Trophy now sits courtside, both literally and figuratively within touching distance for the Spurs. Unwilling to watch the death throes, many Heat supporters have made their way to the exits, unaware that June 18 2013, was to reward those who stayed with a night to remember.

With officials going about their business, both teams are deep in tactical conversations at a time out. Heat Coach Eric Spoelstra carefully details his plans to the team as he loads the side with 3-point shooters, for their last roll of the dice. With the Spurs Coronation Ceremony almost ready, Heat star Chris Bosh’s mind is taken back to two years earlier when Miami surrendered the title on their home court. His eyes surveyed the crowd and settled on his wife, who was imploring him and his team mates for one more effort. Her encouragement gave the centre a boost of confidence, if she was still clapping and cheering, there was still life in the Heat’s Championship Campaign, Bosh later remarking “It was improbable, but I guess it wasn’t impossible”.

The Heat executed their inbound pass play to perfection. Through a series of screens, they isolated a red-hot LeBron James at the top of the key for a 3-point opportunity. Danny Green, showing the Spurs never say die spirit, after falling victim to one of the screens, recovered to contest The King’s shot. Disciplined to a fault, Green’s Spurs team-mates are perfectly poised for a rebound. On any other night, the equation would have been simple, James misses, the Heat lose but this wasn’t any other night. In a classic moment of luck trumping design, it was at this moment that the world’s best basketballer threw up, perhaps, his worst ever shot.

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Had LeBron simply missed, there was no chance of a Heat player claiming the rebound. However, in firing up the kind of brick that a street basketballer would be unhappy with, James had instead released a chaos ball. The inglorious shot, went nowhere near the bucket, but hit the backboard with such force that the waiting Kawai Leonard got hands to the rebounding sphere, but could not quite secure it for San Antonio. Sensing a chance, Dwyane Wade and his creaking knees managed just enough elevation to slap away Leonard’s spilt chance. Like a cake of soap in a cartoon, Wade’s tap eludes those trying to take possession of it. Among others, it slips through Allen’s hands, before an alert Mike Miller can shuffle it onto, an inexplicably open, James. LeBron, mere seconds after fluffing his lines, took full advantage of his second opportunity and drained the three. Just like that, with 20 seconds to play, the Heat are back, and American Airlines Arena erupts.

With the crowd back in the game, the Spurs call their final time out, allowing the Heat to refocus on the task at hand. Spoelstra identifies the preferred players to foul and the play to run after the resultant free throws. Tim Duncan steps up to bring the ball back into play for San Antonio. In another indicator of how close they are to glory, the Spurs champ needs to extricate his feet from the yellow rope on the court, in readiness to cordon off the trophy presentation area.

Leonard received Duncan’s inbound pass and is promptly fouled by the Heat. As the youngster steps up to the foul line, Heat players wave their arms to the crowd to incite more noise from their excited fans. They respond with a level of frenzy that had ESPN Commentator Bill Simmons remarking to colleagues “Forget about making these free throws — I wonder if this kid is hitting the rim”. Amid the chaos Leonard misses his first free throw. The youngster recovers to hit the second and with 19 seconds to play, we had a three-point ball game.

Knowing the Heat needed a 3 pointer to send the game to over-time, the Spurs removed Duncan from the game. The move made to allow their defence more speed to close down the Heat’s perimeter opportunities. At the other bench, Spoelstra, in one of those moves that becomes a master stroke in hindsight, returned his All-Star Centre, Bosh, to the fray. Despite everybody with even a passing knowledge of basketball knowing that this possession would end with the ball in LeBron James’ hands, with Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh all capable of landing big shots, there was still plenty going on around the King to keep the Spurs guessing.

With votes for the Finals MVP being hurriedly tallied by Tim Frank, the man responsible for sharing the information with commissioner David Stern, Mario Chalmers began the progression of the ball down the court for Miami’s attempt to level the scores. As expected, the ball found its way to LeBron. With the game on the line, the Spurs moved hurriedly to pressure the possible game tying shot. Double-teamed, James pulled the trigger. Whereas his attempt with 28 seconds remaining had four Spurs all lined up for the rebound, this time beneath the basket, like a giant surrounded by hobbits, was Chris Bosh.

The added pressure from the Spurs has forces the miss from James, however, the closing-down of one deadly option, left them open to others waiting to strike. Seeing Bosh perfectly poised beneath the rim, Manu Ginobli leaves Allen unguarded to challenge, the waiting centre, for the rebound. His efforts are in vain, and Ginobli slips as Bosh pulls down the vital offensive board. Immediately the open Allen, hurriedly retreating to the corner, demands the ball. Bosh responds and finds Allen with an almost perfect pass. Remarkably with 5 seconds to play, against the most disciplined team in the NBA, the most prolific 3-point shooter in NBA history was open and had the ball in his hands.

It was the moment Ray Allen had spent his whole life waiting for. Renowned League wide for his preparation, Allen spent endless hours practising. Before games, after games, even at half time in this game, Allen hit the practise courts. With a maniacal determination, he repeated the actions until they were an almost robotic second nature. Nobody knew their shot better and nobody knew where the 3-point line was better than the man who held the ball, and the Heat’s season, in his hands.

As he had done countless times before, Allen instinctively backpedalled to the arc. Four Spurs hurrying to put pressure on the play, did not affect the veteran as settled, and without looking down for the arc, executed his shot with a confidence that only endless preparation can produce. With the ball in flight, seemingly in slow motion, the Heat had now exhausted all their chances. Weighed down by the enormity of the moment, the crowd silently awaited their fate.

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From the moment LeBron James took “his talents to South Beach” and teamed up with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, Miami had become the NBA’s villains. For three seasons, Heat fans had suffered through a heavy amount of ill-will from opposition fans as their ‘Big-3’ went about living up to external expectations of a super team. Expectations that saw opposition fans revel in any Miami misstep. Having fallen at this stage two seasons earlier, another Heat slip up at the final hurdle, would result in much rejoicing at Heat fans’ expense. As all eyes focussed on Allen’s shot, an unbearable and collective tension engulfed the arena and..

Bang!

In one moment, tension was replaced with an unbridled elation. Watch it in all its chaotic glory here.

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The Spurs had one last play at victory but were thwarted as the Heat forced one last stop to send the game to over-time. Those fans who had left the arena earlier, now tried desperately, but ultimately unsuccessfully, to negotiate their way back courtside to watch the extra period.

After lifting themselves from the canvas, Miami ultimately prevailed in a nail-biting over-time period. Then after outlasting the Spurs in a classic Game 7, they again saw the Larry O’Brien Trophy brought courtside at American Airlines Arena. Unlike two nights earlier, it did not need to beat a hurried escape and, and was instead presented to the 2013 NBA Champion, Miami Heat.

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Upon his retirement, like many NBA players, Ray Allen published ‘A letter to my younger self’. Amongst other pieces of advice for his younger self he cautioned that ‘God will give you a lot of things in life, but he’s not going to give you your jump shot. Only hard work will do that.’ Sage advice that Allen obsessively followed throughout his career. A vigorous regime that meant he was ready, confident and able when his moment arrived, and for that the Miami Heat, and its fans, will forever be grateful.

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