Chances at making sports history are fleeting. They consist of a hodgepodge of greatness, luck, and circumstance. It is so rare that a team can make an impact on the record books, and this is why I think it is necessary to applaud the Nuggets on their history making night in Portland today. They shot 0-22 on three pointers tonight, and that is one hell of a record.
It takes a special kind of team to get a record like that — especially when the team doesn’t consist entirely of 15 Dwight Howard clones who suddenly decide to take a plethora of three point attempts. Denver is not totally inept from behind the arc this season. While they rank 25th in three point field goal percentage, it could be worse. They could be last. In fact, the difference between Denver and the last place team in three point percentage is the same as the difference between Denver and the fourth place team.
Or at least it was until tonight’s game happen. Those stats are bound to look different once NBA.com gets around to updating them. The stats I quoted in the previous paragraph do not reflect the level of victory Denver achieved on this most historic of nights. A victory that cannot be calculated purely in wins or loses.
Although, Denver did lose.
Losing made their entry into history all the more admirable. With three minutes to go, this game was still very winnable, but Denver made a game-long decision to shoot themselves out of victory and into history. They shot themselves into greater history than a mere extra win in the standings. And while, with three minutes to go, Denver could have deviated from that plan, they decided to keep their course.
Full steam ahead to history!
Down by six with three minutes to go, Denver took a three point shot, missed (of course), got an offensive rebound, and then missed another three point shot. In those last three minutes alone, the team took (and missed) five three pointers, yet they still scored ten points through free throws and two point makes. Portland also received the benefit of four gimme points through intention fouls/free throws at the end of the game, giving them an eight point lead that, minus intentional fouls, could have easily been merely a four point lead given that Portland only shot 35.9% for the game. If Denver had taken a different approach in those final minutes, maybe they would have won the game (well, we will get to that later), but at what cost?
Denver also shot horrifically during this game with an overall FG% of 38.8%. Clearly, though, this number is swayed greatly by the three point misses. Taking those away, but still leaving in all the missed midrange shots (Denver made only one shot from midrange or longer the entire game), the FG% looks a lot different. Had Denver not shot a single three pointer the entire game, their FG% would have been 50%.
If we lived in a world where those 22 three point attempts were two point attempts, Denver would have needed to shoot 22.73% to win the game. That would have given Denver 103 points for the game — two more than Portland’s 101. Even an awful team on an awful shooting night can make 5 out of 22 shots.
Of course, it’s not that simple, is it? Surely, Denver did not plan to break the three point record when they went into the game tonight. They went about their normal game plan, saw they were missing threes, and then they went for it. They took advantage of circumstances that were already going in their favor.
The question, then, is what was their decision point? At what point could they have realistically missed a bunch of threes and decided to not take anymore while still most likely winning the game? The easy answer, but incorrect answer, would probably be after their 12th missed three pointer. That leaves ten more shots to change from three pointers to two pointers, and if they kept up their 50% scoring clip on two pointers, they would have won the game.
The problem with that is most of their two pointers were pretty decent shots. There is no way of knowing the quality of the shots if Denver had taken two pointers instead of those last ten three point shots. In some semblance of fairness, I am going to assume Denver would have shot about 40% on those two pointers. That means they would have had to quit taking three pointers somewhere around the ninth or tenth missed shot if they were going to definitely get the win instead of the record.
That seems far too early in the game to give up, and we, the NBA fans, are lucky they didn’t.
It is hard to predict how things would have gone in those close last three minutes if Denver had abandoned their bid for history (because of the before mentioned four points Portland got off of intentional fouls), but it’s worthwhile to guess because that was the last turning point. Denver would have needed to either tie or take the lead in the game before the final ten seconds when they started fouling.
Remember, they shot five three pointers in the last three minutes, but two of those came after the intentional fouling started. That means, if they took two pointers instead of three pointers in those last minutes, they would have had to make two out of three to tie. Considering that two three pointers were taken on one possession, that also means they would have had to score on every possession to even tie the game.
Factor in the extra two possessions Denver got in the final ten seconds from intentional fouling, and to even tie the game, they still would have needed to score on every possession. Since that would have been a near impossibility, it is clearly a good thing that Denver decided to go for the record instead of the win.
Before that, the next available, realistic turning point where Denver could have quit taking three pointers and gone for the win was with 7:07 left in the game. However, from this point forth, Denver only took six three point attempts. They get one extra possession to work with, but they still have to score (on only two pointers) on five out of six possessions to even send the game into overtime and all six possessions to win it.
The very last point where Denver could have quit going for the record like a bunch of cowards and instead probably won was with 2:27 left in the third quarter. They were down by nine points then, but they would have gotten twelve extra two point attempts. By then, we are all thankful that this team had their priorities straight. They would become heroes on this December night — not a bunch of jerks who won a meaningless regular season game.
While this was a team effort on Denver’s part, not everyone contributed to the record. In fact, the record could have been much better if the following players had even attempted a three pointer: JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried, Timofey Mozgov, and Anthony Randolph. I know these guys are all power forwards or centers, but that is no excuse for lacking team spirit. If Andrew Bynum has the guts to attempt a three pointer, surely the previous list of NON-All-Star players could, too.
But I hate to end on a negative note. This was a night about triumph and the inevitably of greatness — not about gutless non-contributors! (Sorry!) What Denver did tonight was nothing short of amazing, and it is worth pointing out that they actually had the record for most missed three pointers at 21.
Then the clock was ticking down to the final buzzer.
And Ty Lawson stepped up to the three-point line.
Nothing but history — with a new record that is just a little harder to beat.