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The Most Interesting 3-Pointers of the 2016-17 NBA Season

Assigning titles to memorable treys from the past season, from ‘God is real’ to ‘You gotta be effing kidding me’

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

You know what was a fun 3-pointer last season? That one that James Harden hit against the Knicks. It wasn’t a game winner or even a dagger 3 or anything like that (it happened in the second quarter, which is the least interesting of the four quarters). It didn’t come during an important late-season game or, really, even during an important possession of the game in which it occurred. There weren’t any bigger ramifications that came from it, or any milestones that were surpassed because of it. It was just a good, fun, exists-by-itself 3. That’s it.

Harden had the ball and he was being guarded all alone by Lance Thomas out past the 3-point line, which, I mean, you probably don’t even know who Lance Thomas is, that’s how you know it turned out badly for him. Harden dribbled in some, waited for Montrezl Harrell to come set a pick, faked like he was going toward the pick, then crossed back over the other way. Thomas, that poor soul. He had leaned with Harden toward Montrezl and then tried to jump back into defensive position when he realized it was a ruse, but his legs all of a sudden were made of toothpaste, and so he just sort of stumbled backward as Harden squared himself and fired away. Look:

That’s a bad spot to find yourself in.

The ball went in and the arena swayed and swayed (this was that night when Harden put up 53-16-17; he had it going from early on; by the time we got to this point in the game, everyone was anticipating something special from him each time he touched the ball).

On his way back up the court, Harden did that terribly frustrating shimmy dance he likes, and to make matters worse he came back down a couple of moments later and shot another 3 on Thomas just to make sure that Thomas was all the way dead, same as in the movies when the guy shoots the zombie in the head one extra time to be safe. So that first 3 was a lot of fun. It was very much a “Looks like your night just got ruined” 3.

Let’s title some more 3s from last season.

Some quick ones first, then longer ones afterward:

The most “John Wall deserved that moment” 3: When John Wall hit that 3 at the end of Game 6 of the Wizards-Celtics series to save Washington’s season and force a Game 7.

The second-most “That record’s going to stand for a while” 3: Steph Curry’s final one in that game against the Pelicans when he hit 13 3s, which is just so stupid and crazy and perfect. (The first-most “That record’s going to stand for a while” 3 is the one that LeBron hit in the third quarter of Game 5 of the Celtics-Cavs series when he passed Michael Jordan for the most points scored in NBA playoff history.)

The second-most “That was too emotional” 3: This one belongs to Paul Pierce, who checked into the Clippers-Celtics game at TD Garden with about 20 seconds left just so the Boston fans could have one final goodbye. Rather than play the string out, though, he decided he’d get a shot up. It was a 3. It dropped in, everyone lost their mind, it was excellent. (The first-most “That was too emotional” 3 was the one my beloved Isaiah Thomas hit at the start of Game 1 of the Bulls-Celtics series following the death of his younger sister.)

The most “Hello, 911? I’d like to report an assault” 3: This one was Caris LeVert committing a crime against the Heat’s Wayne Ellington. (If you watch the replay closely enough, you can see that Wayne doesn’t get juked so hard that he falls, it’s that he gets his foot tripped up on LeVert’s feet. That takes at least a little bit of the impressiveness away, probably. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s still great.) (Sidebar: Originally, this section was going to be called “‘Hello, 911? There’s a body lying in the street here’ 3” and it was going to be clips of that crossover 3 that Damian Lillard hit on Chandler Parsons and also that 3 that Steph Curry hit on Marcin Gortat but it seemed like that was one or two toes over the line.)

The most “Wait, am I going to miss that?” 3: Dirk’s 3 at the end of that February game against the Blazers. Watching that clip—seeing Dirk, all 11 feet of him, raise up for that very distinct, very recognizable shot of his, and then watching the ball ninja through the net a few seconds later, and then realizing we don’t have very many of those left for us to see, is a surprisingly heavy feeling for a non-Mavs fan to have.

The most “You gotta be fucking kidding me” 3: The Celtics, playing in Phoenix, were up two with 10 seconds to go. The Suns scored, the Celtics inbounded the ball immediately, and Isaiah Thomas tried to do that thing where the player lets the ball bounce up the court a little bit to save time, except there were too many people around and the ball ended up getting knocked away from him. It was mania for half a second and the ball squirted out to Tyler Ulis, who stepped back and shot a 3 at the buzzer. It went in. Isaiah made this face:

That’s the “You gotta be fucking kidding me” face.

The most “Oh shoot. My bad, bro. I didn’t even see you there” 3: That 3 that LeBron shot in the playoffs when Serge Ibaka was guarding him and LeBron just spun the ball in his hand a few times like it was a shootaround and not a real, actual, legit, happening-right-now playoff game. (Serge Ibaka has led the NBA in blocks twice [2011-12, 2012-13]. He’s been an All-Defensive first-team selection three times [2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14]. And LeBron pretty much just laughed in his face when he tried to guard him.)

The most “God is real” 3: I’m not a religious person. It’s just never been a part of my life. The only times I’ve gone to church during, say, the past two decades were because I was attending a funeral or because it was Mother’s Day and my wife made me go with her. That’s the truth. I’ve just never been able to make that connection. And yet, still, when Dion Waiters—the perfect clown king of confidence—hit that game-winning iso 3 against the Warriors in January and then swaggered around the court like it was preordained, I couldn’t help but say, “Yes, actually, God is real. Has to be.”

Longer ones:

The most “Oh, you thought I was playing?” 3: Damian Lillard’s second deep 3 against the Mavs

The Blazers were on offense and the play they were trying to run had fallen apart, so Shabazz Napier just threw the ball to Damian Lillard, which is always a good idea. Lillard, who was standing some 34 feet from the rim, surveyed the court.

There was still plenty of time left on the shot clock (seven seconds), and also Mason Plumlee had run up and initiated a pick-and-roll action (he slipped the pick and was wide open near the top of the key, but Damian didn’t throw it to him because Damian knows the only good time to throw the ball to Mason Plumlee on offense is when he is between one and two feet from the rim). None of that mattered, though. Lillard, who seemed offended that Wesley Matthews was two full steps off of him, simply pulled up for the shot. It fireballed through the net, and when it did one of the announcers immediately declared, “No, he didn’t!” which seemed to be the same thing Wes Matthews was thinking, too.

On the very next play down the court for the Blazers, Damian and Wes ended up in literally the exact same spot. Wes sagged back even farther off Lillard the second time, daring him to shoot it again, which he did. That one splashed through, too. It was the most “Oh, you thought I was playing?” 3 of the season.

The most “Is he early-celebrating a 3 right now?” 3: Jamal Crawford’s flaming rainbow against Golden State

Generally speaking, there are three situational pieces you need to have in place if you decide you want to early-celebrate a 3 you’ve just shot. They’re the early-celebration rules, if you will.

  1. Your team has to be winning. That’s definitely part of it. It’s why doing it frustrates and upsets the other team so much. You shoot it and start celebrating while the ball is in flight and it’s just like, “I don’t even really have to try against these losers.” That’s what it should look like you’re saying with your body when you early-celebrate.
  2. It can’t be a desperation 3. It can’t be one that you were forced to shoot because the buzzer was about to go off or the shot clock was about to run out. It has to be a shot you chose to shoot. It has to be a shot that you have sought out.
  3. It can’t be a shot that banks in. It can never be that. Bank shots from 3 almost always feel like lucky shots, and relying on luck is the philosophical opposite of what celebrating a 3 early is supposed to be. Celebrating a 3 early is about confidence and certainty. It’s about knowing, not hoping. Dorks hope. Cool kids know.

So those are the three main rules of the Early-Celebrate 3. And Jamal Crawford broke every single one of them when he early-celebrated the flaming rainbow he hit against the Warriors: His Clippers were down 16 when he shot it; he only let it go because the shot clock was about to run out and there were no other options; and it banked into the basket in the most accidental, unintentional way a shot can bank in. And still, look at Jamal go:

He’s perfect. I hope that Jamal Crawford plays in the NBA for 40 more years.

The most “LOL, what are you doing?” 3: Deron Williams’s (missed) game winner

The Mavericks and the Jazz were playing. The game was tied at 100 apiece. The Mavericks had the ball for the final possession. The shot clock was turned off. All they had to do was not make a terrible decision and, at worst, they’d have gone into overtime. Except, guess what? They made a terrible decision. They ran a back screen for Deron Williams, who pulled up from 3 with 10 seconds still on the clock. The ball clanged off the rim. Rodney Hood grabbed the rebound and looked at his bench. Nobody there knew what the hell to do (they were all probably too confused from Deron shooting that shot, is my guess), so he just burned off up the court. The clock kept running and Rodney kept running, too, all the way until he’d created the favorable one-on-four matchup that I guess he was looking for. He planted his feet and rose into the sky, then knocked in what ended up being the game winner.

The best part of the whole thing was that Deron—who, like everyone else, thought Rodney was going to call a timeout—ended up just chasing behind as Rodney sped away. He tailed him the whole way, and was right there when Rodney pulled up, too. Look at him:

That’s a very distinct Please Don’t Let This Happen posture. I know that posture. I know exactly that helpless feeling he was having right then.

The most “Well, that was a waste” 3: Russell Westbrook’s 3 against the Rockets

This one happened in the playoffs. It was Game 4 of the Rockets-Thunder series. Steven Adams was at the line with one free throw left, his team down four, and 21 seconds left in the game. He missed it on purpose, and the ball bounced perfectly back to him. He caught it, immediately turned around, saw Russell Westbrook, and zipped it out to him. Westbrook began shooting it as soon as it touched his hands. It went in (FROM ABOUT 35 FEET, MIND YOU), the arena went bonkers (BECAUSE RUSSELL WESTBROOK HAD JUST MADE A SHOT FROM 35 FEET), and all of a sudden it looked like we might be headed toward magic (HOW MANY TIMES IN YOUR LIFE HAVE YOU SEEN THE MISS-THE-FREE-THROW-GET-THE-REBOUND-PASS-IT-TO-A-SHOOTER-THEN-MAKE-A-3 PLAY WORK?). But then: [fart noise].

The Rockets inbounded the ball, and all the Thunder had to do was foul someone, and even if that someone made both free throws the Thunder still would’ve gotten the ball back down only three with 18 or so seconds left. That’s not what they did, though. What they did was nothing. They just jogged around a bit, looking very confused. The Rockets advanced the ball all the way to the rim, where Nene laid it in for an easy and-1, basically ending the game (and the Thunder’s playoffs hopes). Remember in The Departed when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Billy Costigan was able to stitch together all of the parts he needed to expose Matt Damon’s Colin Sullivan as the rat, only to get shot dead in the elevator moments after he’d finally put the cuffs on him? This play was the basketball version of that.