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Monday, June 8, 2009
A Career-Defining Moment, Missed


Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Orlando has the ball with six measly tenths of a second left, and after a timeout, they couldn't even get the ball inbounded.

Another timeout.

Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy uses his 20 seconds to change the play -- to one they had tried a few times in practice throughout the course of the season. With that amount of time, there would be no passing. Orlando's night would be in the hands of just one player. Van Gundy's choices:

Kobe Bryant prides himself on his ability to interpret the strategy of opponents. He notices Turkoglu taking the ball out of bounds. He notes Lewis and Redick fighting toward the ball. When his own man, Lee, does too, Bryant matches him stride for stride. Somebody is going to catch the ball and fire a jumper.

Courtney LeeSurprise! Instead, Turkoglu lobs from nearly half-court, high into the air toward the hoop. Just  then, Lewis steps in to screen Bryant out of the play.

Lee scrambles for the hoop, unimpeded.

Later, Lee said his main thought was that the ball seemed to take forever to make its way out of the sky and into his hands.

Later, Bryant said his main thought was: "s---."

If this shot -- basically, an uncontested, if hurried and off-balance layup -- goes in, the Magic have tied the series, gained home-court advantage, and stunned the pundits. They would have stolen a win in Los Angeles, and the NBA Finals would tilt in their favor.

"It was very close," Lee would say later. "The ball rolled off the rim. ... I just had to finish but I didn't."

"He got a good look at it," said Lewis. "I don't know if it was a bad pass. It seemed like he was a little under the basket when he caught the ball for the lay-up and it was a tough play for him."

Lee can't remember ever having won a game with an alley-oop before at any level of play. It's about as spectacular as basketball can get. 

It just was not to be on this night -- and it's the kind of opportunity that comes to the NBA Finals only once in a great many years. It's exceptionally unlikely that Lee, or any other player, will ever get another chance to win a Finals game with an alley-oop.

Lee is nearly alone in even having attempted such a thing. And he missed.

But he's not taking it too hard. "All we can do now," he says, "is get ready to play on Tuesday."

(Photo by Andy Hayt/NBAE/Getty Images)