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Sherman Douglas—The Game I’ll Never Forget
By Sherman Douglas, as told to Brett Ballantini
Sep 12 2005 11:31AM
December 27, 1990: Miami HEAT 124, Denver Nuggets 114
Sherman Douglas was the HEAT’S first floor general. Although he was only a second-round choice out of Syracuse in 1989, his strong campaign (14.3 ppg and 7.6 apg) earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team. He bettered that campaign in 1990-91, when he led the HEAT in scoring (18.5) and assists (8.5) and was named the team’s most valuable player.
After holding out before the 1991-92 season, Douglas played five games with Miami before being dealt to the Boston Celtics for Brian Shaw on January 10, 1992.
I’m 6-1, which by NBA standards isn’t very big. And here and there over the years, the bigger guys of the game have tried to give me trouble. Some of them equate size with skill or potential.
Well, I may only stand 6-1, but I was the point guard everywhere I played. And you know being the point guard means, all you big fellas? It means I control the ball. If you want your touches, you best treat me kindly.
I’m joking, but people do tend to underestimate the power of the point guard. I was proud to play 12 seasons in the NBA and to feed some of the greatest players in the game: Glen Rice, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Terry Cummings, and so many others. I had 4,536 assists in my career, 55th best in NBA history, so you know I took care of my teammates.
But I could score some myself, you know; in college at Syracuse, I delivered 16, 17, 18 ppg. I only had one big-scoring season in the NBA, mostly because my job as a pro was to help my teammates score as a playmaker. But every once in a while, I turned the jumper back on and piled up big points. That’s just what happened in the middle of my second season as a pro, when my HEAT team went to Denver and beat the Nuggets, 124-114. I scored 42 points, my career high, making this game the one I’ll never forget.
My one and only big-scoring season was 1990-91, my second and the HEAT’s third. We had a good young team, with Rice, Rony Seikaly, Kevin Edwards, and Grant Long, but we were still coming together as a team. We were learning about ourselves as individuals, our teammates, and the league all at the same time.
Results were hard to come by then. It was a huge challenge for me, going from an established college program like Syracuse to basically a brand-new team in Miami. Anyway, I averaged 18.5 ppg and 8.5 apg that season, which was my best. There were nights where I was just feeling it and could carry the team. That’s what happened out in Denver.
We’d been scuffling badly and had just come off losing 10 in a row. Suiting up against the Nuggets, we were 6-20. Thankfully, Denver was just as bad, at 6-20. Now, I’m not saying the Nuggets were a weak team—they had some bonafide threats, like Chris Jackson (who would later change his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) and Michael Adams. But down low, they weren’t very strong. Plus, the team was really beat up; only eight guys suited up for this game, in fact.
The Nuggets also were learning a new style of play from coach Paul Westhead. They were trying to play run-and-gun, fast-break basketball. That was fine, but the Nuggets sort of forgot to play defense in those days. We knew we could get some quick and easy scores against their D, and provided we could hold Denver with some solid stops here and there, we could steal a win on the road.
Well, I started the game by shooting the lights out. I had 31 points in the first half—my game high for the season was only 25 before that—and just carried the HEAT. That was good, though, because I was 11-of-16 from the floor while everyone else was clunking 12-of-41. Without my hot night, we’d have been dead in the water.
I’d never had a run like that in my career. Not at any level. But for us to win the game, I was going to have to work my teammates into the flow of the offense, somehow. No one man, I don’t care who you are, can win a game by himself.
However, there was a little concern in the locker room at halftime. Rice, our long-range bomber, bruised his thigh in the first quarter and wouldn’t be able to return. That left us severely shorthanded in the backcourt, because our supersub, Edwards, was unable to play after breaking his nose a week earlier. Still, we knew we could hang together and hopefully squeeze out a win with a strong second half.
Whether I was mostly trying to get my team involved or I just ran out of gas, I was up to 35 points in the second half when I needed a break. Coach Ron Rothstein knew how hard I was playing to get us this win, so he rested me for about eight minutes in the third quarter. Remember, Denver’s strength was their backcourt, and both Jackson and Adams could light it up, so I was expending a lot of energy on the defensive side in order to keep us in the game.
The bad news was that my Syracuse mate Seikaly and teammate Billy Thompson knocked knees going after a rebound in the third quarter and the injury knocked Rony out of the game. Rony was eating up Denver and had 15 points and 11 rebounds when he was injured. We were down to nine healthy players and had fears that Rony had torn some cartilage in his knee.
Thankfully, we still had a frontcourt advantage even with Rony out. And in the backcourt, the Nuggets only had one guard in reserve, Walter Davis, so even though they led 88-85 at going into the fourth quarter, I had a feeling that Jackson and Adams might be spent.
I was right. Plus I was aided in the backcourt by a couple of our young guys, Bimbo Coles and Willie Burton. Bimbo scored 11 for the game and Willie started to think he could catch me with his scoring. He lit it up in the second half and finished with a career high 27 points, as well as 11 rebounds.
Their efforts and a few more buckets of mine allowed us to rally against the Nuggets and win the game, 124-114. By the end of the game, I had 42 points, which I scored in only 34 minutes. I didn’t abandon my role as a playmaker, either, with eight assists. My shooting was a solid 14-of-24, and I made 13-of-17 free throws. The free throws I made turned out to be my career high as well.
The injuries sustained in that game really did worry us and put a damper on the win. Both Rony and Glen were starters for us and without them, we’d be in a lot of trouble. Thankfully, neither injury turned out to be too bad and both players got back on the floor pretty quickly.
Our win at Denver was only our second in 13 games. It raised our record to 7-20, and we thought it would set us toward better times later in the season. Unfortunately, we only won 17 of our last 55 games, but still finished with a Miami-record 24 wins on the season.
That doesn’t sound like much these days, but it felt pretty good to us overall. In a game where we could have just given up and played out the string, we dug deep and rallied. Winning a thriller, shorthanded, on the road—not to mention me scoring baskets like crazy—made this a game I’m proud to look back on. It was a stepping stone for the Miami HEAT.