Where Does Cole Anthony’s Big Shot Rank Among the Magic’s All-Time Game Winners?

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - Where should Cole Anthony’s game-winning 3-pointer from Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves rank among the greatest, most memorable, and most improbable clutch shots in Orlando Magic history?

First off, it’s up for interpretation what “greatest,” “most memorable,” and "most improbable” each mean.

Some of the franchise’s all-time game-winning shots fit into all three elucidations, regardless of how you yourself define each. For example, Horace Grant’s fast break dunk following Nick Anderson’s strip of Michael Jordan in the 1995 playoffs against the Bulls probably ranks No. 1 regardless of whether we are talking about the “greatest,” “most memorable,” or “most improbable” clutch shots ever by the Magic.

Aside from that classic play, a full breakdown requires some heavy-duty analysis.

In the category of “greatest,” the nominees deserve to be clutch shots that were made in the playoffs. Grant’s dunk and the collection of clutch shots Orlando made during the 2009 playoffs, including Hedo Turkoglu’s game-winning three against the 76ers in the first round and Rashard Lewis’ pair of go-ahead triples against the Cavs in the conference finals, probably belong in the top four in this category. D.J. Augustin’s trey in the final seconds in the 2019 playoff opener against the Raptors likely rounds out the top five.

“Most memorable” and “most improbable” offer different perspectives.

There’s no doubt that Anthony’s shot was special and shocking. The only four game-winning shots on its level from the regular season are Penny Hardaway’s go-ahead dunk against the Bulls in 1995 with seven-tenths of a second left after he scooped up Toni Kukoc’s fumble and raced down the court with no defender in sight, Darrell Armstrong’s inbounds steal and subsequent breakaway layup to beat the buzzer against the 76ers in 1999, Dwight Howard’s alley-oop dunk at the buzzer against the Spurs in 2007, and Tobias Harris’ fast break slam right before time expired against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder in 2014.

Those are probably the only four regular season game winners that were definitely “more memorable” than what transpired in Minneapolis on Wednesday night. Anthony being a rookie does add a unique twist to it, though, as it was his first major moment of his NBA career.

One could argue that the Magic’s victory over the Timberwolves was more “improbable” than any of those other four. Orlando trailed by as many as 20 in the third quarter and by 13 with six minutes and change remaining in the fourth. Even after the Magic stormed back, the chances of them winning were extremely slim when they were down by two with 4.6 seconds left without any timeouts and with Minnesota’s Jarred Vanderbilt at the free throw line.

Also, among the five shots being discussed here, Anthony’s was by far and away the toughest one to make. Those other four were dunks and layups, although Howard catching a lob delivered by Turkoglu from the other side of the floor wasn’t an easy feat, even for someone with Howard’s athleticism and verticality.

Other remarkable game winners in team history include Otis Smith’s go-ahead layup in the final seconds against the Bulls in Orlando’s inaugural season, which came on the night Jordan dropped in 52 points, Hardaway’s floater with 1.1 seconds left over Hakeem Olajuwon in 1997, Anderson’s big triple in 1998 against the Lakers in Shaquille O’Neal’s first game against his former team, Steve Francis’ driving layup over the Bucks on opening night in 2004, Jameer Nelson’s buzzer-beating three against the Nuggets in 2011, Nikola Vucevic’s pair of buzzer beaters during the 2015-16 season and Evan Fournier’s pair during the 2018-19 season.

Compared to those, Anthony’s shot is right in the middle of them. Obviously, beating MJ was huge in the Magic’s first ever season. The Magic-Lakers game in 1998 was on national television, and the celebration that ensued as O’Neal was walking off the court was unforgettable. The shot from Nelson was the team’s first clutch moment in the Amway Center, which opened several months earlier.

Turkoglu had several game-winning shots during his years with the Magic. Already mentioned was the one in the 2009 postseason in Philadelphia, but he also made a few game winners in the regular season, which came against a few different opponents, including the Celtics, Bulls, Sonics and Blazers.

Once again, the level of difficulty of Anthony’s shot and the fact that it came on a night when the Magic overcame a 20-point second-half deficit perhaps elevates his over each of Turk’s.

So, without further ado, I have compiled a full ranking of the Magic’s 50 most memorable clutch plays in team history. Click here to see where Anthony’s shot ranks.

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