Horry Scale

Horry Scale: Noah Vonleh scoops loose ball, makes layup to lift Trail Blazers

Steve Aschburner

Steve Aschburner

A reminder on The Horry Scale: It breaks down a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety night in November?) and celebration. Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, named for the patron saint of last-second answered prayers.

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Nobody was moving up. Nobody was moving down. As far as playoff implications, the Portland Trail Blazers’ home game Monday night against San Antonio offered nothing.

Anyone looking for clinchings, eliminations or jockeying for positions needed to stay focused on the Eastern Conference. The West is essentially set, and the squads matched up at the Moda Center in Portland couldn’t even pretend to work up a little dislike and rivalry, since the Spurs are No. 2 and the Blazers are No. 8 in that bracket. If they see each other again, it will have to wait until the conference finals, with Portland a long shot to survive that long.

So this contest Monday was 48 minutes of NBA regular season basketball with no subplots, played solely because the league office and the schedule-makers mandated that it must be. And yet, the ending – Noah Vonleh scoring on a layup at the buzzer for a 99-98 Portland victory – qualified it for the Horry Scale, elevating it into the realm of some of the NBA’s most exciting finishes ever.

At least until we take this closer look.

DIFFICULTY: C’mon, all Vonleh – a 6-foot-10 forward out of Indiana, in his third NBA season – had to do was pick the ball up off the floor and lay it in. Granted, there was an urgent time constraint. He had to get the shot away before the buzzer sounded and the backboard got framed in that orange perimeter light. But Vonleh wasn’t drafted ninth overall in 2014 for nothing – he deftly executed the scoop and shot, one he no doubt has made thousands of times before in practices and drills.

GAME SITUATION: The Spurs led 96-91 with 1:25 to go, and even if he didn’t have his A team entirely on the court by that point, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich didn’t treat this incidental game as a snoozer. The man who essentially introduced “DNP-rest” into NBA lexicon opted to have his whole roster available, so that adds a little bit to what Portland accomplished late. Buckets by Pat Connaughton and Vonleh pulled the home team within 96-95 before Kyle Anderson’s free throws got the margin back to three. Jake Layman’s dunk with 12.3 seconds got the Blazers within one and Anderson’s late turnover set up their final possession.

That’s when Shabazz Napier, starting at point guard while Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollom both were held out by coach Terry Stotts, rushed into a pick-and-roll on the right wing with Meyers Leonard. With five seconds left Napier zigged to the left, toward the lane. But as he zagged right to get by Spurs center Dewayne Dedmon, the ball squirted loose, enough that Leonard pretty much stood straight and gave up on the play. Anderson and David Lee converged on the loose ball for San Antonio but came closer to banging heads than they did to corralling the ball. It snuck between them and headed right to Vonleh, standing almost directly under the basket. He picked it up and banked in his layup.

CELEBRATION: There were streamers. There was confetti. Vonleh got wrapped up by teammates. It was a buzzer-beating victory over a formidable and familiar rival, and a better way to prep for the postseason than, y’know, losing. But you could tell it didn’t mean all that much with the shot of Popovich laughing and waving to the celebrating Blazers before he exited the floor.

GRADE: On circumstances and importance, this might rank among the lowest of all Horry Scale plays celebrated here. But it did mean something special to Vonleh, who helped ease some big-man absences (Ed Davis, Jusuf Nurkic and of course Festus Ezeli) for the Blazers. Vonleh had 12 points and 11 rebounds, seven on the offensive glass, in a game-high 37 minutes for them, continuing a trend that has seen his production and involvement rise over the past 10 games. Firming up roles and building confidence in reserves is key for playoff teams, and Vonleh’s moment to shine Monday could help in a dicey postseason predicament. Two Horrys.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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