The basketball, looking smaller than it normally does, twirled in the massive fingers of a gigantic hand. Fading stitches, like the seam on a baseball, run from the knuckle down to the wrist on that hand – Steven Adams’ right one – evidence of surgery after a broken bone many years ago. That right hand is the one the Thunder center uses most often to shoot, dribble and block shots. With 1.1 seconds left in regulation, that hand had one more duty.
After shuffling his feet along the baseline readying himself to make an inbounds pass, Adams steadied his base, arched his back and heaved the ball downcourt. It was the same motion he’s used hundreds of times in practice. Sometimes as a part of an end-of-game drill, other times as a friendly quarterback-to-receiver diversion with a Thunder teammate in between reps. The ball crossed the inbounds line 94 feet away from where the Thunder needed to score. And the need was urgent. OKC was down 122-120 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, needing a miracle to get a win on this two-game home stand. The ball then passed over the heads of seven players – three Thunder teammates and four Timberwolves players – all of whom seemed to expect the ball to descend near midcourt. They were mistaken.
Only Dennis Schröder had the right idea. He started below midcourt and started dashing towards the rim, like a kid in the backyard on a corner route. Adams’ pass followed a familiar arc, at least for anyone who has tried launching a basketball with one hand. It curled slightly to the left and descended down to Schröder’s level just inside the left block, tantalizingly close to the basket.
“(From that distance) I can’t do a good technique pass, so I just resort to a baseball pass,” Adams quipped after the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.
Schröder looked over his left shoulder, timed out his paces and put his defender on his hip. Reaching out with his right hand, the German point guard reeled in the soaring orb.
“We were talking about it before,” Schröder said. “I try to lose my man and try to sprint as fast as I can. He made a helluva pass.”
Contorting his body back towards the rim, Schröder brought his other hand to the ball and took two quick steps, with only tiptoes touching the ground. Before the red lights flashed around the backboard and the clock struck zero, the ball was out of his hands and bouncing onto the glass.
“That was a helluva pass, a helluva read by Dennis to hold him off. Dennis is just a cerebral guy like that,” said guard Chris Paul.
After traveling 94 feet and only touching the hands of two Thunder teammates, the ball had just one more foot to go - straight down through the net for a game-tying score. Adams and Schröder beat the buzzer, sending this one into overtime.
Partly stunned himself, Schröder backpedaled into the corner, then rushed back out towards mid-court to greet his elated Thunder teammates, while the delirious Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd reveled in the madness.
On the way back towards the Thunder’s bench, Schröder accidentally bumped into a security guard, who turned around and smiled. Schröder spread his arms wide, hugged the officer and tapped him lightly on the back of the head before going on to chest bump and dap up the rest of his teammates.
“I don’t know what happened. I blacked out a little bit. I saw the security guard and thought he wanted to celebrate with me a little bit,” Schröder grinned.
The last man Schröder high-fived was already sitting down on the bench. It was Adams, the man who launched the pass in the first place. The ball went the length of the floor. Adams only had to walk a few long paces after his heave. It was time to get back in the huddle. It was time to get ready for OT. It was time to win.
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