Malik Sealy's Game-Winner Is More Than Just A Shot
Malik Sealy’s game-winner against the Pacers on Jan. 17, 2000 will go down as an iconic moment in Timberwolves history.
Part of it was the shot, sure. We’ll get into that. But a bigger part of it was that the basketball world lost Sealy in a car accident four months later. The truck that hit Sealy’s vehicle was driving the wrong way on the highway. It was discovered later that the driver had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19, nearly double the state’s legal limit.
Sealy was just 30 years old. Obviously too young to go, especially in a way that could have been so easily prevented.
Nearly two weeks after players on the team started their offseasons after being eliminated in the playoffs, they were getting a phone call with terrible news on the other end.
“That summer when I got the call, I’ll never forget it,” Wally Szczerbiak, who had just wrapped up his rookie season, said. “My heart just sank. You lost a family member. It was just a tragedy that was inexplicable.”
Bill Beise, who is in the Mount Rushmore of sports fans (the team even made a bobblehead of Beise), was the face of a fanbase that felt heartbreak and devastation when hearing the news of Sealy’s death. Beise even attended the memorial services for Sealy in New York.
“There’s the shock factor initially,” Beise said. “You just can’t believe that that could possibly be true so then you kind of deal with the shock factor and then you just kind of try to understand that things happen and you’re not in control of things that happen. It leaves a hole in your heart for sure.”
Sealy had a way of capturing the hearts of both basketball purists and casual basketball fans. He wasn’t a guy who was going to put up 20 consistently, but he could when needed. More than anything, though, he was the one doing all the little things. Sealy was a strong defensive force and a leader for the Timberwolves in the locker room.
“He was that X-factor that brought all the pieces together,” Szczerbiak said.
Sealy probably had the best season of his career in 1999-2000. He started 61 of 82 games for the Timberwolves, averaging 11.3 points per game and career-highs of 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He was also shooting 47.6 percent from the field which was also a career high.
He was a huge part of a team that won 50 games for the first time in franchise history.
When a Timberwolves fan thinks of the early 2000s, the question of “what if we had Malik?” will always linger.
Playing the Pacers in the late ’90s and early ‘00s wasn’t exactly fun. From 1997 to 2006, they never dipped below .500 and never missed the playoffs.
This particular team of Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Rik Smits and Jalen Rose was no joke.
Sealy actually started his career in Indiana after being drafted 14th overall in 1992 out of St. John’s. He played just two seasons there before playing three for the Clippers and one for the Pistons. That’s when it looked like he finally found a home in Minnesota.
“He was such a big piece of our team,” Sczczerbiak said.
On this particular night, the Pacers went into the game with a 25-11 record while the Timberwolves were 18-15. However, the Timberwolves had won 11 of their last 14 games.
The Pacers held a 77-67 lead going into the final quarter at Target Center and it looked like the Timberwolves would probably drop this one.
But then came the surge. Joe Smith had seven-straight points to start the quarter to bring the Timberwolves within five points. The Timberwolves couldn’t break through though. With six minutes left in the quarter, the Timberwolves still trailed by seven.
That’s when things got interesting. In the next two minutes, Smith hit two free-throws, Kevin Garnett hit a layup and Sealy drilled a 19-foot jumper. Boom. Three-point game.
The final 2 minutes and 45 seconds of the game were absolutely wild. Garnett gave the Timberwolves their first lead of the second half, 91-90. That didn’t last long. Miller drilled a corner 3 to put the Pacers up 93-91.
Garnett would once again tie the game with a patented fadeaway shot with 1:30 left. 94-94.
Dale Davis hit a bucket to put the Pacers up 98-96 with 25 seconds left. Who tied it for the Wolves? Of course, it was Garnett, who finished the game with a career-high 37 points.
That was all great, especially for a nationally-televised game on TBS. But Jackson stormed down the court and bullied his way into the paint to hit an easy turnaround. That put the Pacers up 100-98 with 1.7 seconds left.
The Timberwolves took a timeout and advanced the ball to halfcourt. The logical choice here would be to go inside to Garnett who had scored 15 points in the fourth quarter up to this point. A 3-point shot seemed pretty unlikely, especially when you consider that the Wolves hadn’t made a 3-pointer throughout the entire game.
Sam Mitchell inbounded the ball and threw the ball more than halfway across the court to Sealy. It didn’t seem like a particularly efficient play, but we don’t need to talk about that.
Sealy didn’t waste any time. He launched it. It looked deep (and it was . . . ) and he banked it in. Wolves win 101-98.
“It was kind of a blur,” Beise said. “I remember us taking the ball, I remember us taking a timeout and us taking the ball out on the far side opposite of where I sat. And Sam Mitchell was throwing it in and he threw it like three quarters of the quarter, the width – towards where I was sitting. Malik had come up from somewhere down by the baseline trying to get his guy stripped off and I just remember he caught the ball and shot it and I don’t even remember it banking at the time. . . After it went in, I don’t know. I just remember being so excited and next thing I knew I was being pushed into the pile up right on the sideline. Kevin was on top of Malik and was just screaming in his ear.”
It wasn’t the prettiest shot, but it gave the Wolves the win nonetheless.
“Malik came off and had a good look,” Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said after the game. “I don’t know if he called bank or whatever, but he had a good look at the rim and sometimes those things happen.”
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