Inside the biggest shot of the Lakers’ season: How Matt Ryan hit an impossible three
The Lakers were 1.3 seconds away from a brutal loss, a 16-point second-half lead totally erased as the offense went arctic. After a LeBron James layup with 3:02 on the clock, the Lakers missed six consecutive field-goal attempts as the Pelicans inched toward a win.
The last of those misses, a Lonnie Walker IV three from the corner, pretty much sealed things, with Pelicans rookie Dyson Daniels grabbing the rebound. ESPN’s analytics had New Orleans at 97.7% likely to win.
But inside the building, it seemed like a certainty.
With 1.6 seconds left, Daniels, the player New Orleans selected with the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick they acquired in the Anthony Davis trade, missed two free throws to give the Lakers another chance, down by three points.
This is the inside story of that chance.
Lakers coach Darvin Ham didn’t bring his play sheet with him to the court, the one with his favorite ATO (after timeout) plays diagrammed and sorted for the right situation. The one he’d used just seconds earlier had gotten the Lakers an open three, but like they have so many other times this season — they missed. After Walker couldn’t tie the score, the Lakers were shooting just 26.25% from three on the year. But thanks to Daniels’ two missed free throws, the Lakers got one more shot.
Matt Ryan hit a tying three-pointer at the regulation buzzer as the Lakers rallied to a 120-117 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.
Ham: “I remember Brad Stevens using it at Miami, Boston at Miami. I think ... I can’t remember ... I want to say it was Jeff Green that made the three. But it was some variation of that, the same kind of pass — the way they got to it was a little different.”
Lakers forward LeBron James: “’I’ve definitely been on both sides of that. … When I was in Miami, Boston ran it versus us — Jeff Green hit a game-winner versus us with a pass over the top.”
Ham: “I think [not having my ATO card] saved me a little bit because instead of staying there and standing there with limited time studying, having like probably about four or five ‘need-3’ plays on my card — it would’ve leaked over into me getting into the huddle in a timely manner, getting the guys on the floor that I wanted on the floor, who’s taking it out.”
The play calls for the inbounder to throw the ball diagonally across the court from near the mid-court line to the far corner, not dissimilar to the mock football fade routes James and Anthony Davis practice as part of their pregame routine. The general idea is to set a back screen for someone flaring to the far corner. On the Green make, James was the defender who got caught out of position.
Wednesday night, despite having him on the bench for the previous ATO, this time Ham called for Matt Ryan to go into the game and get the shot, fading to the corner off of a screen from Anthony Davis.
Ham: “I kinda just felt in my gut that they know Matt is a threat to shoot it, but I would be using him as some type of decoy for someone else. But the play was definitely intended for him.”
Ryan: “Want to know what’s crazy? We had a game Sunday and I played 12 minutes. We come in on Monday and the low-minute guys and the guys who didn’t play, we played live. And when we play live, we play three games. We had two teams, the first two games were split. We were in game three and the shot I hit to win it, it was the same shot. Deep corner, fading. Same shot. Crazy. Did it two days ago in practice.”
With the Lakers needing a late-game score against Portland on Oct. 23, Ham defended putting guard Austin Reaves in the game by calling him “one of our better in-bounders.” Wednesday night, he put Reaves in the position to float the cross-court pass to corner. New Orleans put Larry Nance Jr., who has a 9-foot standing reach, on Reaves to block the passing lanes. With 1.3 seconds left, he slapped his right hand against the ball to initiate the action.
Reaves: “[I thought] don’t turn it over. Everybody is going to hate me if I turn it over.”
The Lakers return to play Wednesday against the Pelicans after two days off and some words of inspiration from former NBA great Pau Gasol.
Ryan: “Once we came on the court and they put Nance on the ball, there’s no way this f— ball is getting to me. It’s going to end up being LeBron or AD at the top.”
Reaves: “When Darvin drew it up, I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m throwing it.’ I’ve seen this play a million times and I’ve seen it work maybe once. But then nothing was open, so I was like … And then AD set a really good screen, so I was like, ‘I got to throw it.”
Davis: “Trey Murphy got confused. He was talking to the other guy [Naji Marshall], not sure who was guarding Matt, but he was talking and got confused. They didn’t know what they wanted to do.”
Ham: “You have to trust that pass.”
James: “That’s a very difficult pass. You have to literally be on time and on target with that. You have to try to get it to the corner, knowing that the defender can’t be too close to you because they don’t want to … in our league when guys are afraid to step on your foot, it’s got to be a little bit of room, but it was a perfect pass. A perfect pass, perfect set up.”
For Ryan, it’s incredible that he’s even on an NBA roster. The earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic cost his chances to work out for NBA scouts, so he took jobs as a cemetery groundskeeper and as a delivery driver. In between jobs, he went to a local gym where he shot NBA threes from behind a cut-up yoga mat he fashioned into a stripe. He made the Lakers as their 15th man and is playing on a non-guaranteed contract.
Matt Ryan’s route to the Lakers included working at a cemetery while training at a rec center where he had to create a makeshift three-point line.
Ryan: “I practice that [shot]. I’ve got to be able to make that. The past few years when I was watching film on NBA shooters I was watching J.J [Redick] and [Kyle] Korver. And if you watch J.J., especially when he was playing with Ben [Simmons] in Philadelphia and when he was sprinting hard in transition on the right side, a lot of his threes were below the break and he was fading right. And I would practice that for sure. ...[But] I’ve never caught a pass like that on a play like that. I’ve never run that play, side out of bounds. Never done it.”
Ham: “He’s not afraid to throw it up there. He went one for six in the first half, and halftime he came right out and told me, he just told me straight up, ‘Coach, give me those same six looks and I’m-a knock ‘em down.’ I said, ‘I’m with you, and that’s the mentality I want you to have. I’m gonna let you know, Matt, if you don’t shoot it, I’m gonna take you out of the game.’”
James: “He got so many great looks tonight. But he didn’t lose his focus. We want him to shoot the ball every time he gets it. If he has literally any airspace, we want him to shoot it because of his ability.”
Lakers guard Russell Westbrook: “I’m extremely, extremely happy for Matt. Knowing his story a little bit. Opportunity to be able to see things come to fruition for him, amazing moment.”
After cluttering up around the right elbow, setting some light screens, Ryan started to run to the corner just as Davis set the screen. Murphy hesitated just enough in the switch for Ryan to get open. As he caught the pass slightly over his head right in front of the Lakers’ bench, he looked down to check that his feet were behind the line. As he shot the ball, Kendrick Nunn held out three fingers. With it still in the air, the horn sounded and the clock expired. As soon as it swished through the net, Nunn moved his hand down. Count it. Ryan and the Lakers celebrated tying the score 111-111 before winning 120-117 in overtime.
Ryan: “I was able to get my feet down and get a clean release. So, I don’t want to sound cocky at all, but like I was able to get my feet down and get a shot off. So, for any shooter, that’s all you can ask for. The only thing that would have made it harder is if probably the defense was a little closer or the pass was deflected. But the pass was clean, the defense was just far enough away where I could get it off clean and like I said, as a shooter, once you get your feet down and get it off clean, you see the rim clear enough, that made it easier.”
Ham: “Everyone has a niche that they have to carve out, and that’s his niche. And he hit the biggest one, hell, all season thus far. And just to see him, just the look in his eyes, where he’s ready to do whatever he can to contribute, and that’s his main super power. So I’m thrilled for him. He’s getting the opportunity to impact winning.”
James: “It was a great play call by coach and to have a sniper like Matt to knock it down, stay ready, it was a big-time shot for him.”
Davis: “Austin threw a hell of a pass. Hell of a pass over the top. And Matt did what he do.”
Ryan: “I don’t know what Larry Nance was doing on the ball and I don’t know how I got open, but that s— just happened. Quick.”
Ham: “It was lined up man. It happened. It worked.”
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