For the second game in a row, Darvin Ham left his card full of after-timeout plays in the locker room. Faced with the task, then, of drawing up a play in the biggest moment of the night needing a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, Ham went with his gut.
The result was a moment that will stand as one of the most memorable this season.
Matt Ryan continued his improbable NBA career with what he called “the biggest shot of my life,” knocking down a 3-pointer as time expired in the fourth quarter to save the Lakers from an embarrassing collapse en route to an exhilarating win.
“I was able to get my feet down and get a clean release,” Ryan said, “so, I don’t want to sound cocky at all, but I was able to get my feet down, get a shot off. For any shooter, that’s really all you can ask for. The only thing that would have made it harder is probably if the defense was a little closer or if 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 your feet clean and see the rim clear enough, that makes it easier.”
The Door Dasher turned NBA sharpshooter made the most of his opportunity, something he struggled to do for much of the night. Ryan was shooting just 3-of-10 from the field and 2-of-8 from the 3-point line before that shot. But, as he noted, he hit the biggest one of the night.
“I had great looks in the first half. I couldn’t ask for better looks,” Ryan said. “My teammates were finding me, getting wide-open shots. I saw a bunch go in and out so I knew I was going to make a couple eventually if I got that opportunity again. Again, I’m just extremely thankful. I can’t show enough gratitude to Coach Ham for putting me in a position to succeed there.”
"This is definitely the biggest shot of my life." - Matt Ryan talks about his clutch moment and his unwavering confidence. pic.twitter.com/TNU6Z5HeIv— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) November 3, 2022
The Lakers, who blew a 16-point second-half lead to an undermanned Pelicans side, had a chance to tie the game down three points with 7.8 seconds left, but Lonnie Walker IV’s open corner 3-pointer missed with Ryan watching from the bench. In a remarkable twist of fate, the player the Pelicans used the Lakers' 2022 draft pick on — Dyson Daniels — missed two free throws with 1.6 seconds left, giving the Lakers a last-gasp chance.
Still, it was going to take something special to send the game to an extra session. Anthony Davis set a perfect backscreen to start the play, taking advantage of confusion amongst the Pelicans on how to defend Ryan. Austin Reaves took care of the rest, lofting a pass across the court into the corner that would have made Matt Ryan the quarterback blush.
“It’s a great play call,” Davis said. “Everybody probably thought the ball would go to Bron, Lonnie, whoever. Trey Murphy got confused. He was talking to (Naji Marshall) and he just got confused. Didn’t know what they wanted to do. My job was to set the flare screen. Austin threw a hell of a pass, a hell of a pass over the top and Matt did what he do; made the three and sent it to overtime.”
“When Darvin drew it up, I was like ‘There’s no way I’m throwing it (to Matt Ryan),’” Reaves added. “I’ve seen this play a million times and I’ve seen it work maybe once. But then nothing was open and AD set a really good screen so I was like ‘I gotta throw it.’ He made the shot, I just threw it to him.”
Every angle of Matt Ryan's buzzer-beater to force OT! pic.twitter.com/YKPIZ5laht— NBA (@NBA) November 3, 2022
The Lakers only needed it to work once on Wednesday and it did, sending the game to overtime. Ryan had checked out at the 6:37 mark of the fourth quarter and had not stepped on the court again until that final possession. And yet, despite being ice cold as a shooter and having gone over half a quarter without playing, Ryan was the player Ham put his confidence in.
“I kind of just felt in my gut that they know that Matt is a threat to shoot it but...the play was definitely intended for him,” Ham said. “Austin threw a hell of a pass and we were fortunate because we felt kind of terrible to be in that position. The way we had played that stretch early in the second half where we built a pretty good lead, couldn’t build on it, they crept back into the game...I just wanted Matt to be in a position to throw one up there and hopefully go in.”
An under-the-weather LeBron James, ailing Anthony Davis and red-hot Lonnie Walker took over from there to deliver the Lakers their second straight win. In a season that started so poorly, the vibes around the Lakers have turned around swiftly.
Wednesday could have been another notch in a season of already-frustrating losses. It probably should have been one. Instead, it turned into something much different.
All of it was possible because of one of the most improbable sources on the night.
“Last year in the G League, I had a couple opportunities to send games into OT or win and I was 0-of-3 doing those shots,” Ryan said. “I had a good shot in Summer League to win a game. And then this is definitely the biggest shot of my life so far. But, hopefully, there’s a bunch more to come.”