He swears it, his coach swears that was the plan, and on the televised replay afterward, you could clearly see him say to the bench, "I tried to." But somehow, the free throw he shot with 0.4 seconds left in regulation made it through the basket, giving the Suns the ball with the clock stopped, trailing by two, and one final chance.
"I don't know, it looked like he was trying to make it," Suns guard Jason Richardson said afterward. "I mean, the way he followed through it -- if you're going to miss it, you're going to change your form up on it. But hey, I'm glad he did make it for us."
Of course Richardson was glad. Because on the Suns' ensuing possession, this happened:
The amazing buzzer-beating play gave the Suns life, and enough energy to outlast a not-so-deep Grizzlies team in two overtimes, by a final of 123-118.
Before we discuss this play from Richardson, we must first look at how we got there.
Phoenix came all the way back from a 15-point first quarter deficit, and held a two-point lead with 1:25 remaining in regulation. A jumper from Gay, a Suns turnover, and a runner from Mike Conley had the Grizzlies up two with just 18.7 seconds left.
What looked to be the Suns' final shot at tying or taking the lead ended with a fairly awful possession: Steve Nash was trapped high on the left side, and picked up as dribble as the clock continued to wind down. He got it back, and tried the right side this time, but was unable to get deep enough penetration for a successful look at a drive-and-kick.
Nash tried anyway, and dished to Channing Frye behind the three-point line. But he wasn't able to create enough space, so his defender was able to double Frye easily. And with time running short on the shot clock, Frye hoisted a long three with two guys in front of him that came up short, O.J. Mayo got the rebound, and hit both free throws after he was intentionally fouled. That put the Memphis lead at four points with 3.7 seconds left, and the fans started heading for the exits.
Most wish they had stuck around for a few minutes more.
Richardson banked home a long three-pointer on the Suns' next possession to cut the lead to one, on an attempt that he admitted afterward was more luck than anything else.
"We just knew we had to get a three up to have any chance, and I just caught the ball and turned around and threw it up," Richardson said. "I just wanted to get a piece of the rim and luckily -- definitely luckily -- it banked in."
More good fortune was headed the Suns' way, courtesy of some curious foul shooting from Rudy Gay. Heading to the line with just 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock, common sense dictates that he'd want to make the first free throw if possible, but either way, he'd definitely want to miss the second, so that Phoenix wouldn't be able to advance the ball and have any sort of shot to tie or win it on a final possession.
Gay, however, missed the first, but made the second.
"Yes," Joerger said, when asked if that was indeed the plan. "It just happened. You're hoping to make the first one, so that a two-point tip-in shot doesn't beat you. Then you at least go into an overtime, but I mean, what can you say? Guys don't try to miss free throws and it happens, and guys try to make and I guess sometimes it goes the other way."
A soft-spoken Gay sat at his locker afterward, and was hard on himself for making the mistake.
"If I would have missed that shot, we probably would have won that game," Gay said. "I tried to miss but made it. That kind of thing happens. I was trying to rim it off the front, trying to get my team a chance to tip it out, instead of it being long, and giving them a chance to run offense, and I didn't what to do that. But it looks like neither of [those things] worked."
That play wasn't the sole reason that Memphis lost -- after all, the game did need two overtime periods to ultimately be decided. Joerger talked about how tough it is for a team to regroup after they think the game is already over -- especially for a younger club like the Grizzlies.
"It's a tough thing, especially with a young team, but we thought we had the game won," Joerger said. "I was trying to tell guys 'it's not over, it's not over, crazy things happen.' And crazy things did happen."
With Richardson putting in 5 points in the final 1.1 seconds of regulation, and doing so in spectacular fashion, it's hard to argue with that assessment.
"They thought they had the win, but I guess the Basketball Gods were on our side tonight," Richardson said.