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Top Ten Moments of Season: #6 - Emeka Okafor's Shot

There are only so many times you can see a big man who shoots half of his shots within 3 feet of the basket step out and hit a jump shot.  Maybe because of that percentage, you don't want to see it.  Yes, Emeka Okafor attempted more than half of his shots at the rim and shot 69.8% in that area.  When he stepped back to 3-9 feet, he shot 34.9%.  When he stepped back to 10-15 feet, he shot 34.6%.  Suffice it say, Okafor doesn't necessarily have Dirk Nowitzki's mid range game with the basketball.  Taking that into consideration, would Okafor be one of the options you'd want with the basketball needing a shot to win the basketball game?  It wasn't as if the Hornets had much of a choice as Okafor raced after the loose ball in a March 24th game in Salt Lake City.  With a quick flick of the wrist, Okafor threw the ball towards the hoop, barely getting it off in time, and watching it fall through the net to push the ball into overtime.  Why play the percentages?  This is the number six moment on the top ten list for the Hornets this season.

Going into this game, the Hornets had struggled a bit and were looking to get back on track for the playoff push.  They had four full days off before the game in Salt Lake City and Utah was to be without three of their key rotation players.  Utah had also nosedived after trading Deron Williams and watching Jerry Sloan resign, so it looked like a prime opportunity for the Hornets to gear up for the postseason positioning.  Instead, the Jazz dominated the Hornets in the effort categories (rebounds, second chance points) and led basically the entire game.  Chris Paul and David West attempted to keep the Hornets in the game but they couldn't stop Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, who combined for 55 points inside against New Orleans.  It was looking like a huge blow to the Hornets postseason chances.

And I'd be foolish to not address the sadness that happened in this game as well.  Trying to keep the Hornets in it, David West drove to the basket and threw down a thunderous dunk over Millsap to tie the game with 29 seconds left and landed on his left knee.  He immediately collapsed to the floor and had to be carted off the court.  A day later, it would be reported that West had a torn ACL and would be out for the season.  It looked like things had gone from bad to worse for New Orleans, especially when Millsap was given two free throws and knocked them both down to give Utah a 105-103 lead with 1.3 seconds left.  The Hornets, without any timeouts, inbounded the basketball.  Aaron Gray threw the ball the length of the court and Chris Paul got bumped in midair, immediately taking him out of the ballgame.

And then it happened.  Okafor grabbed the basketball and flipped it toward the basket, without even much of a look at the rim, and banked it in at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.  The Hornets bench erupted as Okafor ran back to huddle, basically clueless as to how to react.  The entire crowd was stunned as the Hornets were to enter overtime.  Once overtime started, the Hornets had deflated the Jazz's hopes and strong play in the extra period by Trevor Ariza and Aaron Gray helped the Hornets win the basketball game in Utah.

Okafor's shot, when you observe it in the context of the actual game itself, is probably overshadowed in importance by David West's injury.  But think how awful it would have been for the Hornets to lose West and this game to an undermanned Utah team.  In the thick of a playoff chase, the Hornets needed this victory and the most improbable of options came up with the big basket as time expired to keep the Hornets' head above water.  Emeka Okafor didn't single handedly put the Hornets in the playoffs with the shot, but he certainly kept hope alive on a night where everything else seemed to go wrong.