NEW YORK – Mike Scott was in the corner once more, this time in the visitors’ locker room here at the Barclays Center late Saturday afternoon, sitting at his stall, throwing on a white 76ers T-shirt for the kind of moment he doesn’t often experience.
Once he was dressed, Scott pushed his way through the crowd of reporters to the center of the room, where a Sixers public-relations representative patted him on the back and congratulated him: Scott was heading to the postgame interview room, the place where a game’s stars tell the world how they did it.
What had Scott done? He had hit the shot that might have saved the Sixers’ season: – a three-pointer from the left corner with 18.6 seconds left in regulation.
It gave them the lead for good in their 112-108 Game 4 victory over the Nets, and it gave them a chance to end this first-round series in Game 5 on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. It allowed them to survive a sluggish first half and Jimmy Butler’s ejection, and it was that context that created the ultimate irony around Scott’s clutch shot. Had Butler still been eligible to play, Scott never would have been part of that final offensive possession in the first place.
“No, I would have been watching,” Scott said as he headed to the team bus. “It’s crazy, right?”
All of it was crazy – the shot, the sequence that led to it, the brawl with 7 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter that set the stage for the game’s breathless last few minutes.
For his willingness to knock down Joel Embiid after Embiid had committed what was ruled a flagrant foul against Jarrett Allen, the Nets’ Jared Dudley had seemed to do more than merely stand up for his teammate and ignite a fracas that had players spilling into the first row of the stands.
The net result, with Dudley’s and Butler’s ejections, was that the Nets had lost a valuable veteran, but the Sixers had lost their fourth-quarter alpha dog, the player Embiid later described as “our closer,” and that was a trade the Nets would accept any day, any game.
So, with the Sixers down one and 25 seconds left, Butler wasn’t available to act as the point guard or run an isolation play. The Sixers’ best option was to do what they’d done the entire second half: get the ball to Embiid down low.
Scott stationed himself in the left corner to space the floor and serve as a decoy, he said. Some decoy. None of the Nets paid him any mind.
When Tobias Harris tried to loft a pass to Embiid on the right block, Nets forward Joe Harris sprinted over from the other side of the floor – Scott’s side – and knocked the ball out of Embiid’s hands. Embiid regathered himself, grabbed the ball, and found Scott.
“Hell of a hustle play,” Scott said. “Saw me in the corner. Cashed out.”
There were chuckles throughout the interview room when Scott dropped that line, but that cool quip got to the heart of why he was here in the first place.
Beyond the talent that general manager Elton Brand added to the roster through those midseason trades for Butler and Harris, the Sixers needed something more, too. They needed an injection of experience and mental strength, and with seven NBA seasons and 38 playoff games under his belt when the Sixers acquired him, Harris, and Boban Marjanovic from the Clippers, Scott already carried those qualities.
At 6-foot-7, he has the physicality both to harass the Nets’ guards and to play either power forward or center when the Sixers go small, and no matter what, Scott would have been in there for the Nets’ last possession, just as he was – for the tight defense and turnover that sealed the Sixers’ win.
“You feel it, because there are lots of plays during the game where you felt like, ‘That’s a man. That is an adult in the room,’ ” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
“He’s physical. There’s just a toughness that he brings to the table, and he’s not a big towel swinger. He’s not running around beating his chest. … That was obviously the dagger part of the game, and Mike’s experience and toughness and veteran leadership, I’m sure, had a lot to do with the confidence of making that shot.”
No, that wasn’t necessarily supposed to be Mike Scott’s moment, but he didn’t wilt in it, either. Of his 20 previous three-point attempts, Scott had made just five, but he measured this one as if he were alone in the gym, standing at the free-throw line.
The difference between a 3-1 lead and a tied series is a distance too great to gauge, and the first guy on the floor the Nets would have wanted to take a potential game-winning shot, and maybe the last guy the Sixers would have wanted, made it look as if he was the only guy who should have.
“At that time, it was more about time and place, and you can’t turn down that open look,” Harris said. “He got it in rhythm. His feet were planted. He got it up and off.”