By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)
Randy Breuer (backup center, Milwaukee Bucks): I don’t remember much other than at the time thinking, ‘Good grief. Somebody please make a shot, or not make a shot, and end this stupid game.’
For some reason, that’s the quote that has stuck with me the most from Patrick Sauer’s feature on the Seattle SuperSonics – Milwaukee Bucks five overtime game. Perhaps, it’s the sense of desperation you can feel in Randy Breuer’s words. Maybe it’s because you can imagine how exhausted those guys were towards the end of that “stupid game”.
Though, you would doubt the idea that Breuer thought that, one can almost imagine that quote having the meaning of a player being alright with someone on his own team not making a shot just so the game would end.
If you’re interested in reading the memories of those who were involved, you should give Patrick Sauer’s article a read. It’s an interesting piece. Hopefully, this blog entry can complement the videos on the game and, to a lesser degree, his work as well.
The longest NBA game occurred on January 6, 1951 when the Indianapolis Olympians and the Rochester Royals battled during the length of a six overtime game. This particular Sonics – Bucks contest is one of the two times that an NBA game lasted five overtime sessions (the Nationals and the Packers had such a game in 1949).
Yet, in a way you could call this the longest modern era NBA game. You can watch this video to see the important plays of this game starting with a Seattle possession with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter:
However, if you are also here for my rambling, then I will go on a bit.
As you’ll see, the film is not perfect. The audio levels are partial to the in-arena sounds so at times we miss out on the excellent Kevin Calabro making the call. Chunks of the third and fifth overtime are missing. The fourth overtime isn’t there at all.
Thus a recap of the events that can be seen (and not seen) in the video seems helpful. You can also click on certain hyperlinks as they contain timecodes and will refer you to those specific plays.
After a Xavier McDaniel jumper and a Fred Roberts free throw created the first late stalemate out of many, the game entered its first overtime. The first five-minute session was truly just a prequel for the things that would come. Some missed free throws — also included in the video — could have cost both teams a chance to close the game out. Milwaukee got to a four-point lead, yet the Sonics fought back behind great defense by McDaniel and Nate McMillan.
It was Brad Sellers who made the first game-tying shot on a team’s last possession. Del Harris put the ball in Jay Humphries‘s hands, yet he missed a pull up jump shot and the game went on to a second overtime.
As Ricky Pierce fouled out with 36 points to his name, the Bucks could have been in trouble. They had already lost Fred Roberts in the first overtime. Yet journeyman Ben Coleman became the hero of the second OT.
For the 6-9 Ben Coleman, Milwaukee was his fourth NBA team in four seasons. Three months (and 18 games played) later he would be placed on the inactive list by the Bucks which would set off a three year absence of Ben Coleman in the NBA.
Coleman put in an and-1, a dunk off an offensive rebound and eventually a free throw to tie the game with 20 seconds left. What also was crucial was a defensive three seconds call against Milwaukee which gave Seattle the chance to score an extra point.
Nevertheless, the more important plays would follow. First, Ben Coleman recovered after an excellent trap-breaking pass by McMillan to reject a potential game-winning dunk by the X-Man. Then Jay Humphries again went at Mr. Sonic who was called for a dubious foul. Humphries — a 78.2 percent shooter from the line for his career — missed both and the referees could catch a breather that a whistle hadn’t decided the game.
Seattle couldn’t capitalize on an exhilarating stretch of plays in the third overtime which had Milwaukee somewhat trapped inside its own half of the court. A miss (game’s highest scorer Dale Ellis blocked by Coleman!) turned into the ball flying out of bounds, Seattle ball. Then another illegal defense call followed (Ellis made the free throw). One more shot ended up with the ball out of bounds and belonging to Seattle. The next missed shot created a fast break for Milwaukee’s Alvin Robertson who also didn’t convert. Ellis then missed one more jumper, only for Sellers to get the rebound and being tied up for a jump ball.
Four field goal attempts, one free throw and all the Sonics got out of it was one point and a one-point lead.
The Bucks were finally the beneficiaries of an out of bounds call and guess who scored while being surrounded by four Sonics to take the lead? That’s right. Ben Coleman put the Bucks up by one point with 24 seconds remaining.
Robertson made his gazillionth defensive play of the game and now Seattle was forced to intentionally foul. We can see Jack Sikma being fouled to go to the line, but from that point on the film is missing and we have to go by recaps of the game.
The 6-11 center who shot a stellar 91.4 percent from the free throw line the previous two years missed one of the two shots. Dale Ellis tied it up with a jumper with two seconds left. Fourth overtime.
We can read a chunk of this AP article on nytimes.com to learn about a seemingly exciting fourth overtime period.
In the first 1:10 of the fourth overtime, the teams traded baskets on their first four possessions.
Milwaukee’s Ben Coleman was called for a technical and Ellis made it. Two free throws by McDaniel and two by Ellis gave Seattle a 136-131 lead with 1:36 left.
Milwaukee’s Jack Sikma made a 3-point basket and Tony Brown sank a 20-foot jumper with 59 seconds left, tying the game again.
On Seattle’s next possession, Humphries rebounded Ellis’s missed shot and Brown banked in a turnaround jumper with 21 seconds left. But Ellis countered with an 18-foot jumper from the right of the key with 11 seconds left, tying the score at 138-138.
My best guess is that the following play also occurred in this period. Dale Ellis told Patrick Sauer that…
It was so exhausting. Near the end of a later overtime, I stole the ball at halfcourt and had a clear path to the basket. I figured I had a layup to seal the game, but Alvin Robertson chased me down and blocked the shot from behind. His legs were a little fresher than mine, I was running in mud.
The video returns to action in the fifth overtime. Sedale Threatt joined in on the fun as somewhere along the line Derrick McKey and Brad Sellers had fouled out. Michael Cage earned his sixth personal already in regulation.
Threatt and Sikma exchanged two baskets each as we see some end-to-end action. With the game tied 146-146, Milwaukee then went for one last run. Tony Brown made his eleventh career 3-pointer (I feel like a veteran play-by-play guy when referencing these totals and percentages). Alvin Robertson blatantly traveled, missed a dunk, yet contact from Olden Polynice was ruled a breakaway foul. Suddenly the Bucks are up by nine with 34 seconds left…
Of course, this wasn’t the game which would end in such an anticlimax. A Dana Barros three and a Nate McMillan steal and free throw (oh, that one miss could have changed things…) made it a five-point game. Then the Bucks intercepted another pass following McMillan’s free throws.
Dana Barros even missed the point blank layup before Threatt converted a close shot. That meant losing five important seconds.
Milwaukee took the timeout to forward the ball and inbound it with 5.1 seconds left. Only that didn’t go smoothly either. Yes, the Sonics stole it one more time.
That’s how we get to the last play of the game which is a bit of a mystery itself since we don’t have the full footage. You can see Xavier McDaniel missing a 3-pointer which would have forced a sixth overtime and the Bucks leaving the court as winners. However, the score of the game was 155-154.
A UPI story says that “Threatt then stole the inbounds and, after a timeout, McDaniel was fouled on a 3-point attempt as time expired. He sank both free throws for the final score.” Patrick Sauer has it similarly as he wrote that “McDaniel was fouled on a three-pointer that hit the rim, but he only made two free throws and the game, mercifully ended.”
Mind you, that it was only the 1994-95 season from which an NBA player would be awarded three foul shots for being fouled while attempting a three-point field goal. So one illogical rule could have actually prevented the game from going on for longer (had McDaniel made the third free throw). Then again, Del Harris’s strategy could have been to abuse this rule and foul intentionally, which is kind of playing with fire, given that the X-Man could have made the shot.
What’s a bit weird, though, is the fact that nothing in the video seems to indicate that such a call was made. Is that a whistle at 15:13 right before the buzzer goes off? It would have been made by the one official who isn’t in the frame as the other two clearly aren’t making any calls. I guess, everyone could have known the circumstances and maybe McDaniel remained on the court all by himself to knock down two free throws in a lonely fashion.
If someone has any insight about this, I’d be very happy about a comment, even if this whole thing is somewhat unimportant. Former podcast guest Fred Roberts and Kevin Calabro were kind enough to reply to my inquiries, yet didn’t remember the details about the play.
Anyhow, here is the YouTube playlist for this game and here are all the videos from it: