NBA Finals prove exactly why they call it a 'make-or-miss' league


It’s become a cliche by now -- one that is laughed at, misunderstood and mostly discarded:

The NBA is a “make-or-miss league.”

For a lot of people, that’s a tough concept. I mean, basketball at any level is all about making shots or missing them, isn’t it? And that goes all the way back to the days of shooting into peach baskets.

But my interpretation of the “make-or-miss” concept is what we saw Friday night at the end of the Miami-Los Angeles Lakers game, when Danny Green missed a wide-open, three-point shot that could have won the game -- and the championship -- for the Lakers.

And what I think a lot of people don’t want to accept is the absolute randomness of those clutch shots. Of course, some players are better at them than others, And obviously, wide-open shots are easier than contested ones.

But sometimes, well, no matter who is shooting them or how wide open he or she is -- they just don’t go in.

The very best three-point shooters may have a season or two of shooting around 50 percent from three-point range. But they won’t do it for a career.

And that means, more than half the time, they miss that shot. They miss a lot more of them than it seems.

All sorts of things can impact those shots, from pressure, to physical ailments, to mechanical errors in setup, release, follow through, even to the nature of the pass you receive before you shoot. Or whether you had a good breakfast that day or enough sleep the night before.


I’ve seen Damian Lillard make more than his share of great game-winning shots. I’ve seen him miss a few, too. Same with CJ McCollum. And I think the common bond between those two is that they are professionals and understand they WILL miss some of those shots.

And they can live with that. They accept that. They understand the upside and downside and agree to the consequences of both.

They used to call Jerry West “Mr. Clutch,” but he missed plenty of big shots. So did Michael Jordan. The key, I guess, is to make more than you miss on the biggest stages.

But for a real big-time shooter, that buzzer-beater isn’t any tougher in the NBA Finals than it is on a Tuesday night in December against the Hornets. It’s actually just another shot in a long career of them.

You make some and you miss some. LeBron James made the right play to hit Green, who was in open space, Friday night. Green just missed the shot. It happens to them all.

“Easy” shots are missed. Tough shots are made. But there is always a certain randomness about that. They bank in sometimes. They become an airball that a teammate catches and turns into a game-winning put-back. Or they look true all the way to the hoop and somehow just rattle out, as if coughed up by an evil, sick or cranky rim. Or, they hit a friendly rim, bounce straight up in the air several feet and come back down and, miraculously, drop straight through the net.

Shooting from distance is such a precise skill, a combination of God’s gifts and thousands upon thousands of hours of tedious practice.

I’ve always thought outside shooters in the NBA are the most beautiful thing in basketball. Catching and shooting in a blink of an eye and draining a three is ballet. Coming off a pick and nailing a long jumper is performance art.

But no matter who is shooting, they don’t always go in. Unless they do.

It really is a make-or-miss league.