Christmas Day 2022 will always be remembered for how we nearly lost Landry Shamet to a senseless posterization.
In overtime of the NBA’s final Christmas Day slate between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, Shamet made a basketball decision, as opposed to a business one, that ended with his body steamrolled six feet from the rim and his soul being lifted to the rafters. However, before Shamet arrived at his fateful encounter, the Suns led 113-111 with 15 seconds remaining and needed a stop.
To that point, Nikola Jokić was unstoppable scoring the rock. On the Nuggets’ final play of regulation, he was involved as the decoy. The Jokic-Jamal Murray give-and-go is one of the NBA’s most devastating combo moves in the NBA. Consequently, he and Murray exploited their fusion dance on the perimeter to free up Murray for a drive to the rim where he rode an elevator past DeAndre Ayton and jammed it home to knot the score up at 113.
However, Murray’s dunk wasn’t nearly as injurious to Phoenix as the detonation Aaron Gordon activated in the atmosphere above the tin. In overtime, Denver earned a slim 123-124 lead in the waning seconds when Gordon corralled a ricocheting loose ball, accelerated into the open floor, started his engines, launched from the runway, tore an air pocket in the space-time continuum and elevated through Shamet’s chest. Shamet was initially awarded the charge, but jittery legs and his leaning in, led the officials to reverse the call upon replay and call him for the blocking foul.
Imagine getting hit by a speeding car, getting yanked back from death’s door, then waking up with a sore, broken body and discovering that Twitter has sided with your assailant. That’s essentially what happened to Shamet who wasn’t even supposed to be there in crunchtime. Unfortunately, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time after Devin Booker removed himself four minutes into the action. To add insult to injury, Gordon collected his own free throw at the other end to seal the victory for Denver and sully Shamet’s career-high 31 points.
The Arizona Republic Suns beat reporter Duane Rankin’s Zapruder film angle provided an even more intimate view of Gordon’s elevation and Shamet’s soul being ejected from his body. Eulogies were being written. Family watching averted their eyes and headstones were being photoshopped.
In Shamet’s haze, he must have forgotten that Gordon is probably the greatest dunker to never win a Slam Dunk Contest, and had already registered six dunks on the night and had a head of steam barreling Shamet’s way in Denver’s thin air.
Shamans, priests and theologists alike have hypothesized about where we go during brushes with death or after our ultimate demise. Did Landry Shamet see family? The Pearly gates? Did they have a warm glow or did he experience a piercing flare of light? Was there a waiting room in the astral plane? Nothingness? Only Shamet knows and he’s not telling. Saturday was the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and a moment he’ll want to forget. Unfortunately, every Christmas Day from now until the end of time, it will be replayed over and over.
We won’t know how much of Shamet spiritually or physically was left on Denver’s Ball Arena floor until the Suns step on it again on Tuesday. Every posterization extracts a small percentage of hooper’s being, self-confidence and will to hoop. Meanwhile, Gordon still roams free.
In its totality, Gordon’s bucket of the year and his 28 points were an emphatic way for Denver to mark its arrival as the preeminent force in the Western Conference nearly midway through this season. Jokić had a 41-point triple double blotted out by Gordon’s slam over Shamet, but he appears to be en route to his third-consecutive MVP trophy. Denver’s overtime victory put it a game over the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies for first place in the West while Phoenix dropped three games back. Shamet may not be the last victim of this emerging Nuggets juggernaut.
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