The line for Game 5 Wednesday between the 76ers and Celtics moved around a bit, starting off with Philadelphia a slight favorite before settling at Boston by 1.5 points. That made for an ending every bit as dramatic in the gambling world as it was in real life, where the Celtics closed out the playoff series with a 114-112 win.
The two-point margin meant that everyone who took Boston and gave the late points won their bet, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen after the Celtics’ Marcus Smart missed his first free throw attempt with 2.4 seconds left and his team up one. At that point, he did the right thing and tried to deliberately miss his second attempt, all the better to further diminish the Sixers’ chances of pulling off a Hail Mary, but instead this happened:
As much as it had to hurt 76ers fans to see their team yet again fail to pull out a close game against the Celtics, Smart’s unintentional make was even more of a dagger to those who bet Philly plus the 1.5 points. The guard flung his shot at the backboard in a clear effort to draw just a little bit of iron and create a clock-draining rebound situation, but wouldn’t you know it, the ball banged around the rim and actually fell through.
Just like that, Boston was up by two and the bettors were alternately elated … and horrified. The moment passed without comment on the telecast — where were you, Brent Musberger, when we needed you? — but it certainly attracted attention on the Internet.
“Holy bad beat,” indeed. That is one of the rougher gambling swings in recent memory and, given the real-life stakes and presumed greater action on the game, it exceeded in soul-crushing unlikeliness a meaningless, last-second, half-court three that made losers of anyone who took the Knicks plus 12.5 against the Grizzlies in a game last month (not to be confused with all the losers who forced themselves to sit through a late-season Knicks-Grizzlies game without having a bet on it).
Even Charles Barkley called it a “bad beat” on TNT’s postgame show Tuesday, and lest anyone doubt that he was referring specifically to the betting line, he invoked the name of ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, whose midnight edition of “SportsCenter” regularly recounts moments that snatched gambling defeat from the jaws of victory.
For his part, Van Pelt was only too happy to highlight the botched free throw miss. Meanwhile, on a somewhat related note, some were pointing to Smart’s other noteworthy moment from that fateful sequence, when he intercepted Ben Simmons’s heave and threw the ball back the other way, ensuring the clock would run out on the 76ers’ season.
The question they were asking was this: Didn’t Smart commit a traveling violation on that play? It sure looked as though, after he leaped and came down with the basketball, he took at least three steps before throwing it.
As Yahoo’s Michael Lee pointed out, officials are loathe to make potentially game-changing calls like that late in important contests, but it amounted to another reason for 76ers fans to gnash their collective teeth. For those who bet on Philly plus 1.5, well, Smart’s gut-punching damage had already been done.
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