All-Time Greatest Point Spread Finishes - No. 5
by Josh Nagel - 11/27/2008
The wild finish between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers two weekends ago, which ended in the first 11-10 score in NFL history, was one of the most memorable point-spread-defining endings in recent memory.
First, Troy Polamalu of the Steelers appeared to have returned a fumble on the last play for a touchdown, which would have given the Steelers an 18-10 win and a cover of the five-point spread.
Then the officials determined there was an illegal forward pass on the play, but that the touchdown still counted. Upon further review, the touchdown no longer counted, and the 11-10 score remained final.
Anybody with money on the game went berserk. Steelers fans went from thinking they have the most improbable cover ever to lamenting what the officials later admitted was a bad call. The touchdown should have stood.
I had no action on the game, but my sympathies were with Chargers bettors, knowing that the underdog side is the one I would have taken had I bet the game. I felt by keeping the game so close, that San Diego bettors "earned" their cover and I was glad to see the 11-10 score upheld. Nevada sports books reportedly saved $10 million in Steelers money when the officials reversed the touchdown, as they always are heavy in home-chalk bets, and the Steelers are a popular pick with the public.
The series of events got me thinking about many other great spread finishes, where maybe the outcome of the game never was in doubt but the outcome involving the betting money was legendary. Anyone who bets sports with some regularity can probably come up with several examples where their money hinged on a backdoor layup or a field goal from the second-string kicker.
With this in mind, and in honor of the Steelers-Chargers finish, here the first installment of my Top 5 Greatest Point Spread Finishes over the past five years.
Score: Miami Heat 98, Cleveland Cavaliers 92
Date: March 12, 2006
Spread: Heat -6 1/2
Why it was memorable: Well, there are plenty of reasons here, but we'll stick to the one that counts most … the last play of the game. This was an odd game in which the Cavaliers led most of the way and had a seven-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter, only to throw the whole thing away.
While allowing the Heat to overcome the late deficit - they won the fourth quarter, 33-20 -- and take the lead with about a minute to go, it appeared as though the Heat would backdoor this spread in an unlikely fashion. LeBron James and friends kept missing shots and the Heat kept making their free throws.
The Heat were already up seven when, of all people, Shaq was fouled with three seconds left and went to the line for two free throws. Surprisingly, the Big Brickmeister sank both free throws for a nine-point lead, and now the Cavs would need a miracle to cover the 6.5-point spread.
James took the inbounds pass, took two dribbles and launched one from half court and … no, it didn't go in. That would be too easy. Instead, Shaq, for reasons unknown, decided to get on his tiptoes and grab it out of the air as it neared the rim, even though it was destined to be an air ball.
The referee correctly called goaltending, James was credited with a three-pointer at the buzzer, and the final spread was cut from nine to six, giving the Cavs one of the all-time backdoor covers in NBA history.