Oral history: The making of Malik Monk's buzzer-beater to top the Detroit Pistons

Mitchell Northam

CHARLOTTE – With Thon Maker’s 7-foot-2 wingspan blocking his view, Cody Martin searched for an open Charlotte Hornets’ teammate. With both hands on the ball, his eyes darted around and his head bobbed, hoping to fake Maker out and praying for a teammate to get loose.

About three seconds went by, then Maker jumped and kicked his left leg out. With Derrick Rose chasing him, Malik Monk curled around to the top of the key. Martin threw a two-handed pass just over Maker's leg and Monk caught it. With just one second to get a shot off, there was no time to dribble.

Monk planted his feet, leapt into the air, faded back and fired a three-point attempt over Rose and 6-foot-11 center Andre Drummond, who is third in the NBA in blocked shots this season.

The buzzer sounded. The ball swished through the net. Game over.

Monk gave Martin a chest bump and then was bombarded by his teammates at mid-court. The third-year guard out of Kentucky hit the first game-winning buzzer-beater of his NBA career, scored 19 points and willed the Hornets to a 109-106 home victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday in front of an announced crowd of 16,778 fans.

But how the shot came to be might be more remarkable than it falling through the net. The lead-up to the game-winner was a display of fearlessness, confidence and hubris from the 21-year-old native of Jonesboro, Arkansas. It also showed how much his team believes in him.

It’s better to let those involved tell the story.

The Hornets trailed by three points with 31 seconds left. During a stoppage in play, Malik Monk entered the game for Cody Martin. The Hornets had possession with about eight seconds on the shot clock. Devonte Graham found Marvin Williams in the corner for a three-pointer that tied the game up.

DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Hornets’ guard: “I just remember Marvin shot-faking. I thought he was going to shoot the first one and then he passed it back to me. I knew we were down three, so I didn’t want to get a lay-up, I wanted to tie the game up. And then I saw Drummond kind of sink back into the paint and that’s why I just hit (Williams) again and he shot it.”

JAMES BORREGO, Hornets’ head coach: “Marvin hit a big shot off of Devonte’s offensive rebound and I thought we executed very well against their zone.”

With 23.3 seconds left, the Pistons had a chance to win it. Derrick Rose brought the ball up the court, let seconds tick away, then drove towards the basket. Instead of putting a shot up, Rose passed, but no Piston was there to catch the ball and it sailed out of bounds.

DWAYNE CASEY, Pistons’ coach: “We had our play that we wanted to run in. Derrick got up in there, he had the corner open, and Luke was in the corner, and he threw it to the slot… I can’t fault Derrick. He got in the paint and where he wanted to go but he just did not make the right decision.”

DERRICK ROSE, Pistons’ guard: “It hurt a lot, but I’ll take the blame for tonight. Late turnovers. I’ll figure it out.”

With one second left, the Hornets had the ball and would have a chance to win the game. The team huddled up.

MALIK MONK, Hornets’ guard: “Coach drew up a nice play, back screen for Devonte’ because he’s been hot all year and making those shots… It was a couple options. I think I was like the third option, but the third option was going to be open.”

Everyone else remembers that huddle a little bit differently. Not only did Monk want the ball, he demanded it.

GRAHAM: “(Monk) asked coach to draw a play for him. So, he had all that confidence in him.”

BORREGO: “Who shot the ball? That play was for Malik Monk.”

MARVIN WILLIAMS, Hornets’ forward: “Malik is a different guy, man. The bigger the moment, the more excited he gets. So, I think if anybody in this locker room wants to take that shot, it would be Malik, for sure.”

MONK: “I just wanted the shot. I practice those a lot, do a lot of those with coach Jay (Hernandez) so, I was confident.”

Before the shot could happen though, Borrego had to pick someone to inbound the ball to the shooter. He could’ve picked anyone, but he gave the responsibility to Cody Martin, a rookie who was drafted in the second round out of Nevada. Martin subbed in for Williams.

CODY MARTIN, Hornets’ guard: “It means a lot because that’s something that I take pride in… I think it means a lot to me to be in those situations at the end of the game and have my team and my coach believe in me, especially a situation like that, late-game. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help us win.”

BORREGO: “We had to get it off quick. I was a little bit worried about that play, but I thought (Monk) was the one guy that could get it because he gets it off pretty quick.”

MARTIN: “I wouldn’t say (I was looking for Monk) the whole way. I was just looking for my options, really. Especially in a situation like that, you try to choose what the best option is at that point. I think Thon Maker was guarding the ball and he was just doing a good job. I think, first and foremost, they might’ve been looking for the lob because of the amount of time that we had. I was seeing if it was there but, it was a little squeeze. I saw Malik coming off and just had confidence in him to make that shot.”

GRAHAM: “I wasn’t (an option). I was a decoy.”

Martin inbounded the ball in front of the Pistons’ bench. From the opposite wing, Monk was curling around the three-point arc, eluding Rose. He caught Martin’s pass and fired.

Malik Monk fires over Andre Drummond for the game-winning shot on Nov. 15, 2019 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C.(Mitchell Northam / Hornet Maven - Sports Illustrated)

WILLIAMS: “It looked good the minute he shot it. He had a hell of a game, so it’s only right that he makes the game-winner.”

MONK: “I just came off and got an open shot… I’m glad I made it.”

BORREGO: “They made a great defensive read. Drummond was out there. It was a heck of a shot. But Malik is one of those guys that can make that type of a shot. He’s done that before in his career, he just needs a coach that can put the ball in his hands, I guess.”

MONK: “It’s always good to get wins. It’s always good to play good too, but it’s really a team sport. So, if I got to do anything, to sacrifice anything to get the wins – I think I’ve been doing that pretty well. It’s me just being a basketball player and growing up and taking responsibility for what I got to do to help the team.”

The Spectrum Center erupted in cheers. Blake Griffin stood under the basket, holding the ball on his hip, deflated and in disbelief. While the referees reviewed the shot for good measure, Monk’s teammates mobbed him on the floor.

(Mitchell Northam / Hornet Maven - Sports Illustrated)
Hornets teammates mob Malik Monk after his buzzer-beating three-pointer.(Mitchell Northam / Hornet Maven - Sports Illustrated)

MARTIN: “I just enjoyed the moment. I was pumped for Malik. It was a big shot. I think I got the best angle from it, seeing it go in, but that was cold-blooded.”

WILLIAMS: “You can ask the guys, man. I told them he was going to make it.”

GRAHAM: “It was great. I kind of felt like it was going to go in, as soon as he asked for it. He was ready for that moment and I’m glad we drew up a play for him.”

BORREGO: “I think even before that shot, the way he’s playing right now, I think the shot will only add to his confidence moving forward… He’s playing at a very high level right now.”

Through 12 games this season, Monk is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds and assists per-game, and field goal percentage. In his third season, he’s a key part of the Hornets’ rotation, a big reason why they have won the games they have, and he’s turned into a reliable teammate. And, if need be, it’s clear that he’s always ready to take the crucial shot.

MONK: “Every game is getting better and better. Hopefully I just keep going up from there. I’ve been working hard for these three years, so, I’ve been waiting for my moment.”