The first true NBA international star Drazen Petrovic had his best NBA season in 1992-93, playing for the New Jersey Nets, team coached by the Hall-of-Fame coach Chuck Daly.
As an essential part of one of the most formidable scoring triangles in the League, which also included emerging ‘young guns’ Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman, Croatian shooting specialist was the most efficient long-distance shooter in the League at the time, and thus, with good reason, he hoped that he should be invited to the 1993 NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City, Utah.
That eventually didn’t happen as versatile German forward Detlef Schrempf was the one who was invited to 1993 NBA All-Star Game, thus becoming the first European ever to play at the stellar event, which is still a dream of every basketball player in the world.
At first, Drazen’s feelings were hurt but he would go from there and recuperate. In a couple of weeks, he was the Dragon everyone knew, focused on a mission of proving that he should have been invited to the All-Star Game.
With him playing his best ball of the season, and Rumeal Robinson taking over the point guard duties from the injured Kenny Anderson, Nets surge went on an early March surge and played some of the best balls of the season.
However, it didn’t last long. On March 22nd, 1993 Petrovic injured his left knee in an encounter under the basket with the Bullets’ guard LaBredford Smith and was immediately placed on the injured list.
But knowing that he is already a star in the league and that the stars like Isiah Thomas and Bernard King played some of their best game while injured, and with the Nets evidently struggling without him, Petro insisted from the Nets front office to bring him back to the action.
That eventually happened on April 14th, 1993 in Indianapolis. Drazen scored only 6 points in a disappointing 19-point loss to the Pacers. As he was dragging his leg, having huge problems adjusting to the special knee bracelet, it became clear to anyone that it would take more time for his injury to heal.
After premature return to the court, Petro would play in the six remaining regular-season games trying to help Nets overcome the slump. Nets would win only one of those games, in Washington, on April 17th, 1993.
With Nets trailing 59-84 to the Bullets it looked like this game is lost.
But than Drazen took matters in his own hands. He knew that his three-point accuracy is down because of the injury, but he also knew that he can compensate by sticking the 10-20 foot mid-range jumper on regular basis.
What the Bullets’ fans saw that evening was one of the most improbable comebacks in the NBA history.
Petro would either score in transition or use Coleman’s or Mahorn’s wide picks to free himself up from the player he knew all the way from 1986, Bullets guard Rex Chapman. Drazen very well knew he had an edge over Rex.
The Bullets led by as much as 23 points at the beginning of the fourth period but then Drazen scored incredible 12 points to lead the Nets late surge!
With the ball in his hands, he would create havoc, especially by doing what he did best – shoot! He would launch jumpers from all over the place, mid-range or long distance, and connect, with Chapman’s hand in his face!
Chapman was ineffective and the Bullets began to double Drazen. He read that right away and dished the rock to his open teammates, either Rick Mahorn for a powerful slam or Bernard King for a breakaway lay-up (92-99).
The last two minutes were – Drazen’s time! First, he banked in the mid-range runner for 94-101. Then he scored the long-distance two-pointer and brought the Nets within 3-point difference (98-101).
The Nets felt that clutch belongs to Drazen, gave him the rock to create and cleared out space for him. And did he deliver! With only 40.8 seconds in the game, Mahorn received Drazen’s pass and made a lay-up for 100-101!
Drazen was fouled out with 24.4 seconds left in a game in which he scored 16 points, with the Bullets’ fans making standing ovation. But the connection has been made and a potentially victorious foundation was there for the Nets.
After Chapman missed both of free-throws, Nets took a time-out. It was Coleman who bravely took the rock in his hands and then hit a game-winner 3.2 seconds before the horn, bringing the Nets a memorable 104-103 road win!
In a certain way, this special road win gave Drazen a certain deal of satisfaction since it was the exactly the Bullets against whom he had suffered the injury in the first place, in Washington, 26 days before.
Petrovic would finish his last NBA season by averaging 22.3 points, to go along with 3.5 assists and 2.7 boards.
For the 1992-93 season, besides Rockets’ Kenny Smith, Drazen Petrovic was the only NBA starting guard who was among TOP 20 League leaders in the field goal percentage (51.8%). He was named to 1993 All-NBA Third Team.
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is a BN contributor. The 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist is also proud to be the author of the TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ (‘Drazen – Godine Zmaja’) which reveals the yet untold details from the life and career of the legendary NBA shooting guard Drazen Petrovic.
He resides in Zagreb, Croatia, working on his third book which tells the untold story of the 1989 Green Card Five.