LOS ANGELES -- The Orlando Magic looked done when it was down 18 points with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter in a recent game against the Miami Heat.
But then the Magic caught fire from three-point range, dropping six three-pointers on the reeling Heat, only to fall short of tying the score when Ryan Anderson missed a three-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining.
The three-point shot is a weapon in the NBA, and many revere the three-pointer for its beauty and the excitement it adds to the game. And the three-point contest is one of the signature events of All-Star weekend.
The sharpshooters in the three-point contest Saturday night at Staples Center are Boston's Paul Pierce (the defending champion) and Ray Allen, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Cleveland's Daniel Gibson, Miami's James Jones and Golden State's Dorell Wright.
"To me, it's the most exciting event at All-Star weekend," said former Indiana Pacers star Reggie Miller, who never won the contest in five tries.
"Everyone gets all up for the dunk contest. The skills are good," Miller said. But there's nothing like "an old-fashioned shootout. Either you make it or you miss it."
Not everybody loves the three-point shot, though. That list includes Hall of Famer Larry Bird, who won the first three three-point contests at All-Star weekend, beginning in 1986, and helped popularize the event.
"I'm not a big three-point guy," said Bird, now president of the Indiana Pacers. "I think that there are too many bad shots. A lot of guys can't shoot it, but they always want to attempt it (in a game).
"My thing about the three-point line, though, is that it does open the court and gives good spacing and it's better for the big guys. But I never did really like the three-point shot when I played."
Bird's comments are interesting because he made 37.6 percent of his three-pointers during his 13-year career with the Boston Celtics.
When Miller, now a TNT analyst, was told of Bird's comments, he couldn't stop laughing.
"I guarantee you he liked it when he was knocking down threes against the Lakers," Miller said. "Ask Michael Cooper if he liked it or not. I'm sure Larry liked it then."
It is easy to understand why Miller has such a love for the three-point shot.
Over an 18-year NBA career, Miller made 2,560 three-pointers, the most in league history until Allen surpassed him this month. Overall, Miller made 39.5 percent of his three-pointers during the regular season, and 39 percent in the playoffs.
"The three-point shot is fantastic for the NBA," Miller said. "What better way to get back in ballgames if you're down 10, 12 points with five minutes to play. A couple of threes and you're right back in it."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson concedes that the three-point shot has changed the game.
But he is ambivalent about its overall effect on the game.
"I don't know if it's helped or not," he said. "I can't be that definitive. It has made it a little bit of a hocus-pocus game."
Jackson laughed, but he wasn't done.
"I think there should be a four-point shot," he said. "Yeah, they should shoot it from half court.
"OK, then, how about a five-point shot?" Jackson continued, laughing harder. "It could be from the free-throw line of the opposing team."
Given how Jackson's team has shot from three-point range this season, one can understand his dismay. The Lakers are a middle-of-the-road three-point shooting team, making 35.9 percent, 16th best among the 30 teams.
"Now what's bad for the NBA is bad players taking three-pointers," Miller said. "And there aren't that many good shooters left anymore in the NBA. That's what's bad for the NBA."
One of Miller's former teammates, Mark Jackson, has mixed feelings about the three-point shot.
When Jackson played as a point guard in the NBA, he was known for mixing up his game. Over a 17-year NBA career, Jackson had the ability to make three-pointers and score in the lane with his famous "teardrop" shot over bigger defenders.
Nowadays, Jackson, a commentator for ESPN and ABC, said the midrange shot has suffered because so many NBA players prefer to either shoot the three-pointer or drive to the basket.
"Where once you could name off the top of your head the great midrange shooters, that's ... like a dinosaur now," Jackson said. "I think now guys are either working on going to the rim or a three-point shot, and the middle ground has been hurt."
Denver Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said the popularity of the three-pointer has not only has hurt the NBA game, but also college and high school basketball.
"If you look at the kids on the playground or at home ... if they can't dunk, the first thing they are going to try to do is shoot the three-pointer," Billups said. "So maybe that has taken away a little bit from the midlevel craft, that (Richard) Hamilton-type of game."
The three-point shot first was used in pro basketball in the American Basketball League in 1961. When that league folded, the American Basketball Association adopted the three-pointer.
The NBA added the three-point shot for the 1979-80 season, Bird's first in the league.
The three-point line in the NBA measures 23 feet 9 inches from the center of the basket to the top of the arc, and 22 feet from the sidelines.
This season NBA players have made 35.9 percent of their three-point shots. NBA teams take 17.9 three-pointers per game and make 6.4 of them.
So love it or hate it, the three-point shot is a weapon of choice.
"Over the long haul, if you twisted my arm, I think it's helped because if you have great shooters, it brings out the best in coaches offensively and defensively," Mark Jackson said. "And it can be a tremendous weapon, especially if ... you have power forwards who have an ability to step out and shoot from three-point range. To me, that only helps the game."