Before turning on the television to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals last night, I made the mistake of going to ESPN.com to read about the game, and then I compounded that mistake by clicking on this link, which led me to a video clip of Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless screaming about how terrible Russell Westbrook's performance in Game 2 was. It was awful. Smith kept doing that thing where he sighs heavily before he speaks, as if he were the world's most disappointed father who also has a pocket full of Adderall. Bayless said something about Westbrook being "asinine, 10, 11, and 12!" which oh my god what the fuck, Skip Bayless?
As a Russell Westbrook fan, I watched this video and I got all worked up. I was angry. I kept thinking about all the things I would say to refute what these two blowhards were saying. I imagined myself sitting in front of them and totally shutting them down with my superior understanding of the nuances of Westbrook's game. If I could just get in front of those morons. I'd show them.
And then I began to actually worry about Game 3. Oh god, I thought to myself, what if Westbrook has a bad game or bricks a potential game-winner? Then the haters will never shut up and I'll be even angrier! And Jesus Christ, I thought, what if LeBron lays a goose egg tonight? Then I'll have to read 58 more articles and blog posts about what an un-clutch clutchless clownfraud loser he is. My head was full of ridiculous noise, and as Game 3 started a part of me was actually dreading it. Not because I was afraid of one team winning or losing, but because I was afraid that something would happen that would just bring more noise.
And then, late in the game's first quarter, LeBron James did this:
And everything in my head went quiet, and all the worry faded away. LeBron James was doing something gorgeous on my television screen. There he was, exploding into the air a few steps behind the free-throw line, soaring so high that for a moment it looked like he might just reach out and dunk the ball, redefining basketball as we know it. Then he came crashing down to the floor with a heavy gracefulness that only he can carry, sending Nick Collison flying backwards with the shockwave of his hopstep. Immediately he was in the air again, floating right to the lip of the basket, softly laying the ball in with a deft and quiet finger roll.
That moment encapsulated everything that makes LeBron James an incredible basketball player. Over the course of a few seconds, all of his power, speed, and dexterity were on full display, and I was lucky enough to get to watch it. And the best part? There more moments like this to come later in the game.
There was a play in the third quarter when Russell Westbrook decided to channel Rajon Rondo and threw a ridiculous ball fake at the Heat before cruising into the lane for a layup:
It was a wonderful display of improvisation that allowed me to once again imagine what the world would be like if Wesbrook and Rondo were combined to create Russell Rondo (it would be awesome, by the way).
In the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant got in on the action by converting one of the most absurd alley-oops you will ever see:
James Harden's pass was just about as off target as it could possibly be, and yet Durant still found a way to unhinge his body from the annoyances of gravity and physics, reach out with his impossibly long arms, and slam the ball home.
After watching those three plays unfold last night, I couldn't have cared less about whether or not Russell Westbrook was taking "smart" shots, or if LeBron James was being aggressive and playing like a "closer," or if Kevin Durant could learn to stay out of foul trouble. I realized that I was lucky enough to be watching high-stakes basketball, played by some of the most talented and visually stunning players to ever be in the league. That's what this series is really about, basketball being played in its most gorgeous form.
Now, if you're so inclined, there is plenty of noise pertaining to last night's game to fill your head with today. Go ahead and read and listen to all of it if you'd like, but allow me to make another suggestion. Go here and watch some highlight videos. Then watch them again.