Last night, there was one of those rare regular-season NBA games that rise to the level of must-see. The Sixers and Bucks met in Philadelphia, and with the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference still in flux, and could very well finish in any order, it had some real meaning. And it was a classic, as much as any regular-season game can be. Statement games don’t take place before the playoffs, but this one certainly wasn’t empty.
The Bucks came out 118-116 winners, with Giannis Antetokounmpo putting on a performance that only cements his previous MVPs, with 40 points, 14 rebounds, and six assists. And while he was on the way to that, had two of those moments that only he can provide. Like the full court drive for a dunk that only involves four steps:
Or a game-clinching block on the likely future MVP, Joel Embiid (29 points, 14 rebounds).
The reaction time and explosion to get to this is simply sublime. Here were two of the best teams in the league, throwing haymakers at each other for 48 minutes, changing the landscape of the conference, at least for a night.
And unless you lived in Philly or Milwaukee or have League Pass, you didn’t see it. Because TNT was providing yet another Lakers game on national TV, in case you were interested in seeing what ennui and dejection looks like in a basketball uniform. The Lakers were customarily terrible, trailing by 26 at the half before a death rattle in the 4th got them to within 18 for a 128-110 loss to the Mavs for no reason at all. The Lakers are maybe the only team in sports that want to be playing less than anyone wants to watch them, and no one wants to watch them. That’s the bar they’ve been able to limbo under.
They’ve been on ABC Saturday night games a few times. They pop up on ESPN and TNT regularly. And every time they do, sludge comes out of your TV. Maybe people get a kick out of watching LeBron watch his teammates vomit up their organs yet again as they slip out of the playoff picture altogether. Or they enjoy seeing LeBron come to the realization in front of all of us that 95 percent of anyone who moves to L.A. comes to, which is: “This is far too much of a pain in the ass for the benefits. Also it smells like a fart seven months of the year.” But basketball fans, perhaps more than any other, enjoy good basketball. The Bucks and Sixers were providing that.
I’ve been on the other side of this. The NHL’s broadcasters put the Hawks on national TV regularly for years after they’d turned into a suckfest. We didn’t want them to be either, so less would know about our shame (that was just on-ice back then). But hockey fans are the most parochial, so large followings like the Hawks meant better ratings. Hoops fans aren’t like that, and are far more aware of the league-wide stories and trends than hockey fans.
So please, in the words of Local H, please please no more California songs on our TVs.
That’s gotta hurt
It was something of a Decision Day in World Cup qualifying yesterday, with Europe locking up two of its remaining spots, and both Africa and South America wrapping up their qualifying. Amongst all of it, the biggest moment was Cameroon’s 124th-minute winner in Algeria to kick the Algerians out of the World Cup and propel themselves into it:
What made it a true heart-ripped-out-of-the-chest moment for Algeria is that they had scored in the 114th minute to take a 2-1 lead on aggregate, only for Cameroon’s second away goal on the night to flip the entire result on its head.
World Cup defeats or hard exits are the worst, because teams and players and fans have to sit on it for four years, with no guarantee of getting back then either. Algeria will be seeing this goal until they can try again, and if they can’t succeed then they’ll still be seeing it. Ask Italy about Jorginho’s missed penalty this time around and how it’s combined with failing to score over 180 minutes against Sweden four years ago. These are the scars that never heal.