By now you must be familiar with the finale, which is worth watching and rewatching and watching, with good reason.
There is so much to take in. There’s Russ doing his usual defensive narcolepsy despite the high stakes, this time dozing off right under the rim, for reasons surely unrelated to the fact that he had just nine rebounds to pair with his 20 points and 21(!) assists. Then there’s Wilson Chandler pushing Jerami Grant into a flop, which will slightly impede Westbrook’s explosive but ultimately pathetic closeout, because he’s seen that Nikola Jokic salvaged a botched lob play by passing Gary Harris open with sheer force of will and a gasp-inducing frozen rope, and Harris is preparing to drill the shot, which he did.
“I think Russell was asleep,” Jokic reported, accurately, in the postgame.
But there’s also so much more to this game than its fevered ending.
Before all that came the ridiculous 40-point first quarter from the Nuggets, building to a 72-57 lead at the half that somehow felt glassily fragile, because Paul George was smashing right through the NBA’s 23rd-ranked defense—this was a case of emergency. He would end up with 43 points on 73 percent shooting, and playing some wonderfully spiteful defense, pouring in three after three, including a ridiculous step-back that should have taken the game into overtime.
Like any good shootout, there is another side, and that side was Jamal Murray, shooting 61 percent from the floor for 33 points. He was compulsively watchable at all times: felling Steven Adams like a tree, planting sweet pocket passes for Jokic to snatch up, weaseling his way into open space as if tooling around on a playground. Murray appeared reckless and emphatically non-butt.
Also shooting 61 percent was Nikola Jokic, almost quietly registering his third triple-double of the season—this time 29 points, 13 rebounds, 14 assists—while somehow looking winded and on the verge of tantrum at all times. That is a perfect Nikola Jokic game.
And there was all the imperfect, interstitial stuff that could have been but didn’t quite work: a half-dozen spicy interior passes from Jokic that weren’t cashed, an unexpected, one-handed touch Patrick Patterson outlet to Westbrook that Westbrook bungled at the rim:
In this game even the failures were entertaining.
Typically knowing the outcome diminishes the enjoyment of a sports contest, but let me claim this one game, with all its intricate plot twists, as one of the glaring exceptions. Even if you know in the corner of your mind that the comeback is coming all along, you need to see how it took place, and how it fell short in the end. Staying up for the fourth quarter may well be the best decision I make this calendar year.