The Oklahoma City Thunder narrowly topped the Philadelphia 76ers in an insane triple-overtime slugfest Friday night. You can imagine, they were therefore not at their most energetic Saturday night, playing the second leg of a back-to-back, in New York. Still, the Knicks, without Kristaps Porzingis, seem like the kind of team OKC’s long and terrifying defense could swallow up, even at something like half-speed.
But OKC’s tired legs and the absence of Porzingis combined to create an opening for Michael Beasley, one of the NBA’s true galaxy-brain shot-makers. Beasley, at his throwback-style best, went over and around and through everyone the Thunder threw at him, en route to 30 points on 18 shots, and led the Knicks to a 15-point victory:
I love this video so much. The man has so many tricks, it’s hilarious and wonderful that they’re all consolidated inside as dazed and confounding a character as Michael Beasley. On his third bucket he faces up on Carmelo Anthony and swings the ball low. Melo sags into a low defensive stance, anticipating a drive in some direction, but Beasley reads his posture and rises up for an uncontested jumper in his face. That’s a shot that the NBA zeitgeist loathes, a relic of ugly late-90s basketball, but it is also, you know, worth points. OKC’s defense, with all its insane length and athleticism, is built to stand up to the vanguard of modern NBA offense—Beasley’s game, rooted in the pre-Warriors NBA, doesn’t give a shit about creating modern offense so much as it is suited to the job of getting buckets, in the very most playground-inflected sense of the term. On his next of these he takes on Andre Roberson in the mid-post, and winds up taking exactly the shot Roberson would want him to take—a contested, fading baseline mid-ranger—but that’s a shot Michael Beasley absolutely considers a good one.
I can’t imagine the frustration a dog-tired team like the Thunder must experience, pushing through the soreness and mental fatigue, forcing a journeyman role-player making an emergency start into a lousy, low-percentage mid-ranger, and watching it drop again and again, as the scoreboard tilts the wrong way. Beasley’s next bucket: a pull-up mid-ranger over Paul George. The one after that: a gliding floater over a strong contest, through contact. The next one, finally, is a highlight: Beasley puts poor Josh Huestis on roller skates and throws in a flailing and-one layup over two help defenders. By this point, if I were a Thunder player, I would’ve been crying.
The NBA hasn’t completely eliminated back-to-backs, and so it hasn’t completely solved schedule losses. You can shake your head and chalk last night’s result up to the schedule, or you can be thankful the schedule granted us a chance to enjoy a classic Michael Beasley performance. I prefer the latter.