The NBA complaint department has been hard at work this season. If someone prompted ChatGPT to write a report for the 2022-23 product it would be titled “The National Load Management Association: How street clothes became more noticeable than basketball uniforms.” Throw in an All-Star Game with the intensity of a shootaround, and the pre-playoff NBA product was giving serious clearance rack vibes.
People who have paid for regular-season games in which stars were resting, and for an all-star event that was a game in title only won’t get refunds for those tickets, but NBA fans across the nation received restitution from the players with an outstanding weekend of action.
It started with a Thirsty Thursday teaser, with the Boston Celtics defeating the Indiana Pacers in overtime, and the Philadelphia 76ers enduring a torrential early 3-point shooting performance from the Memphis Grizzlies to pull out a victory.
Friday’s first nationally televised game was a dud with the Milwaukee Bucks walloping the Miami Heat 128-99 and the second was a decent watch. The Phoenix Suns held off the scrappy Oklahoma City Thunder sans their all-star — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
The late game though, that 10:30 p.m. est Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Clippers matchup turned out to be a game for the record books. The Kings won in double overtime —176-175 — in what was the second-highest-scoring game in NBA history. Malik Monk threw down a double-pump slam in traffic on his way to 45 points on the night. Russell Westbrook dished out 16 assists in his Clippers debut. Kawhi Leonard played the most regular-season minutes of his NBA career and was still able to play 33 minutes in another overtime game two nights later in a 134-124 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
It was more of the same throughout the rest of the weekend. The 76ers and Celtics played in a thrilling potential playoff preview in the NBA’s featured Saturday night post-football season slot. The Celtics eked out a 110-107 victory once Joel Embiid’s ¾ court heave was waved off. In another nationally televised game on Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers overcame their largest deficit in 20 years to defeat the Dallas Mavericks 111-108, bringing them within a game of the final play-in spot. Oh, and Damian Lillard scored 71 points during the Portland Trail Blazers’ 131-114 victory. An Impressive feat even if it happened against the hapless Houston Rockets.
Once again the NBA showed that at its best, it is an entertainment product that can go toe to toe with any other one. With great crowds in Philadelphia and Dallas, and individual greatness by Leonard, Monk, and Lillard, the NBA was truly FANtasic over the last few days.
That level of play, however, does give credence to good-faith criticisms about the product that has put out for fan consumption on a regular basis this season. Of course, it’s unrealistic for the NBA to be at its high-flying, clutch-shot-making best throughout an entire 82-game schedule. Humans can’t be expected to be at their best all of the time, and most of us don’t jump and land on hardwood courts for six-eight months every year.
Still, the way that the league roared out of the All-Star break, if the NBA wants to solve any issues with television ratings that is certainly a great way to do so. Sure there will still be millions of young people out there who consume the sport through TikTok and gossip blogs but there is always a market for thrilling television.
Last weekend showed that the NBA can still thrill with the best of them. Of course, it won’t last with star players surely on their way out of uniform and back to their unique wardrobes for select nights, as certain teams gear up for the postseason and others for the May draft lottery.
But for one weekend, whether intentional or not, at least the NBA acknowledged that it needed to put in some literal overtime to show some fan appreciation. Especially after that bonfire gathering disguised as an All-Star Game.