by: Michael Shields
As the second half of the 2016 – 2017 NBA season moves into full swing, we take a look back at a few astonishing instant classics from the first half of the season…
5. The Golden State Warriors vs. The Cleveland Cavaliers – December 25th, 2016
Christmas Day, like NFL’s hold on Thanksgiving, belongs to the NBA. On this year’s most recent Yuletide, there was no other game on the day’s lineup card that was as eagerly anticipated as the rematch from the previous year’s NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Cavs. While the Warriors had an axe to grind from the Final’s loss and a dangerous new weapon in its arsenal to flaunt (one Kevin Durant), the Cavaliers were set on proving their title was no fluke. During this riveting and impassioned matchup, Golden State amazingly held the lead for all but 43 seconds of the game, and when they opened up the fourth quarter on a 7 – 0 run to mount their largest lead at 94 – 80, it appeared that the day would belong to the new-look Warriors. But the Cavs slowly but surely chipped away at the lead, and after tying the game with a layup with just over two minutes in the game, flat-earther Kyrie Irving sealed the deal with a turnaround jumper with three seconds left on the clock. This Christmas barnburner not only lived up to all the hype levied upon it, it also emphatically displayed that Kevin Durant, who finished the game with 36 points and 15 rebounds, fit in admirably with his new squad. But alas, Cleveland’s Big Three (Lebron, Irving, Love), who combined for 76 points, were too much for the Warriors to handle, and once again acted as the thorn in the Warrior’s side. Something tells me these two will meet again come early summer…
Cleveland Cavaliers 109 – Golden State Warriors 108
4. The Cleveland Cavaliers vs. The San Antonio Spurs – January 21st, 2017
For years now, Kawhi Leonard has been looked upon as the future of the San Antonio Spurs. But now, with the departure of Tim Duncan and with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili’s depleted roles, it is safe to say that the future for Leonard is now. Exploiting offenses like Trump exploits fallen soldier’s wives for political gain (sorry, I couldn’t help myself), Leonard fills up the stat sheet nightly, and amid this matchup between two of the NBA’s most reputable of forces, he looked absolutely unstoppable. Cleveland’s stars surely came to play as well, with both Lebron James and Kyrie Irving amassing 29 points. But a missed 3-point attempt by Kevin Love as time expired in overtime finished off the Cavs and when the dust finally settled, and the Spurs beat the Cavaliers 118 – 115 in overtime, Leonard had amassed a career-high 41 points, playing a career-high 46 minutes, and became the first San Antonio player to score at least 30 points in six straight games since Mike Mitchell in 1986 (how’s that for a fun fact!).
San Antonio Spurs 118 – Cleveland Cavaliers 115 (OT)
3. The Oklahoma City Thunder vs. The Houston Rockets – November 16th, 2016
It could be easily argued that Russell Westbrook is the best player in the NBA at this moment in time. But what cannot be argued is the veritable fact that Westbrook is the best crunch time player in the league – straight up and down – and the proof is in the pudding. Just this year alone he has exhibited on a myriad of occasions why the ball must be in his hands when the game is close and time running out. On November 30th, he definitively crushed the Wizards’ spirit, nailing a deep three to send the game into overtime, where he continued to deny the Wiz a shot at a huge road win (Westbrook finished with 35 points, 11 assists, and 14 rebounds – one of his THIRTY triple doubles so far this year!). On January 23rd, from the foul line extended Westbrook finished the Jazz off with 1.8 seconds remaining in the game with a clutch basket. And on November 16th (trust me, I could have gone on and on listing Westbrook’s crunchtime dramatics), Westbrook capped off a brilliant performance against a sound Rockets squad with an absolutely savage, game-winning dunk on Clint Capela in the game’s closing seconds. Westbrook is not fucking around now that Kevin Durant has taken his talents to the Bay Area, and this evening, one where he finished with 30 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds, was proof positive of that fact.
Oklahoma City Thunder 105 – Houston Rockets 103
2. The Atlanta Hawks vs. The New York Knicks – January 26th, 2016
While I am aware that the placement of the 25 win and 36 loss New York Knicks on this prestigious mid-season list puts me at risk of being called a “homer,” I assure you this decision was done with much care. Because what occurred on a late January evening in Hotlanta, where these two teams combined to score 281 points, was what rapper Killer Mike would describe aptly as “the opposite of bullshit.” Amid a four overtime extravaganza, Paul Millsap of the Hawks amassed SIXTY minutes of game time (including 35 straight at one point!) ((He’s the 13th player since 1983 to log at least 60 minutes in game.)) while putting up 35 points and pulling down 19 rebounds, and Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks forced not one, but two overtimes with buzzer-beating shots! The back and forth action, particularly in the fourth overtime, was absolutely riveting, and was only made more so in light of the fact that four Knicks fouled out of the game, including stars Anthony (in the second overtime) and Kristaps Porzingis (in regulation!). In the end, the Hawks outlasted the Knicks behind Millsap’s aforementioned monstrous game, Dwight Howard’s 19 points, and a trio of players (Tim Hardaway Jr., Kent Bazemore, and Dennis Schroder) who were as unexpectedly terrorizing as liberal white people in Jordan Peele’s horror flick Get Out, combining for 66 points.
Atlanta Hawks 142 – New York Knicks 139 (4OT)
1. The Washington Wizards vs The Cleveland Cavaliers – February 6th, 2017
It is a bit surreal to think that a more dramatic matchup occurred than the aforestated quartet of mania listed above, but anyone who laid eyes on the heated battle between the Cavs and Wiz on February 6th can attest to the level of grandeur at play. On this evening Kevin Love, amidst rising trade rumors and word that Lebron wanted to replace him with Carmelo Anthony, went the fuck off, amassing 39 points and 12 rebounds, and even sealed the Wizard’s fate by hitting two foul shots with 3.6 seconds remaining. The Cavs were firing on all-cylinders, with Lebron finishing with 32 points and a career-high 17 assists ((Passing former Cavalier great Lenny Wilkens (7,211 assists) for 13th on the NBA’s all-time assists list.)), Irving scoring 11 of his 23 points in overtime, and even Tristan Thompson threw his hat into the ring, contributing a season-high 22 points. But even in the loss, the Wizards began to look like true contenders and fought tooth and nail the entirety of the matchup. Bradley Beal led the way with 41 points ((His career high is 42 points in a game versus the Suns on November 21, 2016.)), John Wall added 22 points and 12 assists while Otto Porter Jr. put up 25 points. But as the game came to its conclusion, King James’ legend was heightened yet again, as he became the only player in the history of the NBA who ranked in the Top 20 in All-Time points, assists, and steals – and fans throughout the NBA began to wet their lips in anticipation of a potential Eastern Conference Finals between the Cavs and the Wiz ((I must note that I am remiss in leaving the Boston Celtics (who beat the Cavs in a classic just this past Wednesday!) out of the mix in this listing, as their season, which has them in second place in the East, has been a hell of a ride. But while in my estimation they didn’t participate in a game as incredible as what I have compiled here, I have a feeling we will hearing a great deal more about them as the second half of the season heats up!)).
Cleveland Cavaliers 140 – Washington Wizards 135 (OT)