You could go an entire postseason without getting a game half as crazy as Monday night’s Spurs-Warriors contest, a double OT affair with countless bizarre plays, swings in momentum, big shots, and even a couple unforgettable broadcast moments. In the case of this year’s postseason, though — which I have to say, is off to an absolutely baller start through one-and-a-third rounds — you only had to go back nine days to another game of comparable lunacy.
Game 4 of Bulls-Nets, the triple OT game in Chicago now known familiary as “The Nate Robinson Game,” seemed for all the world like it would go unchallenged as the single craziest game from the 2013 playoffs. In my article listing the 10 craziest moments from that game — and narrowing it down to 10 was no small feat, mind you — I predicted that “you won’t see a zanier, more entertaining, and in all likelihood, more unforgettable game for the remainder of this postseason … and probably won’t for a couple more to follow, either.” I felt it was a sure bet at the time.
Yet just one series later, and we have a true challenger. Which of these two exhilaratingly surreal and unpredictable basketball contests was truly the weirdest? Let’s break down the qualifications, one by one.
1. More Overtimes: Let’s get this one out of the way first, since it’s important to consider — more overtimes, more time for further twists and turns — but obvious and inarguable: Bulls-Nets went three overtimes, Warriors-Spurs only two. Boring, but worth mentioning.
2. Single Biggest Shot Hit in the Game. For Bulls-Nets, this would probably have to be Joe Johnson’s rolling jumper in the lane in the first overtime, forcing the second OT and negating NateRob’s crazy banker (more on that in a minute) that seemed to seal the deal for the Bulls, a shot that totally deflated the Untied Center. For Spurs-Warriors, it’d of course be the Manu Ginobili three-pointer in the second OT with just seconds to go to put the Spurs up two, which had Gregg Popovich Googling how to make huevos rancheros. The Joe Johnson shot was huge but super-anticlimactic, while the Ginobili three seemed like the only way — minus a Steph Curry halfcourt swish — the Spurs-Warriors game should end.
3. Single Craziest Shot Hit in the Game. Nate hit a handful of weird leaners and unlikely threes, but the one that everyone will remember was the first-OT go-ahead banker that he hit on the way down from a running jump just inside the three-point line. In other words, just about the least practical shot you can take in an NBA game, which went in anyway. Steph hit a whole bunch of nearly-as-crazy shots in that third quarter run – the pull-up from about 30 feet over poor Cory Joseph, or the underrated running banker where he handled and hoisted the ball with just his right hand — but no shot Steph makes is ever all that crazy by his standards.
4. Most Out-of-Character Team Performance. It was pretty weird to see the Spurs just totally flummoxed by a single performer as they were in by Stephen Curry in the third quarter of that game, and it was nearly as weird to see them run aground against a rock-solid Warriors half-court defense (???) for the first half of the fourth quarter. Still, there’s just nothing that compares to the weirdness of seeing a final score — regardless of context — in which the 2013 Chicago Bulls scored 142 points. They could play six overtimes and that still shouldn’t happen. There are laws in place for these things.
5. Least-Likely Hero Moment. When the Bulls signed Nazr Mohammed to a veteran’s minimum deal in the offseason, it seemed pretty likely that he wouldn’t even still be on the 12-man roster by the time of the playoffs, much less actually playing in games, much less actually playing in the third overtimes of games, much less actually scoring four points in the final minute to secure the victory once and for all. Then again, at least most NBA fans had heard of Nazr Mohammed at some point over his 15-year NBA career, which is more than you could say for Warriors rookie guard Kent Bazemore, who almost by accident ended up scoring a go-ahead layup on the fast break with under five seconds to go in the second overtime. If not for Manu Ginobili’s canceling three, he’d probably be the unlikeliest NBA player with a game-winning basket in a big playoff game on his resume since Calvin Booth.
6. Bigger Fan Response. The Spurs’ crowd was fairly quiet for much of regulation, for obvious reasons, but came to appropriate life amidst the fourth quarter comeback, and maintained throughout the double OT — with one particular fan doing the AT&T Center proud, even if those in her section (and many watching at home) might have wanted to sic the Coyote on her. The Bulls’ crowd also rose to the occasion amidst the Nate Robinson-induced fourth quarter fury, but ran out of gas sometime in between the second and third overtimes, the United Center somewhat understandably succumbing to emotional (physical?) exhaustion. Perhaps the Spurs crowd would’ve flatlined as well with another bonus period, but as it stands, they’re better on percentages.
7. Weirdest Broadcast Moment. I didn’t think anything could possibly compare with Marv Albert just straight-up disappearing from the Bulls-Nets broadcast, leaving Steve Kerr to play Vin Scully for a solid minute or so of game action. (“I was getting a sandwich” was Marv’s sarcastic explanation, as if whatever the real reason was wasn’t likely just as ridiculous.) But oh man, that David Aldridge interview with Gregg Popovich Monday night. Kudos to DA for pulling the ultimate switcheroo on the Spurs coach by dismissing him after just one question — which was stunning enough in itself — but man, double kudos to Pop for not missing a beat in response (“No second question, huh? I’m hurt!“). The little breath he takes (as if gearing up to answer the question that never comes) before processing his dismissal might just be the best part. I can’t choose a winner here.
8. Biggest Goat Moment. You’re not too likely to find a Goat Moment in all the seven kingdoms bigger than C.J. Watson whoops-a-daisying a ridiculously uncontested breakaway dunk with 3:15 to go in Bulls-Nets, shifting the game’s momentum and starting the Bulls on their incredible comeback run. Still, had Manu Ginobili not redeemed himself by making that game-winning three a few minutes later, his hoist of a contested trey, well beyond the arc, with just 45 seconds left in the game and plenty of time left on the shot clock would certainly be in the discussion — doubly so because it was Ginobili, one of the game’s smartest, craftiest, least arrogant players. But yeah, he made that shot and now it’s not even close. It probably wouldn’t have been anyway.
9. Most Incredible Individual Performance. Obviously, this comes down to Steph Curry for the Warriors and Nate Robinson for the Bulls. The temptation is to give it to Nate Robinson, because his 23 fourth quarter points were obviously more impactful to the final result of the game, as the Bulls ended up tying the game and winning it in triple OT. But I still have to give this one to the Shooting Gawd Stephen Curry, whose performance was one of the most stupefying I can remember seeing in professional sports. For that scoring stretch of his in the third quarter — and he ended with 22 of his own in that one — it almost made me fearful, I was so in awe of his shooting prowess. Eventually I was praying he would miss one so the game wouldn’t make me start to question my religious beliefs. I’m not even sure if LeBron James himself has that specific basketball power.
10. Most Incredible Comeback. This is really what it’s about, isn’t it? The two games were plenty nutty apart from their respective ends of regulation, but the thing that really unites them, and the thing they’ll likely both be remembered for, was that their end results seemed almost completely determined with less than five minutes to go, and they turned out to be anything but. The Spurs came back from a larger deficit, fighting from 16 back while the Bulls only trailed by 14, but Chicago made up the difference in just 2:45, while the Spurs took nearly four minutes to do so. The amount of luck and skill and big shot-making involved in both comebacks about even out, as does the way the two most dominant players for the opposing teams (Deron Williams on the Nets, Steph Curry on the Warriors) were completely shut down for the remainder of the comeback.
In the end, I think the tie-breaker here is predictability. It was downright shocking when Nate Robinson and the Bulls, who never really score points in a flurry like that, managed to put up 12 unanswered points in less than two minutes against a team with superior talent like the Nets, but when the Spurs did it, it was just kinda San Antonio doing San Antonio things, especially against a team like the Warriors, who never win in San Antone, and who had already established a precedent in Game 6 of the Nuggets series for choking a little with big leads down the stretch. With the Bulls’ comeback, it was What the hell is happening?, with the Spurs, it was more Oh yeah, of course. It makes a difference.
OVERALL WINNER: Bulls-Nets