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The Clippers, the Spurs, and What the NBA Playoffs Are Worth

All basketball games are pretty good. Some games help us understand why we bother to care about sports. Game 7 between the Clips and Spurs was one of those.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Partly because it's my job and partly because it's been my default evening activity for a decade, I watch the NBA when I don't know what else to do. When I'm too anxious to read and too tired to work, I will gladly, gratefully sink an hour-and-a-half into a nothing-special, already in progress Wizards-Nets tilt. I'd like to think I do this to be transported or thrilled, but the more honest reason, on nights when I'm depressed and torporous, is that I watch because the game is there, and because it's easy. I tilt my open mouth skyward and let it all pour in, and drown with something like a smile on my face.


I wonder sometimes, as my half-interest erodes and with the game feeling very far away from me, if I even like basketball. I unhook from reality in the same way that some mornings, I look in the mirror and for a few seconds don't recognize what I'm seeing. I get so bored that the uncanny visits. You are alive, and so you are maybe familiar with this feeling.

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The basketball part of this is not that complicated, though. Of course I like it. I know this because I keep coming back to it. I am continually losing track of and rediscovering why I invest so much time and psychic energy into consuming and thinking about it. The point I'm at in this cyclical process has little to do with what's happening in the sport itself, and is largely dependent on the violent illogic of my own moods. Games transmute beneath the weight of my stupid, cumbersome emotions. Even contests that are well-played and competitive can pass right through me, leaving me with nothing besides a yearning numbness, a desire to feel. I want to give myself over to the joy of watching Steph Curry bomb 26-footers, but if I'm being honest a lot of the time I just can't. In my head, an ice cream cone strikes the sidewalk.

Anyway, sometimes it is like this. Other times, a game—and this time of year, a whole series—takes me by the throat and demands that I have fun. The decisive contest between the Clippers and Spurs was like that. That Game 7, which played out in one long crescendo on Saturday night, was literally breathtaking. I laughed a few times, as if I had received a sharp blow to the stomach. It was funny, and authentically jarring, to see basketball played as expertly as those two teams did that night. The way the offenses swirled and dove and shifted—and, in simultaneous response, the way the defenses bent and warped and reconfigured—was mesmeric and beautiful. It was like watching a pair of ant colonies wage a turf war, but also it was like watching two basketball teams fulfill the game's state-of-the-art promise in real time. It was great.


Do you like basketball? — Photo by Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

This is without taking into account Chris Paul doing his bit while flatly refusing to be injured, or 39-year-old Tim Duncan putting up 27-year-old Tim Duncan numbers. This is without mentioning the improbable, bloated smoothness of Boris Diaw. And without marveling at how former dunkbot Blake Griffin has transformed over these last seasons into a player with so many facets to his game that it is almost impossible to keep track, until suddenly he is running the break like a point guard and you, we, are watching it like it's the most natural thing in the world. There was so much to appreciate, and it just kept happening.

It was particularly special to me because of the company in which I watched it. A friend of mine is moving away. For the better part of two years, I have been neglecting this friend. He's been going through some stuff, and I mostly haven't been there for any of it. We've been spending time together more frequently these past few weeks, trying to salvage what we know is unsalvageable. I see that we're speeding toward the waterfall, and that I don't have time to renew our bond before we go crashing over that edge. He will leave, and most likely we won't see much of each other ever again. A person I love will become little more than a stranger. I so badly want a solace-bringing conversation or shared experience to take place before he goes, a resolution that will make me feel better about what's been lost between us. But that's not going to happen. An intolerable truth of living is that nothing can save us from ourselves: what we've done and the way we are.

My friend and I watched Game 7 together, and enjoyed ourselves. You've perhaps done something like this with someone important to you, too. It's a warm and slightly dizzying feeling, this communion. At one point during the fourth quarter, I turned to him and said "this is fun." He agreed. When Chris Paul's will overrode his half-broken body and carved toward the basket for a nonsensical game-winner, I felt a jolt, and so did my friend, who exclaimed "oh, wow!" as the ball banked through the cylinder.

That was about that. After the game ended, we went back to communicating poorly. I tried to explain a sensation I suffer in the early morning—a kind of two-hours-before-a-tornado-rips-through-town premonition—and he didn't understand what I meant. We gossiped about a trainwreck we went to high school with. The evening bled out and nothing was fixed; there was no healing, really. But for three hours, I was close to someone I want to feel closer to, whose distance scares me and makes me think I'm a wretched person. The sheer force of a great game's greatness and its singular sense of gravity brought us together, and then it was over and we flew apart. I will remember it for a long time.