Last night was a night that was supposed to go differently.
The seemingly-inevitable outcomes were ignored in favor of sheer determination. It's nights like last night that remind us why we still watch the games. Because no matter what logic tells you will happen, there's the x factor that every NBA team is still primarily comprised of human beings (with the exceptions of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Rasheed Wallace). Sometimes the narrative will be disrupted, sometimes things just come together, and sometimes amazing things happen.
For me, it began as I was covering last night's Nuggets/Celtics game. The Nuggets were in the second night of a back to back, having played in Cleveland the night before. Back to backs are always difficult, but a short turnaround on the East coast, slogging through Boston's snowdrifts and slush, there was every reason to think the Nuggets would be sluggish and pencil in the game as a schedule loss.
The Celtics, meanwhile, were riding an unexpected wave of success in the wake of losing Rajon Rondo for the season. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had both been pushing themselves to do more, in true veteran fashion. Doc Rivers had been finding ways to win against expectations. Boston had lost 6 straight games when Rondo went down, but entered last night having won 6 straight without him. It was perfectly reasonable to be wondering when Boston's run would end. Despite the back to back, the Nuggets are a very good team and a perfectly reasonable candidate to end Boston's win streak.
Throughout the game it seemed as though Boston was ready to pull away, but the Nuggets refused to stop fighting. Every time it seemed Boston was ready to gain some breathing room, Denver would claw it's way back in. And about the time the Nuggets forced the first overtime in Boston, the Kings and Rockets tipped off a game between a team jockeying for playoff position and a team dwelling near the bottom of the conference.
The Kings were also in the second night of a back to back. The Kings were at home, so they didn't have the travel disadvantage of the Nuggets, but the first night was a night filled with emotions. Here We Buy night was a big, emotional win over the Utah Jazz. Emotions drain energy, even if those emotions are euphoric. There was every reason to believe the Kings would suffer an emotional hangover, that the crowd would be a little less energetic, a little more hoarse, and that the Kings would struggle against a potent Rockets squad.
My attention remained on the spectacle in Boston. After forcing the game to overtime, it seemed the Nuggets might pull off the improbable win. Perhaps it would be the end of Boston's surprising run. But Jeff Green, who has struggled to fulfill expectations this season, denied his season's narrative and sank a huge three to tie the game. After a missed three by Ty Lawson, we entered double overtime.
As this was happening, I kept an eye on the Kings game that I had anticipated being able to watch more of. The game was progressing along, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Kings were holding steady. The game would swing a few points here and there, but for the most part was staying close. If nothing else, I thought, it was nice to see the team start with good energy.
As much as I wanted to give my attention to the Kings game, the Boston game had to be my priority. The Celtics started the second overtime with Kevin Garnett on the bench, and the Nuggets quickly jumped out to a four point lead. Where it had once seemed impossible that the Nuggets could win, that four point lead now seemed a comfortable cushion in a game that Boston had been controlling for most of the night. But Boston refused to back down. They clawed to within three points, and Paul Piece hit an absolutely improbable three pointer to once again tie the game. The shot was a terrible shot. It was defended as closely as a shot can be guarded without being a foul. And Pierce drained it.
At this point I was enthralled, while also being a little disappointed to be missing the majority of the first half in Sacramento. But Sacramento was holding steady. Not unheard of, of course. Sacramento has stayed close through the first half of plenty of games this season. It still felt inevitable that the Kings would fall apart in the second half.
The third overtime in Boston was a fitting conclusion. Both teams were playing with a level of energy that was completely out of place in a third overtime. Neither team was willing to acquiesce. Monstrous shots were traded like boxers trading haymakers. Kevin Garnett hits a fall away 16-footer that would be considered a terrible shot by any player who isn't Garnett. Danilo Gallinari drains a heavily-contested three to tie the game. Jason Terry answers with another three.
Finally, an immovable object succumbed to an unstoppable force, or maybe it was the other way around. But finally, inevitably, somebody missed. It was Andre Miller, on an ugly shot that tarnished a beautiful ending, but that miss had to come eventually. But what had been considered a likely schedule loss was now a huge disappointment to Nuggets fans. The Celtics stood victorious as the owners of the most unpredictable 7-game win streak in the league.
And then it was Sacramento's turn. I was free to focus my attention on the Kings, just in time to see the Kings finish the third quarter barely trailing the Rockets. And then, as the expected narrative went, the Kings quickly fell into a hole the likes of which we've seen all too many times this season.
The expected narrative was in place. The pesky Kings hung around for a while, but ultimately the better team would prevail. The Kings and the fans would fall short, still drained from the night prior. But down 10 with 10 minutes to play, Isaiah Thomas, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons and 15,500+ Kings fans refused to go away quietly.
Isaiah Thomas scored 17 points in the fourth quarter. Garcia and Salmons combined for another 16. No other Kings scored in the fourth quarter. And when the Kings stormed back against all odds and regained the lead, Kings fans rained down a booming chant.
"HERE WE STAY. HERE WE STAY. HERE WE STAY."
Another game bucked the narrative. As unexpected as Boston's 7-game win streak without Rondo is, I'd say the Kings, now a 19-win team, taking down the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets on consecutive nights might be even more unexpected.
Sometimes it seems like we already know how things will play out. The narrative seems complete. One team may seem destined to win. But we play the game because we don't know what might happen.
And sometimes the fate of a team may seem etched in stone, and the chances of a different outcome get written off. It may seem that fan base is wasting its time fighting to save its team from forces that seem so exceedingly powerful and beyond our influence.
But we're going to play the game anyway, because you never know what we might be capable of pulling off.