Note: This article appeared first, and is published on, Medium.com/@xvanwilderx
Jerry Seinfeld: If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.
George Costanza: Yes.
In the NBA, there are few instincts worse than those possessed by Chicago Bulls ownership, the opposite would almost certainly be the Golden State Warriors.
Every NBA season has a particularly wonderful set of moments that define it as an equal number of moments that mar it in an approximate manner that leaves a great evening out. For the 2018–19 NBA season, that great evening out arrived on January 15, 2019.
A few years ago, during the 2015–16 season, there was one particular series of events that really captured the essence of that season. In a game that was already decided, a win for the Sacramento Kings turned into the best kind of dramedy as both Rajon Rondo and then DeMarcus Cousins found themselves ejected in the closing moments of a win.
These moments encapsulate a season in a neat way. A team defined by their struggles and failures finds a way to turn a mundane late season victory into the highest form of entertainment. Rondo and Cousins the perfect actors to turn the script on its ear and leave you incredulous, but also wanting more.
Each season presents its unique story. For me, to achieve this moment requires The Opposite. When everything is going extremely well, as it was for both the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets — though much more so for the Warriors — in the first quarter of their shootout on January 15, there was an absolute bomb of a game happening between the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers that featured one of the worst first quarters of basketball that you could draw up.
“Sure. See, things always even out for me.” — Jerry Seinfeld (The Opposite, 1994)
First, let’s dive in to the breathtaking gunfight that was a first quarter feast of basketball beauty between the top two teams in the Western Conference — the Nuggets and Warriors.
The game was played in Denver, but that didn’t seem to bother the visitors much. The furious pace of the opening stanza left me completely beside myself. By the end of the first quarter I simply expected every shot to go in, including Jamal Murray’s buzzer-beating heave from just left of the mid-court Nuggets logo which he banked directly into the basket less than seven seconds after he had connected on another 3-pointer and just four seconds after Kevin Durant had made an uncontested slam dunk. Forget the other 11:53 of first quarter game play, that was just the last 6.8 seconds.
Meanwhile, despite the tour de force of 10-loss Golden State and their host Denver, the 10-win Bulls and Lakers arrived to their gunfight, both brandishing butter knives.
LeBron James didn’t play and Kris Dunn finished with a game-worst plus-minus of -25.
But it’s always about the opposite. Both games evened out, at least somewhat, after tumultuous opening periods. The Warriors set a franchise and NBA record for most points in a first quarter (51) while the Nuggets played better sustained basketball than almost every other team in the league for 12 consecutive minutes (38 points, 60% shooting).
On the other side, Michael Beasley went coast-to-coast, including a behind-the-back dribble through traffic, right down the lane, then kicked out to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who bricked a wide-open 3-pointer. Neither team converted from long-range in the first quarter — shooting a combined 0-for-13.
The Bulls starting five for this game was Chandler Hutchison-Zach LaVine-Lauri Markkanen-Wendell Carter, Jr.-Dunn. Incredibly, all five of those players were still on the roster for the final game of the season in April and none of them played. Mostly, it was for health reasons, but Hutchison was listed as Did Not Dress. Jabari Parker led Chicago in scoring off the bench, Bobby Portis was 1-for-11 — both were traded to the Washington Wizards a month after this game.
In Denver, it was The Opposite.
This is a quick rundown of some of the more noteworthy numbers from that firefight:
Points: Golden State 51 — Denver 38
FG%: Golden State 76% — Denver 60%
3PT: Golden State 10 — Denver 6
AST%: Golden State 74% — Denver 60%
eFG%: Golden State 96%!!!! — Denver72%!!!
For the game: Draymond Green had 4 PTS, but was +41. Andre Iguodala played 21:29, and had an ORtg of 183! For Denver, Hernangomez played more than 16 minutes and sported an ORtg of 168. These are small sample sizes, but not that small.
For reference on what was happening in Los Angeles, I defer to the excellent Stephen Noh of The Athletic who covers the Bulls:
It’s the moments like these that almost feel like you’re suspended in a dream state. It’s when The Opposite shows itself. It’s the beauty of moments that shouldn’t align and yet, in basketball we’re giving a beauty to match the ugly. It’s a special kind of umami for your hoops-loving brain.
And, as if this special alignment of amazing and awful during first quarters on a Tuesday night in January wasn’t enough proof that it always evens out, the NBA universe had one more treat in store for us. Those same two players that gave me this special moment a few season earlier, aligned once again. Rondo sat on the bench for the Lakers, his team of the moment, while Cousins was a member of the Warriors. It’s amazing that three seasons later, The Opposite pulls through.
See, things always even out for me.
by Daniel Coughlin