The Two Basketball Games That Have Defined 2019 (So Far)
As we approach halfway through 2019, we have already seen some fantastic basketball games at all levels. From Purdue vs. Tennessee to the Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets 4OT classic, there have been some absurdly good basketball games this year. However, I have nailed my selection down to two for this article. Let’s start with the more recent one, shall we?
Warriors 106, Raptors 105 - Game 5 of the NBA Finals
Coming into this game, the Raptors had the clear advantage: a 3–1 lead and being only one game away from basketball history. An NBA Championship could have been clinched on their home floor. It was all set up. They had been dominant all series. With their backs on the wall, the Warriors realized that they needed Kevin Durant, who had been out for a month and a day since his calf injury. The risk of re-injury was present, but with the season on the line, Kevin Durant was given the opportunity to return to the lineup for the crucial Game 5.
Durant quickly made his mark on the game, with 11 points in the first quarter. It seemed that KD was the spark that the Warriors had been missing for the series. If I were a Raptors fan and there was no Durant in this game, I would not feel discouraged at all being down by 6 after the first quarter. But with Durant, this was a whole other ballgame. That’s when it happened: With 9:46 left in the second quarter, Kevin Durant’s achilles seemed to have popped. Immediately, Raptors fans starting cheering and waving at Durant. That’s when the whole energy of the game changed. Drake was emotional, but the rest of Toronto’s fanbase seemed to have no feelings. The Warriors’ slim lead was maintained through halftime. Though it still felt like anyone’s game.
Through the third quarter, the lead was still six points. However, no lead is safe, especially on the road without your best player in the NBA Finals. Kawhi Leonard was going to take over. It was inevitable. Kawhi’s takeover began at the five-minute mark in the fourth quarter. The Raptors went from down by 2, to astonishingly up by six with the ball at the 3:05 mark. That’s when Nick Nurse called two timeouts. This the correct move logically, as you are restricted to two timeouts in the final three minutes of the game. Sitting at this point with four, and noticing that his players were becoming tired, Nurse opted to use those timeouts to his team’s advantage. However, Kawhi Leonard had scored 10 points in less than two minutes. Toronto was hot. These timeouts gave Golden State a new life. According to ESPN, at the 3:05 mark in the fourth quarter, Toronto had a 92% chance to win the game. That’s when Klay Thompson hit an off-the-dribble three to make the score 103–100. Kyle Lowry then missed a three pointer of his own, and the Warriors were right back in it. Stephen Curry missed a three in return, but DeMarcus Cousins threw down a putback dunk to cut the lead to 1. Or so everyone in America (and probably Canada) thought. Offensive interference was called on Cousins, and the Raptors gained control of the ball. That’s when Kyle Lowry drove-and-kicked to Marc Gasol. The pass didn’t quite get there, though, as the ball went backcourt. This whole sequence seemed to have alleviated the stagnant offense of the Warriors, as Stephen Curry tied the game with 1:22 to go. The Warriors COULD NOT lose this game. This was their season. Kawhi Loenard missed a three, Curry got the rebound, and Klay Thompson put the Warriors up by three. Going right back down the court, Kyle Lowry got goaltended by DeMarcus Cousins with 29 seconds left to put Toronto within one point of Golden State. Cousins couldn’t stop getting fouls, as with 15 seconds to go, he set an illegal screen.
The stage was set. What more could you want if you’re Toronto? Down by 1, at home, 15.7 seconds to set up the final shot. You have Kawhi Leonard on the court. It can’t go that badly, right? Let’s just watch it, one more time so you can see how badly Toronto botched a chance at NBA glory.
The implications of this game were obvious: The series was heading back to Oakland, and that Kevin Durant’s career may have just been ruined. Whether or not the Warriors win the finals, Kevin Durant has some new things to think about. Warriors president Bob Meyers was so devastated by the news that he cried in the press conference. It seems like the city truly cares about Durant. If you’re him, you have to at least consider staying, right? Especially if he’s going to be hurt for a while, why not just stay for one more year in San Francisco? Can you blame the Warriors’ trainers for the injury? No. Is it unfortunate that so often NBA games and series are determined by injuries? Yes.
Duke 77, UCF 76 - Round of 32, 2019 NCAA Basketball Tournament
I get more sick every time I think of this game. As an Orlando native, I was rooting for the upset here. Honestly, I think all of America was. UCF was not supposed to be in this game. I knew they would though. I just didn’t think it would be this much of a roller-coaster.
The whole first half was back-and-forth. Aubrey Dawkins was the star for UCF. With 16 points in the first half, he carried UCF to a 34–32 lead with 3:52 remaining in the half. After that, however, Duke got hot. Zion Williamson scored five points, both Tre Jones R.J. Barrett had three points all in the last 3:50 of the half. The only points UCF had been able to put up were two measly free throws by B.J. Taylor. The score was 44–36 at halftime. The game was falling out of UCF’s hands.
So far, I have failed to mention Tacko Fall, the Senegalese 7'6" center for UCF. On this UCF team, his job was to stand, dunk, and get rebounds. You think I’m joking? Take a look at his shot chart:
Through the first half, Tacko had 7 points, 3 rebounds, and a block. And 2 fouls, which will soon become of relevance.
If you’re Duke, you’d be feeling pretty confident on this point. Everything is under control, and it’s time to pull away. Or so you’d think…
The second half starts with some Duke misses, two Tacko Fall dunks, and an Aubrey Dawkins three pointer to cut the deficit to one point. Zion, however, extends the lead back to eight, going up 51–43. But, unlike Duke’s other opponents, UCF wasn’t going away like they should have. With 10:24 remaining, B.J. Taylor finally hit his stride and gave UCF the three point lead with a jumper. It didn’t last long, though, as Zion answered right back. Tre Jones and company were able to get the lead back up to seven, and then they started pressing. B.J. Taylor defeated the press and passed down to Aubrey Dawkins, who nailed the three. Dawkins hit the thirty point mark with a mid-range fade-away to cut the Duke lead to 2. Zion made it a four point game, but Dayon Griffin and B.J. Taylor each hit big threes to give the Knights the lead, 70–68. With the score sitting in the Knights favor, 74–70, with 1:52 left in the game, Dayon Griffin found himself with the ball in a 2-on-1. Griffin threw up an alley-oop to Aubrey Dawkins. Dawkins mishandled it, and the Knights turned the ball over. In a series of unfortunate events, Cam Reddish went down and hit a three pointer off a screen to cut UCF’s lead to 1.
There wouldn’t be another point scored until the 45 second mark of the game. B.J. Taylor nailed a pair of free throws to put UCF up by three. Zion Williamson knew he wanted to be the hero. With thirty-three seconds left, he took a stepback (step-side?) three-pointer. It just barely rattled out. Fortunate for Duke, Javin DeLaurier picked up the offensive rebound. Zion had another chance. Zion drived in hard on B.J. Taylor, with no foul called. He had gotten through one obstacle. The next obstacle would be the hardest one of all. There, in the paint, stood 7'6" Tacko Fall, who conveniently had four fouls. In this situation, Fall does what he should: He makes the correct and legal basketball play, as he puts his hands straight up. Zion’s shot rattles in, as you can hear him yell, “And-one!” simply because he ran into him. Okay, maybe this is a little opinionated, but you can’t argue the fact that Zion elbowed Tacko, and Fall did everything he could as legally as he could. Fall fouled out after this call. Down by one, Williamson went to the line. And he bricked. This part of the game is often overlooked. Does your #1 prospect miss a game-tying free throw vs. the #9 seed in the NCAA Tournament with 14 seconds left? Without Tacko Fall down low to grab the rebound, R.J. Barrett swooped in and made an easy layup to give Duke the lead. Just watch the rest, I can’t even talk about it.