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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

You Can’t Spell “Choke” Without “OKC”

Part of the excitement of sports is unpredictability. You never know, while watching a sporting event, when something extraordinary is going to happen. You never know when something rare or unprecedented is going to unfold before your eyes.

When the Phil Jackson coached Lakers won their first NBA Championship in 2000, they reached the finals by winning a Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trailblazers. At the end of the third quarter, the Lakers trailed by 13 points, eventually falling behind by 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Those of you old enough to vote and not new to following the NBA know the rest. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant put on a clinic in the final 10 minutes of the game, took the lead, won by five points, and went on to win the NBA Finals. The comeback was the greatest ever in seventh game of a playoff series in the history of the NBA.

From that point forward, the 15 point margin has been my personal benchmark, in the fourth quarter of an NBA game, of when I think a game is, in all likelihood, over. An offense, playing well, seldom scores much more than 25 points in a quarter and even if the offense plays well, the defense, to overcome a large lead, needs to all but completely shut the opposing offense down. In addition, there is usually a reason one team falls behind by a large margin: they are being outplayed to begin with.

I think this is the most visibly excited I ever saw Shaq in his career. 1


Certainly a team, on the road, in front of a raucous crowd, knowing it gets to go back home with the series tied, and trailing by 15 points in the final five minutes should put all of its starters on the bench to prevent injury and have the equipment guys start packing up for the trip to the airport. Right? That’s why they PLAY the GAMES!

Unless you are a personal friend of mine, reading this just to see what I come up with next and have no interest in the NBA playoffs whatsoever, I need not tell you the result, except as a refresher on some of the details. Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, the team trailing by 15 points, began making the most improbable and difficult of shots. James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team leading in the final five minutes, fouled out and the offense, moving forward, ground to a screeching halt. The Thunder led 99-84; they would only score 6 points in the final five minutes and overtime. The Mavericks were able to close the gap, tie the score, and run away with the game in overtime, winning 112-105.

These types of games separate champions from contenders. These games distinguish veterans, like 32 year old Nowitzki and 38 year old Mavericks point guard Jason Kidd, from aspiring young stars like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of the Thunder. These are the kinds of games that indicate that one team understands, through past experience, what is necessary to advance in the playoffs and contend for a championship. These are also the kinds of games that deliver a sobering blow to a team, realizing that it is not ready to reach the next level of competition.

Again? REALLY? 2


Last night, Dallas was “Clutch City”. Oklahoma City was “Choke City”. And you cannot spell “choke” without the letters “OKC”.

Still, this series has offered many of the elements that compel us to watch sports. The silver lining for the Thunder is that the growing pains this team is experiencing draw a vivid comparison to those of the Detroit Pistons, who would eventually win 2 NBA Championships, working to surpass the Larry Bird led Boston Celtics, in the late 1980s. The Chicago Bulls, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, climbed a similar mountain to surpass the Pistons and win six championships in eight seasons. The Mavericks look like a team, with two future Hall of Famers in Kidd and Nowitzki, whose chance for glory may have come and whose stars may have finally aligned to win a championship.

Your day will come, young man. 3
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