WITH roughly half a dozen NBA games a night missing from our regularly scheduled programming, a lot of basketball fans (myself included) find themselves twiddling their thumbs waiting for an answer to fall out of the sky into our laps. Luckily, I have a solution. While now is a great time to dig through the vault and re-watch some classic matches from the 90’s, there were plenty of captivating contests worth casting your eye over from the 1,942 game sample size known as the 2019-20 season. I’ve dug back through the schedule to find the best of the bunch, with a few honourable mentions – allowing you to make the most of a free league pass subscription until the end of April.
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30th Oct – HOU vs. WAS
The Rockets and Wizards combine for the 3rd-highest regulation score in NBA history in a 159-158 points fest.
25th Dec – LAC vs. LAL
Clippers vs. Lakers, Christmas Day – need I say more?
16th Jan – NOP vs. UTA
First-time All-Star’s Brandon Ingram (49 PTS) & Donovan Mitchell (46 PTS) go head-to-head.
31st Jan – POR vs. LAL
Dame Lillard scores 48 vs. the Lakers in their first game since Kobe passed away.
23rd/24th Feb – WAS vs. CHI/MIL
Two straight 50 point outbursts from Bradley Beal in two straight nights.
4th Mar – BKN vs. BOS
Caris LeVert goes OFF for 37 of his 51 points in the 4th/OT to guide Brooklyn to a W.
10. Timberwolves vs. Nets – 23rd Oct
THIS year won’t be one that Kyrie Irving looks back on fondly when he reflects on his NBA career, managing just 20 games before succumbing to a shoulder injury that prematurely ended his season. In his short stint this year, Kyrie had some bright moments for Brooklyn, with the best highlight coming in his first game as a Net. He missed the potential game-winning bucket in a 127-126 overtime loss at the hands of Minnesota, but Irving excelled for the home side dropping 50 points along with seven rebounds and eight assists. His point binge was the highest-scoring performance by a player in his first game with a team in NBA history – topping the previous franchise record of 47 from Kiki Vandeweghe.
9. Spurs vs. Rockets – 3rd Dec
I’VE always been a big Lonnie Walker fan and his career-night on the 3rd of Dec gave the Spurs faithful a reason to believe in his future. Walker scored a personal-best 28 points off the bench for San Antonio in their clash against the Rockets – a double OT classic that made headlines for all sorts of reasons. The Spurs overcame a 50-point effort from James Harden and erased a 10-point deficit to beat Houston 135-133, but a disallowed 4th quarter dunk from Harden was a contentious topic of discussion postgame.
ORIGINALLY officials ruled the ball didn’t clear the cylinder, but replays clearly proved Harden’s bucket should have counted with the score 102-89 at the time of the call. Houston claimed they lost all their momentum from that point onward, leading to San Antonio working their way back into the game before running out as winners. Russell Westbrook (19 PTS, 10 REBS, 10 AST) and Clint Capela (22 PTS, 21 REBS) tried their best to support Harden, but some big plays down the stretch from DeMar DeRozan (23 PTS) helped the Spurs pull out a much-needed victory.
8. Celtics vs. Clippers – 20th Nov
WE weren’t quite sure when we would get to see Kawhi Leonard and Paul George play together once the new season commenced, but we only had to wait 15 games for the All-NBA forwards to feature alongside one another. Kawhi (17 PTS) and PG-13 (25 PTS) weren’t handed an easy task in their first match together – clashing with a hot Celtics team that challenged them all the way throughout L.A.’s 107-104 overtime triumph. Some end of regulation heroics from Jayson Tatum (30 PTS) forced an extra five minutes, with Lou Williams (27 PTS) scoring 13 in the last quarter to try and drag his team over the line.
IN a game stuffed with All-Star calibre talent, Patrick Beverly was the talk of the town though, chewing up a career-best 16 rebounds with 14 points, seven assists, three steals, a pair of blocks and a clutch, dagger 3-pointer in the final minute of the contest. A lot of L.A.’s strengths lie in their depth and talent across the whole roster and more efforts like this from Beverly is bound to keep the Clippers in championship contention when play does eventually resume. The win left the home team 9-1 at Staples Center and they only continued to ride that hot streak – posting the best record in the West in their own building.
Image from bleacherreport.com
7. Trailblazers vs. Warriors – 20th Jan
ANY game including the Warriors is a little less enjoyable this season, with Dub Nation looking like a skeleton of their former dominant selves. They had already battled Damian Lillard and the Blazers twice before they visited Portland in January, with this particular match drawing very little interest. Lillard wasn’t particularly hot entering the game either, failing to top 35 in the 14 matches prior – good by his standards, but still not an elite pace by any means.
THAT all changed in the second half of this game when Lillard scored FORTY of his 61 points including 21 in the third quarter alone! He needed an overtime period to help chalk up the new Portland single-game scoring record with Lillard eventually ending the game with 10 rebounds and seven assists amongst his 61 points (17-37 FG%, 11-20 3P%, 16-16 FT%) in the Blazers’ 129-124 W. This scoring binge kickstarted a purple patch for Lillard, with the Portland superstar averaging 37.9 PPG over his next dozen games before going down with an injury.
6. Raptors vs. Mavericks – 22nd Dec
NO margin is safe in today’s NBA, with teams commonly coming back from a double-digit deficit in the high octane offensive-minded league. Coming back from 30 points down though, that’s a feat that we don’t often see replicated. With just two minutes left in the third quarter that’s exactly where the Toronto Raptors found themselves against the Dallas Mavericks, trailing 88-58 with very little hope of a victory in sight. Fittingly, a Kyle Lowry three kickstarted their climb back into this game, with the Raps’ All-Star scoring 20 4th quarter points (just one less than the entire Mavs team) and proving to be instrumental in Toronto’s surge. Dallas tried mightily to fight off the home squad, with both teams battling for the lead in the dying minutes of the match. However, Dallas allowing the Raps to score 47 points in the final frame saw them pull off the NBA’s biggest comeback in over a decade and give birth to an instant classic.
5. Celtics vs. Lakers – 23rd Feb
SINCE the All-Star break, Jayson Tatum has (had?) elevated his game to emerge as a bonafide All-NBA talent on the wing. The third-year Celtic is averaging 29.9 PTS and shooting an unprecedented 46.8% from downtown in nine games since the mid-season classic, with his best showing in that stretch coming in L.A. against the Lakers. Tatum showed off his full array of shot-creating against LeBron and Co. with his form in the second and third quarter, in particular, capturing the attention of everyone in the arena.
SCORING 18 in both frames had the NBA community abuzz with Tatum proving to be unstoppable on the offensive end. Unfortunately for Boston, LeBron and Anthony Davis were about to flex their muscles and while the Celts kept things close in the see-sawing contest, L.A. was too good in the end, with a clutch LeBron jumper helping them take the lead late – once and for all. Tatum finished the night with a career-high 41 points, but not even that was enough to defeat the Lakers on their own floor. With the season on ice, the only way he and the Celtics can exact their revenge is through a possible NBA Finals battle with the championship favourite Lakers – a storied matchup that fans have been treated to 11 times already with Boston leading 8-3 in the series.
4. Hornets vs. Bulls – 23rd Nov
THERE wouldn’t have been many basketball fans that circled this matchup when the schedule was released, but thanks to Zach LaVine’s smooth shooting stroke, the Bulls and Hornets ended up playing one of the best games of the season in late November. There are times where NBA fans are forced to divert their attention and solely watch the player with the hot hand and this was one of those instances. Chicago star guard caught fire in the Spectrum Center en route to the best scoring effort in his NBA tenure – 49 points fuelled by an unreal 13 three’s.
ONLY Klay Thompson has had a better shooting night from behind the arc with LaVine’s 13 makes tied for the second-most three’s in a single NBA game. His final bucket came at an ideal time for the Bulls, with Chicago trailing by five points and under 10 seconds left on the clock. A Tomas Satoronsky three and a Charlotte turnover while inbounding the ball saw LaVine scoop up the ball and burry one last make from downtown with just 0.8 seconds left on the clock. The result was a 116-115 victory for the Bulls while the Hornets were left stunned trying to comprehend how they let a win slip through their fingers.
Image from sbnation.com
3. NBA All-Star Game – 16th Feb
FOR years the NBA All-Star Game has faced criticism with the league continually striving for a format that works for all parties involved. They may have stumbled onto a winner with help from Nick Elam and his creative ‘Elam Ending’ which was implemented this season. With both sides competing for a total score to end the game, the final period turned into a defensive bloodbath with both sides competing in an untimed quest to score 24 points. Anthony Davis (20 PTS, 9 REBS) came up with the game-winning free throw, but Kawhi Leonard (30 PTS, 7 REBS) was the one who took home MVP honours, thanks in large part to eight made 3’s – seven of which came in the first half. In typical All-Star fashion, there were plenty of highlights thrown into the Chicago showcase, but the high level of competitiveness at the end of the contest is what fans we and still are raving about.
2. Rockets vs. Celtics – 29th Feb
SOME people would vote for Houston vs. Boston as the best game of the year, with their late February meeting captivating the basketball world. Entering the contest the Rockets had generated plenty of flack for their ‘small-ball’ approach, trading Clint Capela away a few weeks earlier, leaving themselves without a traditional center in their lineup. Heading into this game, Houston had lost the rebounding battle in eight straight games (going 6-2 in that span) since trading Capela, but without a big man clogging up the paint, Russell Westbrook had plenty of driving lanes to go to work with and attack the hoop.
WESTBROOK started the game out hot and stayed that way throughout, but that didn’t stop Boston from building a solid lead early. Trailing by 16 early in the second quarter, the Rockets started their comeback – with no help from James Harden (21 PTS, 5 TO’s, 7-24 FG%, 4-17 3P%) who ended the game with a rough box score. On the other side, Jayson Tatum (32 PTS, 13 REBS, 5 ASTS) was Boston’s best and while he and the Celtics tried their best to close things out in regulation they still found themselves trailing by three with five seconds left in the game and Tatum standing at the free throw. Back-to-back misses led to a scramble for possession, with the ball finding Jaylen Brown (22 PTS) at the top of the key, who canned the game-tying triple as time expired. It mattered little with Westbrook’s 41 points leading Houston to an eventual one-point win, but fans who were at the TD Garden definitely got their monies worth.
1. Lakers vs. Mavericks – 1st Nov
IT feels like this game was played a lifetime ago, but I can’t find a better one from this season than the first instalment of LeBron vs. Luka. This matchup between the two superstars came just five games into the season with LBJ and the Lakers visiting Dallas leaving basketball fans salivating at the prospect of two-star duos going to war. James vs. Doncic turned into quite the affair, but Anthony Davis (31 PTS, 8 REBS, 2 ASTS, 2 STLS, 2 BLKS) easily managed to take home bragging rights against Kristaps Porzingis (16 PTS, 9 REBS). The large Latvian was far from the peak of his powers, playing just his fifth game after an 18-month hiatus, but his European sidekick helped pick up the slack.
DONCIC wowed en route to 31 points, 13 rebounds and 15 assists and it appeared like he was going to lead the Mavericks to a huge win, as L.A. trailed 100-103 with only six seconds left to play. However, Danny Green’s 24-footer as time expired meant another five minutes was in order and very quickly the Lakers went on a run to effectively end the game and claim a 119-110 W. LeBron James (39 PTS, 12 REBS, 16 ASTS, 4 STLS) was his stereotypical best throughout, helping himself to the 82nd triple-double of his career in the win, leaving him 5th on the all-time TD list. With 22 triple-doubles already to his name, you can bet your bottom dollar that Luka has the King’s total in his sights.
Banner from bleacherreport.com