Where were you the night of April 13, 2016? Were you still awake in the wee hours of April 14? I hope you were. And hopefully you were watching the final night of the NBA regular season, because it will go down as one of the most memorable nights in sports history. I am not […]
Where were you the night of April 13, 2016? Were you still awake in the wee hours of April 14?
I hope you were. And hopefully you were watching the final night of the NBA regular season, because it will go down as one of the most memorable nights in sports history.
I am not exaggerating either. That Wednesday night, the night Golden State broke the infamous 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ record for most wins in a season, the night Kobe Bryant played his last NBA game and went out with 60 points and the game-winner, will be talked about 10, 20, maybe even 30 years from now.
It was amazing how the night played out too. Both games started around 10:30 p.m. EST, but each displayed memorable stretches at alternating times – almost as if the basketball gods knew what was going on and allowed the viewer to get the best of both worlds.
The “last” button on my remote definitely got a workout. At first I watch Kobe get introduced. Switch over: I see Stephen Curry go nuts in the first quarter and score 20 points while Kobe is struggling. Switch back: the next thing I know, Kobe has 22 points at halftime. Switch again: Curry comes back to start the second half and goes bonkers once again, scoring 23 points to pretty much put Utah away and lock up win No. 73. Switch for probably the 50th time of the night: I get back just in time to see the last five minutes of the Laker game. I watch Kobe score 17 straight points on his way to 60 and see him drain essentially the game-winner on one of his patented elbow jumpers. It was pretty magical.
The night becomes even more unforgettable when one considers the context of everything.
Obviously, Golden State’s 73rd win sets the NBA record for most in a regular season. The record stood for over 20 years and, if I were a betting man, which I am, I would bet a nice chuck of change that the Warriors’ win total will stand for at least another 20, if not my entire lifetime.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Warriors’ 73-9 record is the fact they went 11-1 against the league’s other top four teams (San Antonio, Cleveland, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City), including 3-1 against the Spurs. The Spurs only went 67-15 – tied for the seventh best record in league history. No team beat Golden State twice and they never lost two in a row – two things the Bulls can’t say. The only team to beat Chicago twice? Think about it and I will tell you in a bit.
Then there is the freakshow that is Steph Curry. The soon-to-be two-time MVP led the league in scoring (30.1 ppg) and steals (2.14 spg). He became the seventh player in history to shoot 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three, and 90 percent from the free throw line. Of those seven, he averaged the most points and had the second highest three-point percentage behind Steve Nash (47 percent). His 90.8 free throw percentage also led the league.
Here is where things get mind-boggling. Curry attempted 1,598 shots this season, 886 of which were threes. Yes, more than half of his attempts were triples and he still shot 50 percent from the field. That’s ridiculous. He also became the first player in history to make at least 300 three-pointers in a season. And he finished with 402.
In just his seventh year in the league, he already has four of the top seven three-point shooting seasons in history, including the top two. His teammate Klay Thompson is third after making 276 this year. Curry is then fourth and seventh. Yeah, that’s right, together they made 678 three-pointers this year – more than every other team in the league but one (tied OKC).
It must be so fun to guard Curry. His handles are so crazy that you have to give him room or else he will crack you in half and blow right by you. But at the same time you can’t give him more than six inches of space or he will pull up from anywhere, including six feet behind the line, and bury it like he was shooting a golf ball into a swimming pool. Oh, but don’t react too hard and foul him, because he will make nine out of every ten free throws. You almost have to run a triangle-and-two, with two on him. Even then I am not sure it will work.
Then there was the Mamba. Kobe had the whole day dedicated to him, fully equipped with its own Twitter hashtag of #MambaDay.
Given all that was made of his final season and his last game in particular, KB24 did not disappoint and once again rose to the occasion.
He didn’t score 30. He didn’t score 40. No, not even 50. Yes, he went for 60. Or as Shaquille O’Neal put it, “I challenged him to get 50, and the m—–f—– got 60.” Of all people, The Diesel should have known better.
But it wasn’t just that Kobe got 60, it was how he got 60. Sure, his teammates gave him the ball almost every time down the court, and he did shoot 22-for-50 from the floor – although 44 percent is right at his career average. No, it was him scoring 17 straight points in the final six minutes of the game to lead the Lakers to victory.
Kobe stuck an 11-foot jumper to get Los Angeles within three with 5:41 left. Two-and-a-half minutes later Utah’s Gordon Hayward was making his second free throw to open the Jazz lead to 10. It was over. Kobe’s last game would be a double-digit loss and he would finish with a respectable 45 points.
And then the Black Mamba, for the last time ever, struck in deadly fashion.
Over the next three minutes Kobe would go a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the line to lead the Lakers back. It was obvious during every timeout that Kobe was about to fall over, exhausted to the point that it looked like his 37-year-old body would collapse at any moment. But every time he got the ball in his hands, it was as if he was struck by lightning from Father Time himself, telling him to make the most of his final possessions before they were gone forever.
It all culminated with 31 seconds left and the Lakers down one, when Kobe came off a double pick and pulled up for a 20-foot jumper. Swish. Bang. Cash. Buckets. Any word one can think of to describe the ball going perfectly through the net, that was it.
Kobe would make two free throws on the ensuing possession to push the lead to three, and then assist on Jordan Clarkson’s last-second dunk to end the game. Yes, Kobe’s last play was an assist. Ironic, don’t you think?
It was that will, that killer instinct, that desire to be the best, that pushed Kobe through those final minutes – just as it had pushed him through his whole career en route to five championships and 18 All-Star Game appearances. It’s what made Kobe, Kobe.
He is definitely one of the best players I have ever seen. In no particular order, my top five would probably go: MJ, Kobe, Shaq, Lebron and Brian Scalabrine. Obviously Scalabrine is a joke. If you aren’t hip to the reference, Google “Brian Scalabrine memes” and have yourself a good laugh.
The greatness of the night showed in the television numbers too. According to CNN, the Golden State game on ESPN had an average viewership of 3.6 million viewers, just ahead of the average of 3.4 million viewers on ESPN2, which televised Kobe’s head-shaking performance. The Warriors’ game peaked at 4.2 million viewers, which was roughly in the second quarter. The Lakers’ game topped out at 5.1 million viewers, which came towards the end when Kobe was closing in on 60 points. So apparently a lot of people were watching.
Who won the championship 10 years ago? Who was the MVP of the league? How many points did MJ score in his final game? Exactly.
I’m going to say 10 years from now when someone asks you who holds the record for most wins in a season, who was the MVP of the league, and how many points did Kobe drop in his final game, you will be able to answer all three questions with ease. And then you will be able to say it all happened on one night in a simultaneous three-hour stretch. And then you will smile while the memories replay in your head.
That is, if you weren’t passed out like my pregnant wife was. Boring.
And for those still curious, the Indiana Pacers were the only team to beat the Bulls twice.