One of the long-running arguments against the NBA is that the regular season doesn’t matter. It’s not true on the whole, of course, but when over half of the league’s teams make the playoffs, and that postseason takes another two months, it’s easy to see how people can reach that conclusion.
After all, everyone only has so much free time, and when regular season matchups are just 1/82 (normally), each singular one loses some meaning. But there is a sort of beauty in that insignificance. When every possession isn’t do or die, things flow more freely and you get to see things you never would in the playoffs.
Like, for instance, Zach LaVine and the Chicago Bulls going shot-for-shot with Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers. Tucked in between NFL playoff games on a Sunday in January, Bulls-Clippers wasn’t the first thing on anyone’s to-do list, but those who did watch were treated to a frenetic, exciting contest, which the Clippers ultimately won, 130-127.
Down by double-digits early, the Clippers got themselves back into the game in the second quarter, and after halftime we were off. Save for a single possession just after the break, neither team led by more than seven for the entire second half, which was mostly because everyone besides Leonard appeared to make a mutual agreement to just stop playing defense. The two sides combined to shoot 50-of-83 (60.2 percent) and made a combined 22 3-pointers in the final two quarters.
One stretch in the third, in particular, was just awesome. In the span of 40 seconds we went:
8:20: Zach LaVine 3-pointer8:04: Kawhi Leonard 3-pointer7:53: Zach LaVine 3-pointer7:42: Kawhi Leonard 3-pointer
LaVine actually tried to keep the pattern going, but ended up missing a 3 on the next possession. That proved to be a bit of foreshadowing, as LaVine would eventually miss a potential game-tying triple in the final seconds, allowing the Clippers to escape with a win.
The young Bulls star finished with a season-high 45 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, while Leonard put up 35 points, two rebounds, four assists and three steals in one of the best duels of the season so far.
The game doesn’t mean all that much beyond that, and it doesn’t have to. These random regular season thrillers that come out of nowhere are sometimes best left unanalyzed, and just appreciated for what they are: the sport at its most pure, when it is, truly, just a game.