Basketball is a game of passion. Of swings. Of runs. Of jumping onto your feet and screaming at the top of your lungs with eighteen thousand people and clapping excitedly under the thud-thud-thud of arena loudspeakers. It’s easy to get swept up in being a fan, in celebrating every basket and barking at every bad call. But it’s too much. The swings are too high-low and the runs too inevitable. To get personally involved in each ebb and flow only leads to blown blood vessels and broken remote controls bounced off carpet too close to innocent bystanders.
It’s easy to enjoy the game when CP3 and DX are hitting shots at will, kicking it out to Peja and MoPete for 3 after 3 like a torrential downpour, and all residual possessions are alley oops to Tyson Chandler. It’s easy to be a fan when you break the franchise record for wins in a season and are a few whistles away from the Western Conference Finals. It gets a little harder when injuries flare up and the wins don’t come quite so easily, when your big free agent acquisition isn’t really the “final piece,” your bench implodes and collapses into an abyss of statistical hell, and Championship dreams fall flat. It’s even harder when you start the next season 3-9 and start wondering what happened to all the big easy buckets and blowout wins. Suddenly, the trolls have crawled out from under their bridges and are out telling you how your team sucks, and even people on your own boards and blogs are calling to blow it all up. As if that would make your team any better.
This is what tests your fandom and reminds you that basketball is a hard fought game where nothing comes easy. This is what tells you you need to relearn how to watch basketball. How many adverse runs have I watched from the couch and told ticktock6 to calm down, this is a game of runs? Easy to preach, but putting it into practice comes harder. For sure, this season, more than any other in recent years, has reminded me that basketball is a 48:00 minute game; no matter how ugly, no matter how frustrating, the only thing that will matter is the W. When the playoff seedings are made, nail-biters against bad teams don’t count any more than statement games against division rivals; and blowout losses don’t hurt any more than the games we gave away, only to come back by fighting hard at the very end, only to blow any way. So you remind yourself that the runs don’t matter, only who’s left standing at the end; any one run, most nights, will not break the game.
Basketball has the unique quality, unlike most major sports, that 90% of the time, that one big play will NOT decide the game, just get another two points amidst the ninety-some others. The nastiest block at best takes away one possession, among eighty or so others. So what you teach yourself is to celebrate what you can, and to be patient the rest. You relearn the swell of the game and remember how a team that looks horrible for a 2-14 stretch over 3:47 can call a timeout, make a key substitution, and quiet the crowd while regathering and then come back with a renewed intensity on defense, better ball movement on offense, and just flat-out more go-get-itness, and suddenly reverse that deficit just as fast as they gave it up.
The truth is, more games than not, math works; the team that averages 40% from the field, but comes out shooting 60% in the first half, is often enough going to shoot 20% in the second half. It’s not an exactitude for every game, but as a typical balance, holds true. So as a fan, you have to brace yourself for all this. To be patient. To wait until the final buzzer, because virtually no lead is insurmountable, no run is unanswerable, and every swing of the pendulum one way will inexorably fall back the other.
Games like tonight’s home game against Memphis are precisely this kind of game, where we ran out ahead early, but Memphis answered. Where our second unit blew open the lead and the starters came back and held onto it, up by ten at the half. Then, incredulously, we started out the third, on our home floor, giving up a horrible 8-27 run, getting absolutely abused by a very good Grizzlies’ team. Game over? You could hear someone in the crowd muttering that this would be two home losses in a row. But then a Hornets run trimmed a ten-point Grizzlies’ lead to three heading into the fourth. Whatever optimism that may have engendered, however, was tempered as the tide swelled again and Memphis pushed it back to nine, deflating the crowd. That is, until Darius Songaila hit a highly unlikely contested three as the shot clock went off, shrinking the deficit again to a much more manageable six. But again, Memphis outworked the Bees until its lead was back up to ten, forcing the Hornets to call a time out. A few minutes later, Zack Randolph at the line can make it ten again, with only four and change to go; yet, after missing the second, Hornets get the rebound and Chris Paul rallies the troops, getting in everyone’s grill on both ends of the floor, and after a relatively quiet three-and-a-half, just flat-out goes nova: scoring 6 points, grabbing 1 rebound, and diming 3 assists in a five-possession span over barely two-minutes. Game over? Hornets win? Hardly. Still two-and-a-half left and Memphis fought back like devils and forced the Hornets to earn it. But they did. Hornets make the last shot with 0.8 to go and fight off Memphis’ final scripted play. Finally, the game swells to an end.
So, after becoming spoiled by success, I’ve had to relearn how to watch the game. But it’s been worth it.