As you may have noticed, the NBA season is on hold. With no live games to whet our basketball appetites, the NBA has removed the paywall from LeaguePass for a month.
While the NBA's archive isn't as deep as the NFL's, which goes back to 2009, every game from 2019-20 is available, as are a number of select classic games.
Overwhelmed with the options and unsure where to begin, I polled the RotoWire staff asking for the game they would most recommend re-watching.
Here are the results:
Celtics at Clippers: Feb. 13, 2020
Just before the All-Star break, the Celtics traveled to LA to face the Clippers in a possible Finals preview (hey, it could happen). The two teams battled through two overtimes. Lou Williams proved, at age 33, that he still has plenty of gas left in the tank in a 35-point performance. But, more importantly, Jason Tatum kick off an impressive 10-game run with 39 points, nine boards, five triples, one dime, one steal and one block in the win. From Feb. 13 to Mar. 10, Tatum averaged 30.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals, 1.0 block and 4.1 three pointers while shooting 48.6% from the field.
Lakers at Clippers: Mar. 8, 2020
This is one of the last games I watched in full before the shutdown. It was the third meeting this season between these two teams and the most well-played from wire-to-wire. Few regular season games truly provide a "playoff atmosphere", but this one had it, even if the bipartisan environment made it feel more like an Elite 8 matchup.
Early on, Paul George carried the Clippers' offense, while Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley did what Avery Bradley and Patrick Beverley do. The Lakers got huge games from both of their stars, but Bradley was the difference-maker, hitting six of his 12 three-point attempts. Bradley's 24 points helped offset a scoreless afternoon for Danny Green, as well as a Rajon Rondo game that was so bad he was trending on Twitter less than two minutes after he first checked into the game (seriously). Bradley, LeBron James and Anthony Davis combined for 82 of the Lakers' 112 points.
James turned things on in the fourth quarter, a 12-minute period that doubled as his announcement that he was officially running for MVP. James began the quarter with a top-of-the-key three over Montrezl Harrell, but he spent the rest of the period relentlessly working his way to the basket. Around the seven-minute mark, James blew past Kawhi Leonard and converted a layup through a careless foul by Marcus Morris. That would be a preview of the play that eventually sealed the game for the Lakers. With 45 seconds left, James sized up Morris on the right wing, drove to basket and drew contact as he finished easily. The basket put the game out of reach, with the Lakers leading by 11 with 40.8 seconds to play.
At the time, with the Lakers coming off of a home victory over Milwaukee two nights earlier, the win solidified the Lakers' place as perhaps the best team in the league. It also sent the MVP debate into a national frenzy, one that would come to a screeching halt just five days later.
Pelicans at Mavericks: Mar. 4, 2020
An overtime thriller featuring the two best young stars in the game? That seems like must-watch material for any NBA fan. Luka Doncic was the star of the show, tallying a triple-double that featured some excellent pick-n-roll feeds to Kristaps Porzingis and some deadly step-back three-pointers, many of which were in crunch time.
This wasn't Zion Williamson's greatest game, but he still shot 50 percent from the field and had a couple monster finishes. Porzingis and Brandon Ingram understandably get overshadowed by their star teammates, but Ingram had 27 points in this one, including some impossible jump shots down the stretch, while Porzingis had 34 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks — he is starting to look like he has his full athleticism back from his pre-surgery days. In addition to the top young draws, Lonzo Ball and Seth Curry both put on a show from behind the arc.
If you have not watched much Pelicans or Mavericks this year, this game features all the notable cornerstones on these rising powers in the West.
Rockets at Wizards: Oct. 30. 2019
Coming into the season, the Rockets' backcourt shaped up as one of the league's most intriguing and potent. Houston had seen the Chris Paul-James Harden duo thrive to an extent over the previous two seasons. However, on July 16, the Rockets traded Paul and multiple draft considerations to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook, reuniting two of the NBA's most explosive guards.
Coming into this game, the new-look Rockets had gotten off to a solid start, forging a 2-1 record over their first three games. Meanwhile, the Wizards had played their first three contests on the road, losing by eight and two points to the Mavericks and Spurs, respectively, while toppling the Thunder by a 97-85 score. Both Houston and Washington had exceeded 120 points once apiece prior to this game, but the staggering 317 points the teams combined for during this inter-conference matchup – in regulation no less – was completely unexpected.
The first half did offer a glimpse of what was to come, however, as the two teams engaged in an entertaining tug of war that culminated with the Wizards holding a razor-thin 77-76 halftime lead. Both teams had particularly kicked it into gear during the second quarter, when each racked up over 40 points. Intermission did nothing to cool either unit off, but Washington, playing its home opener, put up another 40-spot in the third quarter, adding five points to its advantage in the process.
Curiously, Westbrook had played a minuscule part in the fireworks to that point, collecting just three points through the first three periods. Meanwhile, Harden kept Houston afloat with 21 of his 59 points during the third quarter. He and Westbrook then combined for 31 points in the fourth, spearheading what would be a 48-point haul for the Rockets in the final 12 minutes. Ultimately, it would be a Harden free throw that would cap off a frenetic final two minutes which featured a Rockets' 7-0 run that erased a six-point deficit, two ties, and one momentary Wizards lead.
As the final tally implies, both teams found the net with regularity – the Rockets drained an impressive 53.4 percent of their 103 attempts, while the Wizards countered with a 62.6 percent success rate from the floor. There was no bigger lead than 12 points, so the game was closely contested the majority of the time. Harden's 59 points still rank as his second-highest total of the season, while the Wizards' Bradley Beal's 46 points qualify as his fourth-best tally of the campaign to date. In all, a combined 13 players generated double-digit point totals in the shootout.
Trail Blazers at Lakers: Jan. 31, 2020
I'm writing a blurb about the Lakers' first game following the death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash from my apartment due to a virus that's suspended the NBA season for 90 days and has forced the president to advise people to not gather in groups of 10 or more people – what on earth is going on?
Watching this game is like watching something from an alternate reality. The broadcast opens with piano music that will probably be seared into every NBA fan's head forever. You can feel the weight of Kobe's death on the crowd throughout the entire game – it becomes eerily quiet at points, as if no one really wants to be watching the game but they feel obligated to.
It only becomes a real basketball game at the 6:18 mark of the third quarter, when Damian Lillard uses a screen from Hassan Whiteside on the right wing, dribbles between both Avery Bradley and JaVale McGee with a crossover, drives to the basket and proceeds to throw down a seemingly impossible dunk over both McGee and Danny Green. It snaps the crowd out of it. You can see about 10 people at various spots in the arena – presumably Lakers fans – stand up in shock. What follows is one of the best 18 minutes of basketball I've ever seen.
Lillard dissects the Lakers' defense so well that it looks like he should be playing in a league above the NBA, helped by the fact that he looks like he's only pushing down on 80% of the throttle. He proceeds to hit a 30-foot three, a 27-foot three (while fouled), a 29-foot three, an offensive rebound putback, and then another 27-footer before the fourth quarter starts. In the middle of the fourth, he makes an unbelievably smooth left-landed contact layup against Anthony Davis. He then hits a free-throw line side-step fadeaway over Avery Bradley with 1:30 left to put the Blazers up by six which essentially ends the game.
Lillard finished with 48 points (17-30 FG, 7-12 3Pt, 7-8 FT), 10 assists, nine rebounds, two steals and only one turnover. We also can't ignore the performances of Hassan Whiteside (30 points on 14 shots, 13 rebounds, five blocks, two steals, two assists) and Anthony Davis (37 points on 22 shots, 16 rebounds, six assists, five blocks, one steal). According to Basketball-Reference's GameScore statistic, Lillard's performance (44.1) was the 35th-best in a road win over the past 10 years. Ironically, it ranks only one spot ahead of Kobe Bryant, who had his performance (42.8) in Portland.
2001 Eastern Semifinals, Game 2: Iverson Drops 54 on Toronto
We don't see seasons like Iverson's 2000-01 very often, where a player puts a mediocre supporting cast on his back and carries it all the way to the finals. Iverson won MVP that season, which was no small feat given how dominant peak Shaq and Tim Duncan were that year. But Iverson and his 31.1 points per game made an otherwise bland 76ers team appointment television.
I'm not being unfair about that 76ers team. No one else averaged more than 12.4 points per game. Having late stage Dikembe Mutombo and Sixth Man of the Year Aaron McKie made them plenty likable beyond Iverson, though.
And when he got to square off against Vince Carter's Raptors, we had all the makings of a great series.
Game 2 was one of the best games of this classic seven-game series, and while it wasn't as high stakes as Game 7, this was the Iverson Game.
Iverson was coming off a tough Game 1 where he went 11-for-34 from the floor on his way to an inefficient 39 points that would make modern NBA analysts faint. Philly lost that game on its home floor, so Game 2 was a must-win. And Iverson obliged.
A.I. had 28 first-half points but slowed down a bit in the third with just seven. He saved some of his best for last in the fourth quarter, though, when he took over with 19 points. For context, the 76ers scored 24 points in that quarter. You say Ball Hog. I say Genius.
So while this game hardly resembles what a game would look like in today's day and age, there's something refreshing about it. Iverson attempting 39 total field goals with only five of them coming from beyond the arc is just funny to look at in the box score and the shot chart.
But it also shows the kind of dog he had in him. Iverson never shied away. He'd drive the lane, shake you, then bury a pull-up J from 15 before you could even turn around. Or he'd knife his way to the rim and finish over guys who had nearly a foot on him.
Players like Iverson or Steve Smith on the NFL side hold a special place in my heart. They weren't the biggest but they were always the meanest, the scrappiest, and the toughest. And they'd let you know about it, too.
Iverson's MVP season, highlighted by this game, perfectly encapsulates what it looks like when the best player on the floor is also the hardest worker. It looks pretty cool, in my opinion.