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John Wall Is a Magician

And James Harden can dance. These are the best and worst moments from a big playoff Sunday.

(AP Images/Ringer illustration)
(AP Images/Ringer illustration)

Let’s just go straight into things, given that it’s all very simple and linear:

There were three playoff Game 4s on Sunday: The Raptors played the Cavs in Toronto, the Wizards played the Celtics in D.C., and the Spurs played the Rockets in Houston. During those games, many things happened, some of which were good, others of which were bad, the remaining of which were nondescript. Let’s pull out some of the good moments and talk about them and let’s pull out some of the bad moments and talk about those, too. (And let’s ignore the nondescript moments, given that they were nondescript.)

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Good Moment: John Wall’s Leonardo da Vinci Pass

This one happened in the second quarter of what was then a close game but turned into a 121–102 Wizards rout. Wall had the ball up at the top of the key. He was looking to cause some trouble for everyone in a jersey that wasn’t the same color as his, because that’s what John Wall does. He hit Isaiah Thomas with a laser-beam-quick crossover to get him off balance, waited for Thomas to slide his right foot back, then attacked Thomas’s left foot by spinning into it, effectively removing Thomas from the play. By then he was already several feet into the lane, which, oh man, John Wall in the lane is no less appetizing for a defense than waking up stuffed in an old refrigerator filled with live scorpions, or live rattlesnakes, or live scorpion snakes is for you.

Kelly Olynyk slid over to try to stop Wall, and he had great defensive position, but Wall is such an uncontainable tornado that he simply slid out and around Olynyk and then — and I’m still trying to figure out how he did this, but he dropped a perfect no-look pass to Marcin Gortat by wrapping it around Olynyk’s body. You can see the play in the GIF below:

Two things here:

  1. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to label this GIF as NSFW or not. Because on the one hand, it’s definitely not pornography, but on the other hand it definitely is basketball pornography. I don’t know.
  2. As great as this play was on its own, it was made doubly better for Wizards fans because it involved Thomas, whom everyone in Washington, D.C., seems to respect right now but is also kind of annoyed with, and Olynyk, whom everyone in Washington, D.C. (and everywhere that isn’t Boston, I think), seems to want to swat in the chest with a two-by-four.

Bad Moment: James Harden Dancing LaMarcus Aldridge’s Skeleton Out of his Body in Front of 18,000 People

The best thing about this clip is that as soon as the ball went in, Reggie Miller, who was calling the game, declared, “That’s a mistake there by Aldridge,” which has been the no. 1 sentence said in the playoffs this year, I’m guessing.

Good Moment: DeMar DeRozan Daydreaming About LeBron James

During the postgame press conference after his Raptors lost 109–102 and were swept by the Cavs, DeMar was asked about a comment made by his coach about how the Raptors might’ve won if they’d have had more time. DeMar’s response: “If we had LeBron on our team, too, we would’ve won.” It was partially a frustrated answer, but also it was incredibly honest and true. This year brings the seventh straight Eastern Conference finals appearance for LeBron, which is all the way insane. Only two teams in NBA history have ever even done that (the pre-merger Celtics did it 13 times in a row from 1957 to 1969 and the post-merger ’80s Lakers did it eight times in a row from 1982 to 1989). And if LeBron and the Cavs beat whomever they face in the ECF, it’ll be seven straight Finals appearances for LeBron, a thing no other player has done in over half a century.

Bad Moment: The Celtics Allowing the Wizards to Go on a 26–0 Run in the Third Quarter

Tens of thousands of games have been played in NBA history, and never, ever, ever has a team even one single time won a game while also giving up a 26–0 run. And, to be clear, that’s not a stat that I researched or looked up, it’s just one of those stats that I know has to be true, same as if someone said, “No human has ever eaten an entire Hyundai before,” or “No human has ever been born with 100 heads before.” Those are all true. They all have to be true.

Good Moment: Patrick Beverley Hitting the First 3 of the Game

Not that long before the start of the Rockets-Spurs game, Patrick Beverley found out that his grandfather had passed away. There were tweets about him crying as he entered the arena and crying during shootaround, and that was sad enough, but then there was an actual shot that TNT showed of him walking into the arena, his face wet with tears, his eyes reddened by that specific and overwhelming devastation that comes when someone you love dies. It was all just completely heartbreaking.

It’d have been 100 percent understandable for him to sit the game out. But Beverley has a titanium skeleton and lava for blood, and so not only did he play, but he was also great (he was plus-27 in Houston’s 125–104 win, second only to James Harden’s plus-28). The most surreal moment was also the game’s first one: Following a scramble, Beverley ended up with the ball at the left wing all alone, and so he let it go. The ball spun through the air, then splashed through the net. When it went in, the arena of course cheered, but Beverley didn’t. He simply pointed up to the sky, wiped the new tears from his face, then went back down to get on defense. It was all just very remarkable. Sometimes basketball feels like something else entirely.

Bad Moment: The Raptors Getting Their First Fourth-Quarter Lead of the Series

It happened with about six and a half minutes left to go in the game, when Serge Ibaka converted an and-1 jumper to give his team a one-point lead. I wanted to be excited when it happened. I really did. I was waiting for that moment to come, hoping that it’d be this huge thing, like maybe it’d happen and then all at once the Raptors would realize they could keep pace with the Cavs, and then they’d go on this monster tear to win that game and the next one and the one after that, forcing a massive and totally surprising Game 7. Can you even imagine that? Can you imagine how much fun that would’ve been? Can you imagine how excited all of the people who don’t like LeBron would’ve been during that stretch? I mean, they haven’t gotten to say anything too bad about him for so long given that his Cavs, going back to last year, have now won 11 straight playoff games. They’d have been falling over themselves to call him this or talk about how he isn’t that. It’d have been such fun. And then we’d have gotten to watch LeBron and a suddenly fearless DeMar go at each other’s necks in that Game 7, and it’d have been so great. That’s what I wanted. That’s why I wanted that moment to be exciting, and to feel exciting. But it just wasn’t, and it didn’t.

Instead, it felt more like bait. It felt like false hope. It felt like the way that it feels at the beginning of a scary movie when the beautiful family is moving into the beautiful new house. They’re unpacking their boxes and giggling and they think everything is going to be fine. Meanwhile everyone watching in the theater knows that it won’t be too much longer before the walls start bleeding and people start getting body parts lopped off, which is pretty much what happened immediately after Ibaka’s shot went in: Kyrie Irving, the most adorable basketball serial killer of all, went nuts, pouring in 11 points in a row in about four seconds (it all began with that 3 in the video above), basically ending the game (and the series) right then and there.