This is why we watch. This is why we stay up until ungodly hours of the morning on the East Coast and rush home from work in the West. This is why we grind through night after night on League Pass and pore through Basketball-Reference like its our bible.
We do it because Stephen Curry will probably go supernova in the third quarter and because Nate Robinson is never more dangerous then after getting kicked in the head. We do it because no one should ever count out the Spurs, even down 16 points in the fourth quarter. We do it because Tom Thibodeau's zombie Bulls will make the Heat work for everything they get. We do it for Manu.
Until about week ago the first round was a bore and a predictable one at that. The Heat were going to win and so were the Thunder. Everything else was just a way to fill the gap from one set of interminable commercials to the next. (Seriously, I want the dad to brain the kid with that bat in those Hopper ads and then use it on everyone else, Jack style in The Shining.)
Then Russell Westbrook got hurt and all hell broke loose. The Warriors gave us reason to believe (again) and the Grizz rose and grinded the Clippers into submission. The West was suddenly wide open again, which just meant that Kevin Durant would have to try even harder.
We didn't get the Game 7s we all hoped for, but we got something far better. Already the second round has given us Durant's Game 1 heroics and Roy Hibbert's defensive genius. We got Jimmy Butler going toe-to-toe with LeBron James and Danny Green making clutch shots.
I wound up watching the end of the OKC-Memphis game in the lobby of a suburban hotel with my dad and a complete stranger. By the end of the game we were high-fiving after each of Durant's cold-blooded shots brought the Thunder back from the brink.
I watched the Bulls outlast the Heat by myself in my apartment and felt drained, exhausted and ready to follow Thibs to the gates of hell if he asked. How he got his team without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng to believe they could beat Miami is one of his great underrated skills. He's not a fiery preacher like Mark Jackson or a stoic figure of eminence like Gregg Popovich, but he gave his team a system and the system will provide.
It doesn't hurt that he has Joakim Noah playing out of his mind or a fearless little freak like Nate Robinson. If you're going to do something crazy, better to have a 5-foot-9 ball of madness like Nate on your side.
Nothing could have prepared us for what was to follow. Seconds after it was over, many people were already claiming the Spurs-Warriors game to be among the best in playoff history and I'm not inclined to argue this point.
The highlights featured Curry's insane shot-making that not only included making threes around-the-world style, but his uncanny flip shots in traffic under the basket. I'll say it again, we have never had a superstar like Curry. He is physically unimposing and limited athletically, but he is a brilliant offensive player who is a master of creating space and bending it to his will.
Then there was the Spurs' fourth quarter run, a run that must be noted came without Tim Duncan, who was back in the locker room dealing with the flu. The run was so precise and cutting that its absurdity was almost beside the point. It wasn't until Kawhi Leonard drained a three to bring it down to five points that it seemed possible. Then Boris Diaw got his big body in the way to get a pair of free throws to close it to a single point.
Jarrett Jack, who would soon find himself in the netherworld of one of the worst switches anyone has ever seen, cranked a jump shot as fearless as can be, but it was soon wiped out by a Danny Green corner three. The overtimes ebbed and flowed and somehow Kent Bazemore was a playoff hero on the order of Glenn McDonald. (Look it up, kids.)
But the Warriors, who had been living dangerously all night, made one last terrible mistake. They gave Manu Ginobli another shot and that was all he needed.
We still think we know how this is going to end, with LeBron and the Heat raising another championship banner. If the end winds up being anti-climatic then the journey will have to suffice and right now the journey is everything. It winds and twists and leaves us speaking in all-caps and exclamation points. It's why we do this night after night and it couldn't possibly get any better than what we just saw, but maybe ...