best nba games on youtube
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By Luke Winkie / March 17, 2020 5:01 am

The only solace I took as the whole country entered a period of extended coronavirus quarantine was that, at the very least, I could watch a lot of basketball. Yes, the games would be weird. Yes, I’m sure Staples Center looks downright eerie when it’s empty. Yes there are bigger things to worry about — like a mounting death toll and a comprehensive bungling of the crisis on a state and national level — than Giannis’ MVP case. But I am a simple man with simple needs, and the NBA is usually here for me in times of great anxiety.

Obviously, that’s not happening anymore. The NBA temporarily pulled the plug on the season last Wednesday, and it remains up in the air when, or if, we will see live basketball again before autumn. This is a huge bummer for anyone who uses sports to cope, but thankfully, in the 21st century, there is a a wealth of old basketball games constantly bubbling to the surface on YouTube. Praise be to those video makers, sitting on an old VHS copy of the Sonics/Bulls from 1996, and saying, “Hell, I’m sure someone out there wants to see this.” They’re right, it’s me.

We’re all trying to come up with our own pet projects to distract us during a lengthy stay indoors. So here’s some food for thought; a crash course in NBA history, powered exclusively by video sharing services. These are ten games that are relevant due to historical, virtuosic, or just plain fun-to-watch reasons, and together, they can be digested as, like, a full TV season. Close your eyes, and you might be able to imagine that we’re living in a simpler time. Like 1998. 

Kings vs. Lakers, 2002 Western Conference Finals, Game Six

Losing the NBA also means we’re losing out on the very cathartic act of hating the NBA, so in lieu of bad foul calls, emergency Bill Simmons podcasts, and half-baked conspiracy theories, consider taking a journey back to 2002 for the most suspicious case of Stern-era match fixing. It’s all here; a massive free throw disparity, an apoplectic Chris Webber and Kobe Bryant’s infamous elbow check to Mike Bibby’s face. We’re all going to have a lot of time on our hands, so let’s spend it re-litigating 18-year old basketball debates.

Raptors vs. Lakers, 2005-06 Regular Season

Speaking of Kobe Bryant, some kind soul uploaded the entirety of his indomitable 81-point performance against the Raptors to YouTube. It’s worth a watch if you’ve only seen the highlights. In particular, it’s amazing how close the Lakers were to losing despite Bryant being on the all-time hot streak. 

Lakers vs. 76ers, 1980 NBA Finals, Game Six

Kareem was injured in this pivotal Finals game, so Magic, a 6’9″ point guard, started at center. By 2020 logic, when centers are fully expendable and a relative munchkin like Draymond Green can be the best defensive player in the league, this isn’t a big deal. Hell, right now the Sixers could reasonably start Ben Simmons as a big and nobody would bat an eye. Still, this was an unprecedented lineup shakeup in the early ’80s, making this game both a historical curio and a pantheon-level document of Magic’s greatness. 40 points!

Lakers vs. 76ers, 2001 NBA Finals, Game One

Here’s another 76ers/Lakers Finals matchup with a different outcome. You probably know the story here: Allen Iverson, in his one brush with greatness, brings a moribund roster to a title shot and enjoys one incredible night where he’s the best player on the floor. Rewatching it now, you can’t help but be struck by how odd this Sixers team is. An aging Mutombo is starting, the second scoring option is Eric Snow, and they almost got beat by the Raptors, of all teams, in the previous round. It’s wild. Iverson played with a lot of weirdos. It’s worth watching this game again for the empathy alone.

Chicago Bulls vs. Utah Jazz, 1998 NBA Finals, Game Six

I am a millennial male, and like so many other millennials, I did not witness Michael Jordan’s greatness as a fully conscious human being. This fact has caused some of the older people in my life to feel very, very old. So maybe, in this period of isolation, we owe it to ourselves to fill in our gaps with the GOAT. Some people might prefer Michael’s earlier work, when he was younger, springier, and hadn’t yet evolved into a world-renowned crank. But for now, let’s settle into 1998, Game Six, and probably the most iconic jump shot in the history of the league. At the very least, it will give our MJ vs. LeBron debates more substance.

Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks, 1985-86 Regular Season

As Larry Bird nickels-and-dimes the Hawks to death with a feast of slow-motion post moves, mid-range jumpers, and flailing white-guy runners, keep your eye on the Atlanta bench, as they slowly lose their mind over the course of a 60 point performance. 

Detroit Pistons vs. San Antonio Spurs, 2005 NBA Finals, Game Five

The San Antonio Spurs, best known for revolutionizing basketball with an emphasis on space, generous passing and positional versatility, also played some unwatchable games in the early 2000s. The Pistons/Spurs Finals from 2005 earned all-time low TV ratings, simply because bruising, trudging, 82-to-75 box scores aren’t particularly filmic. Still, there is something kinda nostalgic in revisiting these games today. We’ve come so far! Game Five is our choice, because of its scintillating Big Shot Rob performance. We’re still trying to find out why they left him that wide open. 

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors, 2016 NBA Finals, Game Seven

Don’t go watch this full game. It’s ugly. Without the suspense of the outcome, you’re basically looking at a bitter slog between two exhausted teams. That being said, this clip, of the final three minutes and 39 seconds of regulation, remains a compelling piece of television. I don’t know if there’s ever been more gut-squeezing tension packed in an NBA sequence. The LeBron block, the heroic Kevin Love defense, and Kyrie Irving hitting one of the greatest shots in league history long before he turned heel on the world. A happier time, really. 

Vince Carter Slam Dunk Contest, All-Star Game 1999

Yeah this isn’t a game. Sue me. Vince Carter’s dunk contest is by far, the single piece of basketball content I’ve consumed the most of. I doubt I’m alone in that. More than 20 years later, we’re still trying to work out the physics of the fourth dunk.

Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks, 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, Game 5

How does this only have 2,000 views? What other game offers you an undisputed apex performance from a franchise’s greatest player, (Reggie Miller,) and a cross-media bloodfeud with a beloved celebrity like Spike Lee that would’ve absolutely lit up Twitter if it happened now? Spend your quarantine analyzing Miller’s proto-Steph ballsiness, and just imagine if this game happened when Stephen A. Smith was on TV.