As charity exhibitions games go, Saturday’s matchup between the Goodman League and Team Philly had just about everything you would want. You had suspense, as it wasn’t clear that John Wall would even show up for the game until he arrived late in the first quarter after dealing with flight delays in Lexington, Ky. You had a thrilling one-on-one duel between Kevin Durant and Philadelphia 76ers guard Louis Williams, who both topped 50 points.
You had an inspired comeback, as the Goodman League overcame a 23-point first-half deficit to take a lead in the third-quarter. You had highlight dunks, Durant dancing, a Tom Brady-esque pass from Jeff Green to Wall for a layup, DeMarcus Cousins taking a charge, the yet-get-an-NBA-check Nolan Smith crashing into the stands for a loose ball and you had a last second finish, with Durant missing a potential tying three-pointer in the closing seconds.
“We’re trying to do this for the fans. We want to win, represent our neighborhoods. Philly did a great job,” Durant said after scoring a game-high 56 points in the Goodman League’s 172-169 loss. “They played well. It was fun. I had a lot of fun. Hopefully we can do it again.”
What was missing? The game meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. It didn’t lead to a resolution of the labor impasse and will be forgotten as soon as the NBA returns...or in a week or two, whichever comes quicker. Players seem to be growing numb with playing strictly for entertainment or pride, they need a purpose.
If not for the NBA lockout, players would be sleepwalking through meaningless preseason games at this point of the year, but at least they’d be establishing chemistry for the regular season and fringe guys would be fighting for roster spots. Wall said afterward that he wants to get back to “real basketball,” because as a competitor, he wants to do more in October than scoring 38 points in front of less than 2,000 people in a high school gym. He would rather be playing the 76ers on Monday at Wells Fargo Center, as the Wizards were scheduled to do.
“It’s fun to play, its fun to give people in the community the opportunity to see NBA players play, if they can’t see a real game in person, but,” Wall said, “you get bored after a while.”
But Wall still wanted to come away with a different result, which wasn’t possible after Williams erupted before 34 of his team-high 53 points in the second half. Many of Williams’s points came with Wall in front of him and Williams quickly won over the local fans and Goodman League commissioner Miles Rawls, who kept begging for somebody to stop him. “He is just Burger King,” Rawls said of Williams in the second half, “having it his way.”
Wall and Durant have played on the same team for five games in the lockout-induced exhibition schedule and combined to score 420 points in five exhibition games this season. Their teams have gone 3-2, going down in the past two outings, including that 151-144 loss to Drew League last week, when they combined to score 105 points. “I’m disappointed we didn’t get the win,” Wall said after Saturday’s game. “That’s the main thing. I’m all about getting the win.”
Team Philly is now unbeaten on the pro-am challenges, after already defeating Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Chris Paul last month. Sacramento Kings guard Tyreke Evans wasn’t around on Saturday, but Williams, Kyle Lowry (44 points) and Hakim Warrick (32) more than made up for his absence. “Those guys played hard. Lou Williams had an unbelievable game and we couldn’t recover from that,” Durant said of Team Philly. “They’ve been talking trash to me for two or three weeks now. I wanted to put on a show.”
NBA fans are forced to keep waiting for the real show.