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Clippers 94, Sixers 83: Love in a Dunkless Place

Brandon Davies discovers symbolism in a botched alley-oop.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This is about a 94-83 loss in which Blake Griffin scored 26 points and a borderline charge call on Hollis Thompson stymied an outside shot at a ridiculous comeback. But not really. It's about one play.

The scene: about 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, Jamal Crawford bricks a jumper and Evan Turner picks up the rebound and pushes the ball up the court. He finds Lorenzo Brown on the right side of the lane with a perfect 50-foot pass. Brown, who has Darren Collison caught in a 2-on-1, cradles the ball for two steps, credibly enough that Collison bites and takes a step toward Brown. In one motion, Brown tosses the ball back up and over the rim toward a streaking Brandon Davies and...well...let me show you:


That missed dunk. It's less a dunk than it is a statement--an aggressive statement of ambition unfulfilled. And it's less a statement than it is a microcosm--Evan Turner, not a scorer but a rebounder and a distributor, Lorenzo Brown as smooth but undirected and Brandon Davies, the eternal schlimazel, bounding like a baby horse down the court, bursting forth into the air assiduously he overshoots his target, and collapsing into dejection. And it's less a microcosm than it is a spiritual experience. I want to go to church with this missed alley-oop. I want to wear colorful vestments and compose hymns in its honor.

This missed alley-oop is my new boyfriend.

When the Sixers brought Brandon Davies on board, he was a joke to me, the guy who got kicked off the BYU team for doing the Hinkie Panky outside the bonds of holy matrimony. Since then, I feel like I've gotten to know him. Davies looks like an up-tempo power forward--he's tall, long and lithe. He's quick on his feet and aggressive, always moving without the ball.

But he's a terrible NBA player. Bless his heart, he's always going somewhere as fast as he can, but I can't always figure out where, and for what purpose. And that's what happens here--there's Davies, running like hell on the fast break. Remember, he's the power forward on the defensive team, and he's haulin' ass, beating everyone down the floor so he can get to a place where he can score an easy deuce, but he overruns the ball, has to go back a little to get it, and by the time he's retrieved the ball, he's missed the basket, like a probe that flies past Venus and into the Sun because some engineer at NASA didn't carry the one when he was calculating the second stage's escape velocity.

This is a poetic miss, the kind of buildup to a moment of artistry and precision, derailed by a quick-twitch mistake, that you ordinarily only find in soccer. I saw this unfold and crept to the edge of my seat in anticipation, then when the ball clanged off the rim and Davies landed splayfooted under the hoop like a toppling lawn dart, I curled back up and, God is my witness, shrieked like a wounded cockatiel. It was a pulmonary event.

I flashed back immediately to the miss that stands out above all others in my mind--2007, in the waning moments of the last game of the group stage in the UEFA Champions League, Glasgow Rangers trail Olympique Lyon 1-0. A draw sends Rangers through on goal difference, while Lyon advances with a win. A 19-year-old Karim Benzema has a shot cleared off the line, sending Rangers back up the field in a counterattack that ends up with striker Jean-Claude Darcheville with the ball, four yards in front of an open goal. And I mean completely open--the goalie had abdicated his position and all Darcheville had to do was make contact with any part of his body and bungle the ball in to seal advancement.

And from four yards out he missed everything.

It was the Cadillac of botched opportunities, and while the stakes tonight were lower and the miss less impressive, I thought of the ill-fated Darcheville as I watched Davies try to jam the ball into the hoop like the last pair of pants into a suitcase that already wouldn't close.

This is the wild, directionless tumble of modern-day Sixers basketball. This is ambition outstripping ability. This is not knowing any better. There are times when watching the Sixers is a chore, like listening to your ten-year-old son practicing clarinet--you hope he'll be good one day, but all you hear now is a series of earsplitting squeaks.

The reason this play was so great is that it encompasses everything about the Sixers on the court this season. It's ineptitude, but it's charming ineptitude. There's a charisma about how bad the Sixers are. And it's sloppy and it's bad and it's only the beginning.

But if that play is the microcosm for the Sixers, then it's fun. And it's awesome. And I love it.

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