Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Glitch in the Matrix

Like every American professional sports franchise, the New York Knicks have a specially-tailored video montage eternally queued up on the jumbo-tron to play in late-and-close situations. The montage features the usual suspects (but not actually a clip from The Usual Suspects). It's got Rocky. It's got Hoosiers. It's got Will Ferrell in the locker room scene from Old School. It's got Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own. The montage even has a few seconds from Al Pacino's perennially underrated life-is-a-game-of-inches speech from Any Given Sunday. Everyone's talking about winning and/or not freaking out. And inches. But, there's also a clip from The Matrix. It's from the scene early in the film when Neo is choosing between the blue and the red pills. Morpheus says something or other about destiny. And that quote is spliced into the pump-up montage, which is generally followed by the soaring, anthemic notes of Europe's "The Final Countdown."

The clip of from The Matrix jumped out at me tonight. Because something else happened that made me think back to that film. Something that wasn't supposed to happen. A glitch. Later in the film, when Neo and his band of be-leathered freedom fighters are returning from his visit to the Oracle, he sees a black cat pass. And, then he sees it again. He's told that deja vu is really a glitch in the matrix. And that it means that someone has changed something. In that case, the recurrent cat means that the bad guys had changed the situation to put the good guys in trouble. The takeaway, though, was that seeing the exact same thing two times was not right. It was the sign of a problem or that someone had bent reality. In tonight's game, there was a similar black-cat glitch. I had a feeling of deja vu. Because I saw the same thing. Twice.
With the Knicks playing a tightly contested - albeit poorly defended - game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Knicks forward Al Harrington emphatically slammed home a bucket with just less than 30 seconds to play that put the Knicks up by three points and seemed to push the game into the win column for the team from New York. But he was called for a technical foul for the manner in which emphatically dunked the ball. The call was unnecessary (because if you look at the picture you can clearly see that Al Thornton is beneath Harrington) but probably/possibly according to the letter (if not the intent) of the rule in the rule books. The Clippers calmly dispatched the free throw that they were awarded as a result of the technical foul. It was, then, a two-point game and the Clippers got the ball to former Knickerbocker Zach Randolph. The inscrutably effective Randolph managed to tie the game, but left enough time on the clock for one final regulation possession. The Knicks squandered that possession (and so much more). And, we were all "treated" to free basketball. In the extra session, the Clippers pulled out that game. The Knicks lost.

This is what happened tonight at the Garden. And, this is also what happened the last time the the Knicks played the Clippers. That game occurred on Feb. 11, just before the All-Star Break. And the same exact thing happened. I'm not kidding. The Harrington dunk for a three-point lead, the tech, the free throw and the game-tying points from Z-Bo. It's entirely inexplicable that two teams could finish a game in this manner twice in one season. Especially if they only play each other twice. It's mind-bottling. Yeah, mind-bottling. You know, when things are so crazy it gets your thoughts all trapped, like in a bottle?

I mean, those hanging on the rim/pounding the backboard technical fouls seem to be called maybe once a night across the NBA. On a busy day. Maybe? The guy I was at the game with tonight assumed it was far less often than that. But even if it's once a night that's still 1 in 10 games (there were 11 going tonight). And of those type of calls that are made, you can assume that only a fraction of those come with less than 30 seconds to play in game. And of those calls that are made that come with less than 30 seconds left in the game, you can assume that only a fraction of those games are actually close enough for the call to open the door for the team benefiting from the call. And of those calls that are made with less than 30 seconds left in a game that is close enough that the call can open the door for the team benefiting from the call, that only a fraction of those trailing teams are able to capitalize on the opportunity. And of those calls that are made with less than 30 seconds left in a game that is close enough that the call can open the door for the team benefiting from the call and in which said team is able to walk through the door, that the odds of that scenario playing out twice between the same foes in one season is astronomically small. Right?

But it's even crazier than it seems. Because not only did a very, very, very, very unlikely endgame scenario play out twice between two teams in the same season but it played out twice with the same players doing the same things. Al Harrington was called for the tech both times and Zach Randolph scored the tying points both times. I mean are the odds of this happening 1 in 1,000? 1 in 100,000? Do I need to start thinking about trillions again? Does anyone know anyone at the ELIAS Sports Bureau?

I was at tonight's game with the same fellow who I attended Kobe's 61-point (0 rebound) game with. And, we both agreed that what we saw tonight was statistically far more rare than what Kobe did. By several orders of magnitude. After all, Kobe's was the 60th 60+-point game in NBA history. And, I'm pretty sure that what happened tonight (when considered alongside what happened earlier this year) has never happened before. This was history. Or, a glitch.

And, just because I mentioned it...