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If you only tune in for the last two minutes, you missed Matt Barnes dunking and much more.

The First 46

NEW YORK, May 7, 2007-- I have a friend who says you only need to watch the last two minutes of a basketball game to see everything you need.

Well he's an idiot.(Though his mom does love reading this column.)

By not tuning in to the games until late, he's missing some of the best drama on television (and TNT knows drama!) and in the history of the NBA.

While there have been a handful great finishes to games, it has really been the first 46 minutes that have been the ones to watch through the first round of the 2007 Playoffs (and even into the first few games of the second round). It just proves that from start to finish, there is no more exciting game in sports than basketball. And Playoff games? Multiply that by 10 (anything bigger and I'd need a calculator). There's just nothing like it.

But if you spent the last two weeks (after Monday night, 46 NBA Playoff games will be in the books) just tuning in for the last two minutes, you've missed much of the excitement. Most of the games have even been decided by the time the final few minutes roll around. The top plays and exciting runs are taking place earlier and a total of five games have been decided by five points are less (meaning fewer "dagger" shots, big stops and tense moments down the stretch).

Of course, no one is telling you to turn off the last two minutes of a game (except maybe a wife, husband or annoying roommate who needs you to shut it off because it's late and they have a big day tomorrow), especially since NBA players are capable of just about anything. Yet on several occasions (specifically, Games 2 and 5 in the Lakers-Suns series, Game 4 of the Raptors-Nets series and Game 2 in Chicago), I've actually been able to go to sleep earlier than expected over the past fortnight because the last two minutes of the game is actually the only part of the game that I don't need to watch. To imagine that's just when my friend (who we'll call "Mark" because that's actually his name) is just tuning in.

What He's Missing

As the first round of games showed, we don't need last-second heroics to make a game or a series great (only the Nets' dramatic win over the Raptors in Game 6 actually came down to the last play of the game). The Golden State Warriors knocked out the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the greatest upset in history (their names actually start with the same letters as David and Goliath, it's just too bad that their roles are switched), and they did so without a single game-winning buzzer beater or defensive stop in the waning seconds. The only buzzer beater in that entire series came when Baron Davis hit from beyond half court just before halftime.

The Warriors crazy 25-point win in Game 6 to eliminate the Mavs featured Davis fighting through an injury to score 20 points and teammate Stephen Jackson's franchise playoff-record seven 3-pointers (all of which came in the first 46 minutes). The only thing my friend saw after had he turned on the game with two minutes to go were the Warrior celebration shots on the bench and the dejected Dallas shots.

But that was not the only series in which you needed to tune in early to see the best action. Of all eight first round series, the average margin of victory was never less than eight points per game. The Chicago Bulls swept the defending champion Miami Heat in four games by an average of 11.0 ppg. Only five of the 41 first round games were decided by fewer than four points and four of those games were in two series (Utah-Houston and New Jersey-Toronto).

But if you weren't watching the first 46 minutes of these games, you would have missed more brilliant passing from Steve Nash, like his full-court alley-oop to Shawn Marion in the second quarter of Game 2 against the Lakers. Or any of Nash's amazing 23 assists in Game 4.

Or every single one of Jason Kidd's 16 points, 19 assists and 16 rebounds in Game 3 of their series. Or Vince Carter's dazzling array of reverse alley-oop dunks and other acrobatic moves in the lane (only seven of the 150 points he scored in the series came with under two minutes to go in the game).

Or Kobe Bryant scoring 45 points in Game 3 against the Suns to almost single-handedly notch a victory for the one-and-done Lakers.

Or the All-Star-izations of Jason Richardson and Luol Deng ,who were able to do what 2007 All-Stars Dwight Howard, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Yao Ming, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady could not do: lead their teams to a first round victory.

Or Andrei Kirilenko's game-changing (and series-changing) block on Yao Ming at the start of the fourth quarter to spark a Jazz run in Game 6 against the Rockets.

Or every one of Matt Barnes' demoralizing dunks. (Does this guy remind anyone else of a poor man's Tayshaun Prince?)

The Final Two

But just when you thought it was safe to head for the exits early or turn the game off in the fourth quarter because everything happens in the first 46 minutes, we had two classic 48-minute games on Sunday afternoon.

In the first game of the day between the Nets and Cavs, the two teams were actually tied after three quarters (a close game, finally!) and the two teams traded small leads in the final quarter until the final buzzer sounded and Cleveland held on to a four-point win (Despite feeling the effects of a virus, LeBron James played exactly 46 minutes in the game).

And if you turned on the second game of the day between Phoenix and San Antonio with only two minutes to go, well you missed Steve Nash and Tony Parker going head-to head (literally) all game. You would have no idea why there was blood spurting out of Nash's face (it looked like he was on the undercard of the Mayweather-De La Hoya fight) as he sat on the bench while San Antonio hit its free throws to seal the deal in the final minute. You would also have missed the continued development of Amare Stoudemire, who is absolutely back from his knee injury and will (mark my words) win an MVP Award in the next four years. (Are they marked?)

Should You Keep Reading?

If basketball columns are anything like NBA games (and they would be if you could fit 20,000 people around your computer), consider these final few sentences like the final two minutes of a game. If you just started reading, would you have any clue what I'm talking about? And even now that it's crunch time, are you going to stop reading? (Of course not.) Not when I only have one more play to win the argument before the horn sounds (and your boss comes walking back down the hall).

It's simple, really. Ask yourself how you think fans would like it if a player didn't start trying until the last two minutes of the game? Probably not too much. So what gives fans the right to do the same? We all have our roles to play and no matter what time the game starts at night or on the weekend, you have to be there ready to go at the top just like the players are.

The greatest thing about being an NBA fan is the excitement and anticipation of not knowing when you are going to see something amazing or historic (and those very catchy and highly entertaining opening numbers before the games on ABC).

It might be a crazy shot with the shot clock winding down in the first half, a game-changing play that sparks a run in the third quarter or, yes, even a game-winning shot as time expires at the end of the fourth quarter. You just never know. That is why games are 48 minutes long and not simply a two-minute sprint.

Final buzzer. I win.


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