WASHINGTON -- As they waited for the ball to be inbounded in the third quarter of the Goodman League-Drew League contest for bicoastal streetball bragging rights, Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant and James Harden collided near midcourt.
Durant, playing for Washington, D.C.'s Goodman team, had been jogging toward the 3-point line when Harden, representing Drew of Los Angeles, abruptly halted in front of him, sending a hard shoulder into his wiry teammate's chest. Durant, who won the MVP award for his 44-point effort, threw a snarling forearm into Harden to create space. Undeterred, Harden shuffled forward and again leaned hard into his teammate to deny him the ball.
And so it was throughout an exciting and close game eventually won by the Goodman League, 135-134, at Trinity College in Northeast D.C. It had everything an NBA-deprived fan in the midst of a lockout could want: teammates set against one another, a surprising level of intensity, big-name stars going at each other all night. And an exciting finish.
After Harden split a pair of free throws with 29.1 seconds left to put Drew up by one, Durant was fouled on the other end and hit both freebies to give Goodman a one-point advantage with 21.5 seconds to go. Both Brandon Jennings and Harden were able to get off shots, but neither could connect, sealing the victory for the East Coast club.
The high-scoring battle between Harden and Durant, who guarded each other throughout the game, was the centerpiece of the evening, but Jennings and John Wall (Goodman) also riveted the crowd as they took turns proving who was the fastest man in the building.
Jennings owned the third quarter, repeatedly whirring past Goodman defenders and finishing over the likes of Durant. The point guard from Compton had his L.A. brethren ahead early in the fourth, but former Kentucky Wildcats teammates Wall and DeMarcus Cousins turned the tide when they checked back in for the non-pros on the Goodman team.
Cousins dominated the boards and released the quick outlets so crucial to scoring in a game in which neither team ran a single set or seemed particularly interested in letting the shot clock tick under 15 seconds. Wall was on the receiving end of many of those passes, matching Jennings' efforts with nine points and an assist in one two-minute stretch in the fourth quarter.
Just like in his first NBA season with the Kings, Cousins was unable to resist hacking his opponents, and finished with around seven or eight fouls. But unlike in the NBA, there was no fouling out of this game. That drew the ire of Drew League players and coaches, who complained that they hadn't been told of the special rule.
"I don't know how they do that in the Goodman League," said Drew coach and commissioner Dino Smiley. "We rotated our big guys in the first half because they were in foul trouble. If we knew there was no foul-out rule, we would have taken them out of the game."
The miscommunication was just one of several hiccups that reminded fans that as fun as the night was, professional basketball requires an event-management infrastructure that is often taken for granted. The game tipped at 6:30 p.m. ET, but the stands were packed tight for an hour before then, and event security said that they turned away "thousands" of ticketed costumers.
Goodman commissioner Miles Rawls, who had tried to reserve a larger space, anticipated the demand would outstrip the supply of seats.
"I knew I needed a 5,000-seat arena, but I couldn't get one and Trinity opened their doors to us," Rawls said.
But for those who made it inside the small, all-female Catholic university's gym could hardly ask for a better night. The players seemed to find a perfect mix of intensity and nonchalance, creating the broken plays and missed assignments that could be finished with incredible alley-oop dunks without the game ever turning ugly.
Rawls worked the mike with his usual aplomb, entertaining the crowd by challenging DeMar DeRozan to hit two jumpers in a row and calling Cousins, playing for his Goodman team, "Bad Attitude" all game. Rawls even caused Spurs guard Gary Neal (Goodman) to laugh so hard he lost control of his dribble when Rawls said Neal was "reporting for basic training," in reference to Neal's clean-shaven look.
It was an exhibition, but city reputations upped the ante. By the end of the game, the pace had slowed and the fouls became hard and frequent.
The Drew League players and coaches were convinced they'd been jobbed by one-sided officiating. The officials were the regulars from Goodman League games at the Barry Farm courts in Southeast D.C.
Said Smiley after the loss: "We came out here on the East Coast. They've got 99 percent of the crowd, 100 percent of the referees."
On Twitter after the game, Harden and Durant continued their on-court battle. Harden wondered "did we get cheated??" and referenced a controversial block/charge at the end of the fourth quarter that went Durant's way. Durant would have none of it, playfully responding with a tweet that said Harden was both moving and flopped on the play.
Ty Lawson, who sat out most of the game after rolling his ankle in the first quarter, didn't put an asterisk next to his team's victory.
"They talked trash, we talked trash," Lawson said. "The debate's over, we've got the crown now."
The intrigue surrounding the narrow victory should increase the likelihood of a return game between the two teams in Los Angeles. Smiley hinted that Kobe Bryant was leaning toward playing if there is indeed a rematch in September.
Said Rawls on the prospect of bringing the Goodman group to Southern California to face off against Bryant and company in their own backyard: "I don't care who plays. We're coming."