The first-ever NBA Rivals Week just concluded, and it lived up to the billing and more. We saw high-flying action, high-scoring shootouts, explosive performances, intense battles, and cardiac finishes, all between two teams who either have history or brewing storylines.
It’s basically an extension of the Christmas Day games, where a handful of marquee matchups were featured, only in this installment, it goes on for days.
Without further ado, let’s recap the best of the best!
January 25 – Wednesday
Heat – 98 | Celtics – 95
The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics kicked off the rivalry games last Wednesday. Though Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler sat out due to an injury, it was still a very entertaining contest, and his two main partners in scoring filled the void. Bam Adebayo hit a go-ahead basket with just 20 seconds left to put Miami up two, while Tyler Herro stole a Jayson Tatum pass to help seal the win. Adebayo and Tatum had a good duel, posting 30 and 31 points, respectively.
Clippers – 133 | Lakers – 115
The Battle of LA! It was extra intriguing too as the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George tandem was finally on again (a rarity). LeBron James highlighted the game as he fired off 46 points to become the first NBA player to score 40 or more points against every franchise in the league. But, of course, Kawhi and PG got the last laugh with a one-sided victory.
January 26 – Thursday
Sixers – 137 | Nets – 133
Ben Simmons was back again in Philly, and the city’s ever-rowdy crowd couldn’t wait to heckle the living daylights out of him, which they definitely did. The 26-year-old chipped in 12 points (high based on his standards), Nic Claxton (25 points, 11 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (30 points, 10 assists) each had a double-double, and Seth Curry came off-the-bench with 32, but it wasn’t enough. Joel Embiid and James Harden didn’t have to have monster numbers to get the W.
Warriors – 122 | Grizzlies – 120
We can’t call it a rivalry because the Warriors always win, but there’s definitely no love lost between these two, and that makes it a very fun watch. Like most games in Rivals Week, this featured a ton of key moments. Memphis controlled the pace, the Warriors battled their way back, Steph Curry got ejected for throwing his mouthpiece, they exchanged leads in the final minute, and ended in Jordan Poole sneaking in off an inbounds pass for a go-ahead layup.
January 27 – Friday
Knicks – 120 | Celtics – 117
One of the oldest rivalries in the NBA! It was a classic Celtics rally in the 4th that led to an extra frame, which then featured a resilient Knicks squad. They stayed the course despite squandering a 4th quarter lead and trailing by five in OT, led by Julius Randle’s clutch baskets. They also got lucky with Jaylen Brown missing clutch free throws, allowing them to hold on and bring home the victory.
January 29 – Sunday
Sixers – 126 | Nuggets – 119
This was one of the most anticipated matchups in Rivals Week. It pitted reigning back-to-back NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and the back-to-back runner-up Joel Embiid, easily the two of the best centers in the game right now. Jokic is still at the top of the MVP ladder, but Embiid got this round, big time. He led Philly’s comeback, scoring 47 points and hauling in 18 rebounds, including a couple of crucial baskets in the 4th quarter. Jokic, meanwhile, had a quiet 24 points and turned the ball over seven times.
Celtics – 125 | Lakers – 121
Two of the winningest franchises in NBA history closed out Rivals Week, and it turned out to be one of the most controversial regular season games in a while. One bad or missed call after another happened at the most crucial times, and you can’t help but assume that it altered the outcome of the game.
The silver lining was we witnessed an extra period of intense basketball, which was awesome because the four quarters already had plenty of action – the Lakers playing better than usual, LeBron James having his classic scoring tear in Boston, the Celtics mounting their patented comeback, and Pat Beverley soaring for a go-ahead, putback dunk out of nowhere.
There’s a lot to be said in this Celtics-Lakers clash, but we’ll let you explore all those other aspects. It’s definitely an instant classic, though.
Rivals Week should be back!
Maybe this is just my NBA high talking, but I feel like it’s safe to assume that this special set of games will be laid out again in 2023-24. Hopefully, it gets done at least twice in the NBA calendar. There’s countless games across the six-month regular season, so it’s great if there’s one or two weeks where there’s multiple headlining matchups in consecutive days.