The stage was perfectly set. The San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies, both battling to eventually get back into contention in the Western Conference behind point guards having the best seasons of their careers.
As expected, Ja Morant and Dejounte Murray put on a show in San Antonio on Wednesday night. In this meeting, Morant showed why he's a lock to be an NBA All-Star while Murray is still a hopeful candidate at the beginning of his journey to greatness.
Morant poured in 41 points and eight assists, dazzling local audiences all along the way. Meanwhile, Murray's late surge to help the Spurs fight to within two points with 1:39 remaining made this matchup we all hoped for when we labeled it the next big division rivalry in the NBA.
There was a way national audiences could've seen Murray secure his 10th triple-double of the season, tying one of the NBA's greatest players, David Robinson, for the most triple-doubles ever by a Spur. There was a way national audiences could've seen Ja Morant do things like this at least once a quarter.
All it would've taken was for ESPN to leaves things as they were. Then his happened.
ESPN's Decision Backfires Once Again
Yup, the Worldwide Leader in Sports instead opted to show the New York Knicks visit the Miami Heat, replacing the game four days before it was set to take place. Let's just go over some numbers from the game that ended up airing on ESPN between the 23-25 Knicks and the Eastern Conference-leading Heat.
Well, to start, the Knicks never led or even tied the game on the way to going down by as many as 30 points to Miami. The score was 92-67 after three quarters, so the majority of the game was blowout city until the Knicks scraped together 29 points in the fourth to set the final score to 110-96. Julius Randle shot 5-for-12 for 11 points and had a plus/minus of -34.
While that was going on, there were seven lead changes as the Spurs hosted the Grizzlies and several standout performances from supporting cast members like Devin Vassell and Desmond Bane. Still, the two stars who would've been showcased front and center on a national broadcast took over in the fourth quarter, both making big plays all over the court.
It would've been a great chance for ESPN to preview some of the lesser-shown teams, and in San Antonio's case, the only chance. But no, Memphis doesn't have the big market New York has. San Antonio doesn't either.
As I said just a couple of days ago, the disrespect for the Spurs is at an all-time high right now. Honestly, I get it for the most part. As I've said before, the team's rebuild isn't exactly always fun to watch. But come on, taking away their only chance to play for a bigger audience with a budding rivalry like Morant vs Murray to show the Knicks disappoint everyone again?
Whether it was Adam Silver, a programming director at ESPN, the NBA, or all of the above who made the call, I hope you're happy with the end product. I'm sure everyone was thrilled with that one more Knicks game to watch in addition to the other 20+ that were already set for a national broadcast this season.
We all know the Spurs are still rebuilding and aren't a good team this season as they try to grow and figure things out. But failing to recognize intriguing storylines and promising battles in favor of chasing big city ratings at every turn is a terrible look.
To everyone involved in making that decision, I hope you learned something.