The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Believe It or Not Dept.: Clippers beating Heat more exciting than the Oscars

January 13, 2011 | 12:10 pm

Blake_griffin I have to admit that it felt a little like playing hooky, but last night I took a night off from seeing movies to go watch the Clippers play the Miami Heat--you know, the LeBron James-led group of larger-than-life basketball superheroes who had won 21 of their last 22 games and were on the verge of tying a franchise record for consecutive road victories. One of my pals had courtside seats, so how could I refuse? We figured we'd get to see James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh up close, and well, hope against hope that the woeful Clippers (who were 14 1/2 games behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division) could stay within shouting distance of the Heat behemoths for even a quarter.

And then, of course, the Clippers won. Led by their own superhero, rookie Blake Griffin, they scored 44 points in the first quarter alone, which must be some kind of team record, since Clippers fans are usually happy if they score that many points in a half. More amazingly, the Heat didn't even look flat, like many NBA teams do on the road. They were just plumb outplayed by the Clippers, who buried shots from all over the floor and played tenacious defense, forcing James to take 24 shots to make 27 points. And oh yes, Griffin put the icing on the cake with a spectacular two-handed jam in the fourth quarter.

At halftime, after one of my pals finished teasing me about spilling my bag of peanuts when I tried to catch an errant pass from Wade, he started bugging me about what everyone bugs me about this time of year: the Oscars. Of course, all everyone wants to know is which movie is going to win best picture. I told him, like I tell anyone who ever asks, that it's been a two-movie race for months -- best picture is either going to "The Social Network" or "The King's Speech." No one else is really close. "The Fighter" had a moment in the sun, "True Grit" looked good until the Coens didn't even get a DGA nomination, but it's hard to find anyone with the kind of overpowering enthusiasm for either film that would translate into a best picture victory. In fact, the 10 films that will be announced later this month as best picture nominees are probably the same 10 movies most pundits were picking a month ago.

That's when I found myself telling him, "You know, this game is a helluva lot more exciting than the Oscar race, because you really don't know who's going to win." Maybe that's why, with the exception of last year, the Oscar ratings have been in steady, precipitous decline. Here we were at an NBA game that was supposed to be a laugher, yet one of the worst teams in the league miraculously pulled off a huge upset. It happens in sports all the time, the lowly losers whupping the invincible giants. Yet at Oscar time, there is rarely any huge level of suspense. By the time the nominations are announced, much less by the time the ceremony occurs, the experts have largely made the right calls about who's in and who's out.

Sure, there are occasional surprises and snubs. But it's as if we know too much about academy voters' mind-sets, or even worse, that academy voters too often engage in the kind of boring groupthink that leads to predictable nominees and winners. Imagine how more thrilling it would be if last year, when there was another predictable two-horse race between "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker," if the winner had turned out to be "The Blind Side." Or if this year, the best picture envelope was opened and it was announced that the year's best picture was ... "The Town." 

That's not the way it happens. But the Oscars could use a lot more of the unpredictability that gives sports its "thrill of victory, agony of defeat" rooting interest. If the Clippers can beat the Heat, then surely on any given night, anything can happen. I wish I could say the same for the Oscars, because as it stands right now, the event's cozy, collegial predictability has robbed it of way too much of any real spontaneity or excitement.

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Clippers power forward Blake Griffin taking off for a basket against LeBron James and the Miami Heat at Staples Center. Credit: Gary A. Vasquez / US Presswire