The Six Stages of Exhaustion, as Revealed by Portland and Denver’s Four-Overtime Playoff Game

Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers tie up Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets during the third overtime of Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals at Moda Center in Portland, Oregon.
Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray battle for the ball—and through fatigue—in Portland on May 3. Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Perhaps the human body isn’t meant to withstand four overtimes of basketball. That was my main takeaway from the Portland Trail Blazers’ 140–137 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. The effects of this kind of exertion began to set in as the teams reached the second extra period. Delirium, mood swings, aches, extreme hunger, hot flashes—I suffered all of these as I watched from my couch. I assume it was pretty bad for the players as well.

Denver center Nikola Jokic logged 64 minutes and 58 seconds, which is the most anyone has played in an NBA playoff game since the last time two teams produced four overtimes, in 1953. But unlike that contest between the Boston Celtics and Syracuse Nationals, Friday’s ultramarathon was actually entertaining. Only one player—the Nuggets’ Gary Harris—fouled out in Portland. Compare that to 1953’s grudge match, which produced 128 total free-throw attempts and resulted in 12 players fouling out. Portland and Denver put on a show, and it’s a shame there had to be a loser. (It was Denver. Denver was the loser.)

Portland has a 2–1 series advantage, but both teams face a cruelly short amount of time to recover before Sunday’s Game 4. Friday’s battle took its toll, and, by analyzing postgame reactions, we can chart the six stages of extreme exhaustion as displayed by all those involved.

1. Denial.

Portland guard C.J. McCollum played 60 minutes and was the Blazers’ most potent offensive weapon. He scored 41 points in the win, and during his on-court postgame interview, McCollum seemed pretty chill about everything.

Sadly, delirium often presents itself as confidence in the truly fatigued. Let’s hope he was allowed to wander back to the locker room without interruption, as waking a sleepwalker can be very dangerous.

2. Memory loss.

In accordance with NBA rules, head coaches must remain in the bench area during gameplay. They literally aren’t allowed to run around, and yet, on Friday, Portland coach Terry Stotts showed signs of physical exhaustion during the postgame press conference. “I have no idea what happened in the first half or the second half,” he said. “Or the first three overtimes.” Somebody please get him some flashcards.

3. Physical breakdown.

Trail Blazers center Enes Kanter is playing through an injured shoulder, something he apparently has to tuck into his torso like the limbs of a discarded children’s toy.

Portland’s medical staff should stock up on two-sided tape and super glue in case Game 4 goes into overtime.

4. Clocks begin to malfunction.

Jokic’s nearly 65 minutes of playoff action was the most anyone has played in 66 years, and modern timekeeping technology couldn’t keep up with his feat of endurance.

Unfortunately for Jokic, his internal clock refused to reset back to zero, and fatigue likely played a part when he missed a key free throw that could have pushed the game into a fifth overtime. On second thought, this was probably a good thing for him.

5. Visitation from the black-gloved man.

Anyone who’s run a 5K or pulled an all-nighter to write a term paper will relate to this telltale sign of exhaustion.

The empty coat hanger, the biohazard disposal bin, the sport-jacketed angel of sleep—when you see these things, you just know you need some rest.

6. Acceptance.

The final whistle sounded nearly 3½ hours after tipoff on Friday. No one in attendance could have been prepared for such a grueling evening.

The human body is a peculiar machine. Sometimes it demands that you wrap your undershirt around your head and then eat said undershirt. Four overtimes is a lot.