There is a famous saying that every NBA fan knows, and is reminded of every Spring: a playoff series doesn’t begin until someone wins on the road. If we apply the logic of this statement more broadly, we can say that the 2024 NBA postseason has not yet begun. Through three days of games, the home team has still taken every contest. This almost changed Monday night—twice. Alas, it did not, but it’s fair to conclude that the playoffs are here regardless, because we were treated to two manically entertaining finishes that were strongly not-the-regular-season stuff.

In the first of these, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse lost his team the game by calling for too many referee reviews. The challenge card is always a risky one to play, and Nurse flashed it at the casino dealer one too many times on this night. After winning a review he shouldn’t have—Kyle Lowry clobbered Donte DiVincenzo on the shoulder as he knocked the ball from his hands—he went in for another questionable rebuke. This time, it was Lowry again, but he was not exonerated. He did, indeed, foul O.G. Anunoby, as anyone watching the game could have told you. The officials affirmed the obvious, and with just 57 seconds left, the Sixers were down to one timeout.

Moments later they would badly need one. Jalen Brunson, nearing the end of one of the worst nights of his career, finally saw a shot go in—fatefully, off the front of the rim and then through the net. His New York Knicks went straight into frenzy mode as Philly tried to inbound the ball, and when it reached Tyrese Maxey’s hands, he appeared too overtaken by the moment to control his body. Bobbing and grasping for it, pursued by Brunson and Josh Hart, Maxey fell. Hart took it from his tenuous grasp, and then an especially broken play led to a DiVincenzo three.

In a matter of seconds, a five-point lead became a one-point deficit. The Sixers never scored again, and now trail 0-2 in the series. An especially cosmic-minded bystander might suggest that this memorably nutty sequence was the karmic reverse of Reggie Miller’s cruel 8 points, 9 seconds moment in Madison Square Garden nearly thirty years ago. For Sixers fans, the sourness is abundant. Every year of Joel Embiid’s career, their seasons have ended with grave messages from the basketball gods. There’s still time to avoid another, but it’s not so likely that Brunson shoots 8-for-29 again.

If Philly is hoping for a pity party, LeBron James is here to have one with them. After his Los Angeles Lakers’ own tragic loss to the Denver Nuggets, he appealed to the late-game officiating, and evoked the Sixers’ misfortune as a kind of cousin to his own: “I don’t understand what’s going on in the replay center to be honest… I just saw what happened in the Sixers-Knicks game, too. What are we… what are we doing?” Online, even most Lakers fans weren’t having it. You don’t get to make such statements after blowing a 20-point lead, they said.

And that’s what the Lakers did. I take issue with the verb “blowing,” though, when the team that overtakes you is the Nuggets. Their dominance in this matchup is a fact of nature. by now. Including last year’s Western Conference Finals, they’ve beaten the Lakers ten times in a row. Even the rhetorically scrambling “but the altitude” skeptics are at a loss; Denver is 4-0 in southern California during this stretch. The Lakers were only ahead in the game because of tremendous shot-making; Anthony Davis went 14-for-19, and the team re-found their stroke from three, making 43 percent of their shots beyond the arc.

It wasn’t enough, though. The Nuggets’ advantages are too numerous, and their comeback was a re-assertion of the status quo. Nikola Jokic is too big, resilient, and crafty for anyone on the Lakers, and Aaron Gordon is bulky enough to go down low and let him play point guard, weaponizing his historically elite passing to get everyone else going. Jamal Murray, like Brunson, struggled all night until he had to do what he had to do: notch 14 points in the closing quarter. He personally out-scored L.A. in the final three minutes, and made an iconic game-winner at the buzzer, over an out-stretched Davis.

It’s too bad for the NBA and its media partners that this riveting, thrilling stuff couldn’t happen over the weekend, and the stew of action waited until Monday night to get so flavorful. Much of their potential audience was rearing children, doing meal prep for the week, or straight-up sleeping as the most captivating moments of the season, so far, ensued. The fates of men rose and fell during precise moments, broadcast live on television. Catching these can be a challenge. You never know when a basketball cult might be formed or broken. But it’ll probably be on a weeknight in April or May.