In a titanic collision of the league’s most uniquely overpowering talents, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid produced a teaser trailer of the next half-decade’s worth of Eastern Conference sequels. Philadelphia’s Process vs. Milwaukee’s Greek Freak. Get used to it.
By the time Sunday’s edition was cut, the pair of virally dubbed unicorns combined for 92 points, 31 rebounds, 13 assists and five steals in the Sixers’ 130-125 statement win.
The “unicorn” label might be misleading when referring to two of the league’s most unstoppable wrecking balls. They are north-to-south avalanches, disdaining the sides of the court because nothing can stop them in the middle:
Antetokounmpo shot chart
Embiid shot chart
Antetokounmpo’s career-high 52 points were ultimately not enough, but that had more to do with Milwaukee needing 18 more 3-point attempts (16-for-50) to make just one more from beyond the arc than Philadelphia (15-for-32). On the other end, the Bucks’ top-ranked defense struggled to corral the Sixers’ stable of stars.
That conundrum could be a problem this spring, but the new-look Sixers might undergo yet another makeover before autumn with Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler both hitting free agency. And with Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving both older and unclear as to their own immediate futures, Sunday provided a glimpse into what we do know: Embiid and Antetokounmpo are destined for many, many more box-score-busting and trash-talk-exchanging bouts in the years to come.
Lou Will wins it
There’s something about the elite and undersized scoring guards in the league. Call it hard-earned bravado, reps on the pickup court, whatever. They are among the most comfortable and deadly with time winding down and the game on the line.
Lou Williams is the bannerman for that group, and the two-time Kia Sixth Man of the Year showed why with a 3-point dagger as time expired to give the Clippers a 119-116 win over the visiting Nets.
As always, we rate game-winning buzzer-beaters on our Horry Scale.
Reminder: The Horry Scale breaks down a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety night in January?) and celebration. Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, named for the patron saint of last-second answered prayers.
DIFFICULTY: The set play out of the timeout was basic but effective for someone who can get his shot off as quickly as Williams. A pass and immediate screen from Danilo Gallinari gave Williams the sliver of airspace he needed to launch a straightaway 3, albeit over an understandably desperate double-team. Despite the pressure and launching from no-man’s land between the arc and center court logo, the shot hit nothing by twine.
GAME SITUATION: There was little pressure on Williams or the Clippers in the moment with the game merely tied, but the standings tell another story. Lose in overtime, and the Clippers would have found themselves in eighth place, an entire game back of Utah and potentially facing the two-time defending champion Warriors in the first round. The Clippers, Jazz and Spurs are all actively trying to avoid that draw. Now LA finds itself in a virtual tie with Utah and only a half game back of San Antonio. In the season’s final leg, the Clippers are still running strong.
Another factor: the symbolic image of a Williams moment amid a particularly heated Kia Sixth Man of the Year race. Many voters will choose Williams, whose 20-plus points per game jump off the page. Others may prefer the blue collar work of teammate Montrzel Harrell or Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis. Yet when casting aside preference and gauging the candidates’ simple on-court effect, Williams should be the runaway favorite. Here’s how much better each team’s net rating is with their respective sixth man contender on the floor:
Lou Williams: +10.1
Domantas Sabonis: +3.5
Montrezl Harrell: +2.3
Spencer Dinwiddie: -1.1
CELEBRATION: Amid all the changes LA has made since the Lob City era, Williams’ two years with the Clippers seem an eternity. He has become their soul, the gritty spirit of the team’s nobody-should-ever-underestimate-us vibe that will carry them to the playoffs even after trading away Tobias Harris. That’s why Williams’ teammates didn’t hesitate to rush the veteran and hoist him on their shoulders, even as he gestured to a home fan base that has embraced him as readily as the team itself.
When the team owner gets two-stepping, you know you’re doing something right.
GRADE: With the Nets just as desperately immersed in their own playoff race out East, the outcome mattered enormously to both teams. Williams is the argument for why the Clippers could be dangerous in the first round. He’s been there, and he’s equipped to steal the win if it’s there for the taking. 4 Horrys.
Mario’s turbo jump
Those who have played know. In order to do the near impossible, hold the turbo button and jump. Maybe that’s what New York’s Mario Hezonja did in his game-winning block of LeBron James.
Or maybe Hezonja was simply the beneficiary of some two-player strategy?
We often allude to hustle or other intangibles as traits that aren’t rewarded nearly enough. Mike Scott had enough of that, apparently. After selling out to chase a loose ball out of bounds, the veteran forward treated himself to a drink, courtesy of the fan who cushioned his fall.
In fairness to Scott, he has seen his minutes nearly double (14.6 to 26.2 per game) since the All-Star break. The guy needed a little hydration.
Drummond stands alone
We’ll never know exactly how dominant Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were on defense. It’s a travesty of stat tracking, since blocks and steals were not recorded in that day and age. Since the league wised up, it’s been easier to catalog the all-around defensive terror of legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett and Hakeem Olajuwon.
In one sense, Detroit center Andre Drummond passed them all on Sunday. The big man’s 15 points, 17 rebounds and two steals in Detroit’s upset win over Toronto clinched his fourth season of at least 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks. Previously, no other player in NBA history had more than three such seasons under his belt since blocks and steals became an official thing in 1973-74.
Here’s the very short list of players that produced 1,000×1,000x100x100 seasons: