LeBron James doesn’t get many challengers anymore. The regular season blurs together after six straight NBA Finals appearances, but Tuesday’s game against the Bucks was different. If there’s anyone in the league who can approach James’ all-around dominance right now, it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.
That isn’t to say Antetokounmpo is as good as James — obviously not. James himself made that distinctly clear in the 114-108 overtime win, a win sealed by his own go-ahead 33-foot three-pointer seconds after Antetokounmpo fouled out battling him for a rebound.
LeBron from WAY downtown...@cavs take the lead in overtime! #LeaguePassAlert pic.twitter.com/UrApf22RBW— NBA (@NBA) December 21, 2016
And James made it clear when they were both on the floor, too. Antetokounmpo had nailed back-to-back threes earlier in the fourth quarter as the Bucks hung around, so with 4:01 left, James nailed an absurd step-back triple almost as a dare. A minute later, Antetokounmpo tried the same thing and airballed.
But you can imagine James really does see a challenger in Antetokounmpo. No one in the league matches his overall skills like Antetokounmpo, who currently leads the Bucks in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. No one in the league but Antetokounmpo can play all five positions at a level as high as he can. They are both idiosyncratic athletes — James’ power and Antetokounmpo’s length coupled with a dozen more high-quality skills. They’re two tourists traveling in a similar-but-still-foreign country, only to realize they both grew up in the same neighborhood.
Still, even though James can relate, he won’t relent. He scored 34 points with 12 rebounds and seven assists, throwing in a block and a steal for good measure. Kevin Love missed the game with knee stiffness, so James played a lion’s share of minutes — 47 of them — as a forward. He ended up with the game-winning shot that was so reckless and so ill-advised and that went in anyway.
He could have potentially won the game in regulation, though, if not for Antetokounmpo smothering him and setting up John Henson for a weak-side swat.
It wasn’t Antetokounmpo’s greatest performance — his 5-of-13 shooting says that much. But that he was still so good even on a down night speaks to his all-around excellent, with Antetokounmpo still dropping 25 points and 13 rebounds with two assists, two steals and three blocks.
Maybe Antetokounmpo could have used his never-ending wingspan to contest on James’ go-ahead three if he hadn’t fouled out. That play is a reminder he’s still just 22, as Antetokounmpo recklessly pursued an offensive rebound with five fouls that was clearly out of his reach.
The Bucks beat the Cavaliers in their first matchup, with Antetokounmpo scoring 34 points in 34 minutes, and they took Cleveland to overtime in the second. They’re missing Khris Middleton, and they’re sitting at 13-13 anyway. With him, how good can the Bucks be? One of the best teams in the East, certainly, at least.
And it’s with Antetokounmpo bearing the brunt of the load, just like the old LeBron James teams. Maybe more than anything, James sympathizes with that. It doesn’t mean he takes it easy — just that he recognizes a challenger when he sees one.
The Spurs did something just about unprecedented
Even Gregg Popovich would agree: a 0.001 percent chance at something isn’t great odds. But the Spurs won anyway.
Spurs won after trailing by 13 w/under 4:30 to go. Into today, tms trailing by 13+ w/under 4:30 to go were 1-1,388 (0.001) in last 3 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 21, 2016
Houston, boasting a 10-game winning streak, could have easily made it 11 if they hadn’t fallen apart in the final minute. Instead, a 19-4 run in the final four-plus minutes doomed them. Down 100-99, an open Patty Mills trey put the Spurs ahead for the 102-100 final, the Spurs’ fifth triple in that span.
Boogie gets ejected, and then un-ejected, in a 55-point game
It does look like Boogie might have spit his mouthpiece at the Blazers’ bench. A technical was called, his second of the game, and for a moment Cousins was ejected from a one-possession game with less than a minute left.
Boogie had just scored his 53rd and 54th points of the game on a layup that was called for a foul, too. As he walked by the Blazers’ bench, his mouthpiece came out — accidentally, he said afterwards, and what the referees decided after a review.
Cousins had to return to the game from the locker room, where he nailed the free throw, blocked a shot on the next defensive possession, and gladly took the 126-121 win.
Tuesday’s best plays
Not one poster of a Cavaliers Big 3 by Malcolm Brogdon ...
Spurs 102, Rockets 100 (Pounding the Rock recap | The Dream Shake recap)
Celtics 112, Grizzlies 109 (OT) (Celtics Blog recap | Grizzly Bear Blues recap)
Cavaliers 114, Bucks 108 (OT) (Fear the Sword recap | Brew Hoop recap)
Magic 136, Heat 130 (2OT) (Orlando Pinstriped Post recap | Hot Hot Hoops recap)
Knicks 118, Pacers 111 (Posting & Toasting recap | Indy Cornrows recap)
Raptors 116, Nets 104 (Raptors HQ recap | Nets Daily recap)
Hornets 117, Lakers 113 (At the Hive recap | Silver Screen & Roll recap)
Pelicans 108, 76ers 93 (The Bird Writes recap | Liberty Ballers recap)
Warriors 104, Jazz 74 (Golden State of Mind recap | SLC Dunk recap)
Kings 126, Trail Blazers 121 (Sactown Royalty recap | Blazer’s Edge recap)
Clippers 119, Nuggets 102 (Clips Nation recap | Denver Stiffs recap)