Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Lou Williams drops 34, becomes NBA’s all-time leader in bench scoring in Clippers win. Who is the greatest sixth man in NBA history? Manu Ginobili is at or near the top of the list. Kevin McHale, Jamal Crawford, John Havlicek, Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, Michael Cooper, and Dell Curry should all get mentioned in the conversation.
Make room for Lou Williams on that list.
Williams, the two-time and defending NBA Sixth Man of the Year (and a leading candidate to win it again), came off the bench to score 34 points against the Celtics on Monday night and in doing so passed the elder Curry for most points scored off the bench in NBA history at 11,148.
Williams can just get buckets. Go under the pick and he’ll drain the three (35.9 percent this season), fight over the pick and he’ll use his handles to get to the left elbow area (he doesn’t seem to miss from there) or to the rim. And he’s sneaky good at drawing fouls.
The feisty Clippers handled the Celtics 140-115, the most points Boston has given up in a game since 1994 to the Washington Bullets. Don’t read much into this loss for the Celtics, it was the last game of a West Coast road trip where they went 3-1 and played well. Teams let down in that last game of a trip, plus they may have had the Los Angeles flu after a few days in the city. It happens. So long as it doesn’t carry over when they get back home it’s just one of those games. Flush it and move on.
The Clippers have now won five in a row and have moved up to the six seed in the West. They are going to be a tough first-round matchup for somebody.
Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and Cleveland’s Marquese Chriss had been talking smack back-and-forth all game long. It came to a head when, with one second to go in the third quarter Monday night, Norman Powell threw a length-of-the-court inbounds pass to Ibaka, who was being defended by Chriss. The two got hooked up, but Ibaka goes to the ground. Chris walks by and appears to say something, and Ibaka gets up and goes hard at Chriss, grabbing him by the neck, ramming him into the stanchion, and throwing punches.
Ibaka and Chriss were both ejected.
Ibaka is going to get suspended for this, and probably not just one game. Remember, Ibaka was suspended for one game two seasons ago after throwing punches at Robin Lopez. Last season he was suspended for a game for throwing punches at James Johnson. The league sees a pattern and that’s when it comes down hard.
The Raptors fell apart after that and the Cavaliers won 126-101. Toronto looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back, they just went through the motions against an inferior team and paid the price. Since they’re locked into the two seed, it’s not that big a deal.
3) Russell Westbrook gets into it dropping a profanity-laced tirade on Jazz fan… oh, Oklahoma City beat Utah. There was a game, one with playoff implications in the crowded West. Nobody is talking about the game.
Russell Westbrook got into a verbal exchange with Jazz fans on Monday night, yelling profanity at them. (Note: This video has profanity and is not safe for work or those offended by such language.)
What started it? From Westbrook’s postgame statement:
“How it started was, a young man and his wife in the stands told me ‘to get down on my knees like you used to.’ To me, that’s just completely disrespectful, to me, I think it’s racial, and I think it’s inappropriate.”
The fan denied it, saying he told Westbrook to ice his knees. What we know for sure is five Jazz fans were handed warning cards saying their language and behavior violated the NBA Fan Code of Conduct. However, they were allowed to return to their seats.
Westbrook will get a fine for this. As I have written about before, this is an increasing issue around the league, fans crossing the line with comments looking to get a reaction or rise from players. Sometimes security in the arena is on it and the fan is removed, but it’s far from consistent. Whatever happened in this case, the broader trend is something the league needs to deal with.
As for the game, the Thunder are built to give the Jazz trouble. Donovan Mitchell is the primary — often only — shot creator on Utah, they lean heavily on him and try to hunt mismatches he can exploit. That’s hard against the Thunder. Oklahoma City can start with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Paul George on him, but can switch Jeremi Grant, Terrence Ferguson, or even Russell Westbrook onto him no problem. Because those guys can do a respectable job on Mitchell, defenders can stay home on shooters and contest threes.
The result is a 98-89 Oklahoma City win. The game leaves the Thunder as the four seed in the West but drops the Jazz to the eight seed (a spot they want to get out of, they don’t want the Warriors in the first round).