About Last Night

About Last Night: Thunder rattle Giannis

George, Thunder serve notice; Paul returns as Harden extends streak further

On Saturday night, with 4:11 left in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma City Thunder’s 118-112 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks, Russell Westbrook stayed on a switch as Giannis Antetokounmpo began to post from the left block. He spun as Thunder guard Dennis Schroder closed from the weak side. Westbrook held his position and swatted Antetokounmpo’s soft layup off the bottom of the backboard.

It was the seventh time an Oklahoma City Thunder player turned back one of Antetokounmpo’s shots, a career-worst for the MVP candidate and the most suffered by any player in a single game this season.

Giannis was bottled up thoroughly in the first half – 0-for-6 FGs, three points, three turnovers – before pulling together a respectable final line of 27 points, 18 rebounds and 4 assists in the loss.

The Thunder, who entered the game fourth in defensive efficiency (105.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and exited it third (104.5), impressed a Bucks team that ranked among the top five offenses heading in.

“They were just really active tonight,” said Bucks swingman Khris Middleton, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We knew they were going to be active in the passing lanes, in the paint guys were coming to pack the paint on Giannis and whatnot. I think we tried to do a great job of making the extra pass, those extra plays. Some we just didn’t get the bounce or the roll and some we did.”

Yet none of the defensive success would’ve mattered were it not for the heroics of Paul George, who did other things but will be remembered primarily for melting down #NBATwitter with this clutch dunk over Giannis:

Not exactly PG-13, as ESPN’s Marc J. Spears cleverly put it, and a suitable climax to a commanding 36-point, 13-rebound, three-steal performance. George shot 12-of-21 overall (8-12 3-point FGs) and, among other key plays, deflected a pass to earn a steal and position Westbrook to extend the lead to seven with 31.3 seconds remaining.

In this best individual season to date, George has rightfully claimed an All-Star starting nod and a place in any MVP debate you’d care to have.

Paul returns? Harden gonna Harden

Chris Paul missed 17 games with a left hamstring strain, and returned to James Harden producing at historic levels, unprecedented for a guard or anyone else not named Wilt Chamberlain.

When Kenneth Faried assisted an early floater against the Orlando Magic, it was the first bucket Harden hadn’t created for himself in more than seven games, a total of 87 straight makes.

Harden finished with 40 points, stretching his 30-plus streak to 23 games and bumping his season average to 36.3 ppg, the highest since Michael Jordan’s 37.1 ppg in 1986-87. He hit several monster shots in a closing rally during Houston’s 103-98 win.

Paul, meanwhile, played 25 minutes — including the final stretch — to tally 12 points (4-8 FGs, 2-5 3-pint FGs), five rebounds, six assists and three steals. There were a few moments during which the rust was evident, but there was also this:

Familiar, and not just for this observer, either. Said Harden:

“He looked like he had extra pep in his step. He made that spin move and some other moves too, to check his body and how he felt. He looked great. It was good to see him back on the floor.”

If Harden manages to keep on keeping on, and Paul’s able to ease his way back and eventually let ‘er rip, Houston might be a lot closer to last season’s 60-plus form than we thought during all that opening month mishegoss. We get to watch so much more of this AND THEN THERE ARE THE PLAYOFFS.

Count me in.

Popovich pulls ’em back

Let it never be said that Gregg Popovich can’t find new ways to keep everyone on their toes … just 16 seconds into the 51st game of the this 23rd season as head coach:

That was a friendly greeting to the squad that allowed this rim-rocker from Thomas Bryant on the opening possession against the Washington Wizards.

The San Antonio Spurs went on to a 132-119 victory. Message received, it would seem.

Luka, Luka, Luka!

The rookie that must insipire crippling angst — or whatever passes among pro athletes — for others in his class, Luka Doncic continues to do things that are either casually spectacular or actually record-breaking … like Sunday’s 35-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist showing.

Doncic became the youngest player to record a 30-point triple-double, bypassing LeBron James (40-10-10 at 20 years, 100 days old) and De’Aaron Fox (31-10-15; 20 years, 316 days); Blake Griffin was the last rookie to hit the mark at all, doing so in 2011.

Tobias takes guff

This postgame interview went sideways quick:

(For the Record: It’s not inside out. But c’mon – he knew when he put that on. The bullet-pointed list was so ready I could see the back-pocket flashcards.)

Tough sight for South Beach

Derrick Jones Jr. went down on the break in Miami, and it immediately drew strong concern from the bench:

The Heat later provided a series of updates, first confirming the injury, then indicating X-rays were negative and that Jones will be re-evaluated Monday.

Here’s to a smooth recovery. Tough week for knees, though. Yikes.

A standing (Mel-)O

Though he’s still on hardwood hiatus after a recent trade to the Bulls, Carmelo Anthony returned to his old Eighth Ave. haunt for Sunday’s Knicks-Heat matchup — the first of two #OneLastDance visits for 2003 draft classmate Dwyane Wade. A tribute video covering the six-plus seasons Anthony spent in NYC warmed up the Garden crowd, which showed hearty appreciation for the man they call Melo:

Well earned. Happy Monday, everyone.