Lights and cameras are usually reserved for California sunsets and Hollywood drives, and Thursday was set up by league schedule-makers to give Los Angeles that "perfect angle". But on Thursday, it was the supporting cast that played spoiler in primetime. The Milwaukee Bucks showed the world that the championship will run through Lake Michigan this season, and the Houston Rockets two-headed tandem proved that they have the firepower to match with the league’s best.
Heading into Thursday’s matchup, the Lakers and the Bucks were on a quest to definitively take the mantle of “League’s Best”. Milwaukee, previous winners of 18 straight, took the court sporting a 24-4 record and looking to make a statement. Los Angeles, anchored by titans Anthony Davis and LeBron James, had every intention to prove they were the anointed champions from this past offseason.
After one half of play, it was clear that the main event donned black and green, as Giannis Antetokounmpo led the way for Milwaukee with a dominating stat-line of 34 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. Antetokounmpo also nailed five three’s, striking fear into the hearts of all opponents to come. George Hill played a key role, helping with 21 points and timely leadership. The well-oiled machine that we’ve become accustomed to in the Miller Valley kept on pace and smothered the Lakers on key possessions.
But when the dust was beginning to settle late in the fourth, the game was still close. With 3:51 to play, the Lakers trailed 106-97, and Anthony Davis (34 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists) was carrying as much of the load as possible on a bad leg. With the closing seconds waning, LeBron James (21 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists) dribbled up the court and looked to get to the rim to save the day for our storied headliner. But Wesley Matthews cut off his drive, made LeBron hesitate and dribble right off his knee, grab the ball and give it to the newly crowned King, halting any chance of a comeback for the purple and gold.
Thursday night’s primetime concluded with one of the most heated rivalries in recent years. There are few fond memories that the Clippers have for the Rockets, and vice-versa. Thursday’s game proved to be no different, as the game turned from competitive to heated in seconds. Lou Williams had to be restrained before being ejected, and Patrick Beverley’s pitbull attitude earned him a trip to the locker room early for fouling out and getting into it with Russell Westbrook.
All of this was a culmination of a 15-point raveling for the Clippers in front of fans in the Staples Center. The Clippers lost their cool and lost a 15 game home winning streak. Russell Westbrook exploded for 40 points, and James Harden poured in 28 points and 10 rebounds to guide the Rockets’ winning trajectory. The Clippers smothered Houston early but were outscored 68-48 in the final half to be downed at home.
On a night where everything was set up for Los Angeles to showcase their superstardom and potential league dominance, their tune fell flat. The spotlight faded from both squads, and the supposed supporting cast proved there is still work to be done in Southern California.