Kevin Durant reached a career milestone on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Durant became the 44th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points and, at age 29, the second-youngest to reach that threshold (LeBron James was the youngest, reaching 20,000 points at age 28). Durant’s accomplishment was significant, but it was Lou Williams’ performance that was arguably the story of the night.
With Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic and Austin Rivers all sidelined with injuries, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year—and this year’s frontrunner for the award—started in the Clippers’ backcourt alongside rookie Jawun Evans. Williams got going early by knocking down a three-pointer and assisting on a DeAndre Jordan alley-oop, but Williams really caught fire in the third quarter.
Williams scored 27 points in the third quarter and ended the game with a career-high 50 points. He shot 16-for-27 from the field, 8-for-16 from three-point range and 10-for-10 from the free throw line. He also recorded seven assists and two rebounds.
Despite missing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors maintained a lead in the early part of the third quarter, but Williams stayed active, managed to find open looks within the flow of the Clippers’ offense and kept his team within striking distance until it took the lead, 83-81.
Improbably, Williams and Jordan have managed to keep the Clippers within range of making the playoffs.
At 19-21 the Clippers are just two games out of the sixth seed. Los Angeles has lost Beverley (out for the season), Teodosic, Rivers, Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin to injuries at different points this season, but the team has played relatively well, but no one has been better than Williams.
It seems Williams’ play this season has the Clippers looking to keep him around for the foreseeable future. Shams Charania of Yahoo reported on Wednesday that Los Angeles and Williams have engaged in discussions regarding a possible contract extension.
Sources: Lou Williams and the Clippers have recently engaged in contract extension discussions, but no deal's formed as sides evaluate positions. Williams went for 50 points against the Warriors in Oakland tonight. He's eligible for an extension during season.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 11, 2018
From pulling up for deep jumpers, to splitting defenders and attacking the rim, to drawing contact and knocking down his free throws, Williams had just about every part of his offensive repertoire going for him in the third quarter. Durant had quite a night himself but he was one of many players that had positive things to say about Williams’ performance.
“He ordered 50-piece nuggets on us tonight,” Durant said. “Lou got it going.
“It was hard to stop him. His pull-up three is a cash shot. We were too loose on him and let him go whereever he wanted.”
Williams generally diverts any focus from his play to the team’s pursuit of a playoff spot, but even he was willing to indulge in his impressive performance against the Warriors.
“I’ve been playing with confidence for the past month or so now, so tonight was similar to other nights that I’ve had,” Williams said. “I’ve had some special nights this far in the year. But this one was pretty good.
“Obviously 50 is a huge number. It’s a great accomplishment. For me, it was more important to get a win, try to close that gap to get back to .500, especially with the injuries, with guys in and out of the lineup, for us to still have that opportunity, to be in the playoff fold. So, I’ve been playing with confidence for the past month or so now.”
The Clippers are currently caught between two different paths moving forward.
Without all of their key players available, the Clippers don’t have the collective talent to be a major threat in the postseason. With this in mind, the franchise has to consider the possibility of moving Jordan, Williams and other players who can be free agents after this season before the deadline to accumulate assets to build with for the future.
However, considering that the team is just two games back of the sixth seed, Griffin is close to returning from the concussion he suffered recently and several role players are playing at a high level, it seems as though the team is leaning towards going forward with the core of this roster, rather than stripping it down before the trade deadline.
The Clippers’ front office may change course if the Clippers drop off and lose pace in the West. But, for now, Williams has the team focused on making the playoffs and doing some damage if and when they make it.
If he keeps dropping 50, anything is possible.
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