NBA Hoopers of the Week 05.03-05.09
The 2021 NBA Regular Season is coming to a close and the NBA Playoff picture is slowly starting to shape up. When looking at the MVP race, it seems pretty obvious that consensus top candidates are Nikola Jokic in the West and Joel Embiid in the East. These guys have been jockeying for the top spot and most have argued that Jokic has separated himself as the guy due to his availability and his play without Jamal Murray on the floor. Nonetheless, these guys have dominated the headlines, but what about the other guys in their conferences who have been carrying their respective teams in a similar way? As of late, there has been buzz for guys like Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, and even dare I say, Julius Randle. But instead, I want to highlight two guys who have not captured the same kind of late-season hype who really deserve some love. That is why this week, I happy to say that my Hoopers of the Week are Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard! Let’s get into it!
Let’s start with the reigning two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo who propelled his Milwaukee Bucks to a 3-0 record this week. The Bucks are currently battling with the Nets for the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 43-24 as they ride a five-game winning streak.
When it comes to Antetokounmpo’s spectacular week of performances, it all really started last Sunday with the first of two back-to-back matchups against the aforementioned Nets. In a battle between MVPs, Antetokounmpo went blow for blow against Kevin Durant and produced 49 points, eight rebounds, and four assists. But what was even more impressive was how well-rounded Antetokounmpo looked in this game. A solid shooting night going 21-of-36 from the floor. A willingness to take threes when left open which led to him hitting 4-of-8 threes. Then on the defensive end, he got himself a steal and three big-time blocks.
Now, Durant put up 42 points and ten rebounds on the other end but it was Antetokounmpo and the Bucks that would come out victorious by the score of 117-114.
Then to kick off this week, we got a great Monday Night matchup as these two teams faced off again grudge-match style. Somehow the second matchup was just as exciting as the first. For Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo led the way with 36 points along with 12 rebounds and four assists. He did so on 11-of-30 shooting from the floor, knocked down four more threes, and went 10-of-12 from the free-throw line. The combination of Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday backed him up as they combined for 46 points, 15 rebounds, and 14 assists. Even Donte DiVincenzo got in the mix with a solid double-double of 10 points and 15 rebounds.
On the other side, the Nets got another otherworldly game from Kevin Durant who dropped 32 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but it was Kyrie Irving who would actually step up as the lead singer in this one as he put up a smooth 38 points and five assists.
Nonetheless, once again the Milwaukee Bucks came out with the win to the tune of 124-118. This solidified a tiebreaker with Brooklyn that will be crucial in this final push to the postseason.
Moving on, the Bucks pushed their winning streak to four-straight in a nail-biter against the Washington Wizards. Antetokounmpo scored 23 points along with nine rebounds and eight assists on 8-of-15 shooting from floor and 7-of-8 from the charity strike. He struggled with staying on the floor as he only played 30 minutes before fouling out, but he clearly did his damage. Khris Middleton missed this game, but the rest of the team stepped up in his absence. 29 points from Holiday. 19 points from DiVincenzo. 30 points combined between Pat Connaughton and Bryn Forbes. The buckets were coming from everywhere.
On the other end, Washington threw the kitchen sink at the Bucks. Bradley Beal continued to make his push for the scoring title over Stephen Curry by dropping 42 points. Russell Westbrook continued to impress in the triple-double department with 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 17 assists. Daniel Gafford even had a solid 12 points and 10 boards in only 14 minutes. But Milwaukee would hold on in the end, taking the game 135-134.
Then to close out the week, the Bucks got into a flat-out shootout against the undermanned Houston Rockets. In reality, this was just a fun game to watch as both teams had at least five guys score in double figures. Antetokounmpo had a solid night with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor.
For Houston, it was Kenyon Martin Jr. who led the charge with 26 points, seven rebounds, and seven assists. Nonetheless, when the flamethrowers were put away and the clock hit zero, the Bucks prevailed 141-133 to close the week.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has easily been the second-best player in the East this season, especially with the Brooklyn guys in and out of the lineup due to injury. And if it were not for narrative, Antetokounmpo would probably be a lot higher up on people’s ballots for the MVP award. This guy continues to put up video game numbers while once again leading his team to yet another top seed. The key for Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to be his performance in the postseason.
We have grown accustomed to him dominating the regular season, but he is in that echelon now where his legacy will be defined by what he does in the playoffs. Hopefully, he proves the doubters wrong by growing from his past postseason failures and rising to the occasion under the spotlight of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Next, we have to talk multi-time All-Star Damian Lillard who has bounced back from a tough month of April to help propel the Portland Trailblazers to the 6th seed in the Western Conference. Lillard should literally be listed with back spasms every night because he has been carrying this team all season. Portland has dealt with injuries and underperformances from some of their offseason acquisitions, but somehow Lillard has the Trailblazers sitting at 38-29 while sitting only a game back of the 5th spot occupied by the Dallas Mavericks.
In terms of Lillard’s big week of hoops, it did not start as intended as they took on the Atlanta Hawks to kick off the week. Falling 123-114, the Hawks snapped Portland’s four-game win streak. Trae Young dropped a double-double with 21 points with 11 assists despite going 1-of-6 from three. Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 25 points while going 7-of-14 from deep. Danilo Gallinari was the man with the plan though as he scored 28 points along with eight rebounds, two steals, and a block on 7-of-10 shooting from three off the bench. In response, Damian Lillard scored 33 points with eight assists while going 11-of-19 from the field and 6-of-11 from three. CJ McCollum chipped in with 20 points and Norman Powell had 15 points. Then of course the man of the hour was Carmelo Anthony who dropped 14 points to pass Elvin Hayes to become the 10thleading scorer in NBA history. It definitely was a bittersweet moment considering it came in a loss, but still a great feat, nonetheless.
Moving on, the Trailblazers had a perfect bounce-back game as they blew out the Cleveland Cavaliers, 141-105. This 36-point victory would be Portland’s second-highest margin of victory only behind their 48-point win over the Oklahoma City Thunder back on April 3rd. Lillard led the charge with 32 points and nine assists on 10-of-17 shooting from the floor and 6-of-10 from three. The bench also came up big as Anfernee Simons, Carmelo Anthony, and Enes Kanter combined for 44 points off the bench.
Then we have the big game of the week as the Trailblazers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 106-101 to help them move into the 6th spot and bump the Lakers down into the Play-In picture. Anthony Davis threw a party with 36 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists on 12-of-23 shooting from the floor and a whopping 10-of-15 from the free-throw line. But Dame was obviously not having any of that. Lillard countered with 38 points, four rebounds, and seven assists on 12-of-18 shooting from the floor, 5-of-9 from three, and hit all nine of his free throws. McCollum and Powell also came in clutch in this one as they combined for 40 points to help round out the three-headed scoring attack.
To close out the week, Lillard and the Trailblazers blew out the San Antonio Spurs last night, 124-102. Lillard dropped 21 points in the first half and ended the night with 30. He also had four rebounds and eight assists while shooting 8-of-17 from the floor with four threes. McCollum and Powell once again were the perfect backup dancers in this one as they combined for 45 points. Even Jusuf Nurkic had himself a game with 17 points, nine rebounds, and five assists.
The Spurs would put up a fight as DeMar DeRozan scored 20 points to lead the team, but they just could not seem to hang. Lillard might not be getting the same kind of MVP love he was receiving earlier in the season due to missing games with injury and then his slump, but the guy is the primary reason that Portland is even in the playoff mix.
An argument could be made that he should be amongst the Top-5 in the MVP race and surely should be brought up before guys like Chris Paul who has been getting a lot of buzz as of late. Dame Time is around the corner as the postseason looms in the background only a week or so away. Do not sleep on Damian Lillard and the Blazers in the Playoffs. Underestimate them and your favorite team in the West might just get burned.