'Go win the game': How Thunder handled Lakers, LeBron James' NBA record-setting night
LOS ANGELES — When LeBron James made history Tuesday night, becoming the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, Kenrich Williams became a historical footnote.
Who was the player defending James when he passed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the scoring list? That answer is and will forever be Williams, the Thunder’s gritty forward from Waco, Texas, who rocks a throwback shag haircut.
Late in the third quarter, James sized up Williams and dribbled thrice to his left. Then James, as he’s done so many times before, faded away and swished an elbow jumper.
“His body’s so big,” Williams said of the shot, “so you can’t really do nothing about it.”
Points 38,388 and 38,389 of James’ remarkable career.
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With this bucket, LeBron James moves past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer! pic.twitter.com/N6V5RxPe6r
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 8, 2023
Williams, for what it’s worth, sits at 1,664 career points — two of which came on a dunk with seven seconds left, capping a 133-130 Thunder win against the Lakers.
For OKC, it was the best-case scenario.
The Thunder (26-28) witnessed history without falling victim to it.
The game was paused for about 12 minutes after James broke the record.
James and Abdul-Jabbar hugged at midcourt. There were speeches, photos and raw emotions from all involved.
“I was showing my respects to him during that time,” Williams said. “I know that was a special moment for him and his family.”
As the planned ceremony played out, the Thunder watched from its bench.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who led the Thunder with 30 points, said it was hard to take in the moment when there was still another quarter to play.
Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said he didn’t have to say anything to his players during the stoppage. The players were doing the talking for him.
“Let’s go win the game,” Williams said.
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Williams now shares company with the late Mark Eaton. It was Eaton who was defending Abdul-Jabbar when Abdul-Jabbar passed Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list.
“OK, that’s what’s up,” Williams told a reporter after he learned that tid-bit of trivia.
Daigneault lauded Williams’ effort.
“His vulnerability as a competitor is one of his best qualities,” Daigneault said. “He doesn’t back away from a challenge and he doesn’t fear failure. I think it’s fitting that his nose is in the fight on that play.”
Williams said he knew James, who needed 36 points, was going to break the record from the jump. James was in attack mode early on.
“I just wanted to make it hard on him,” Williams said.
Either way, Williams was prepared for the moment.
“I told my wife, you can take it two ways,” he said. “You hold him under what he needed to score, or you can be a part of history.
“I’m always looking at the positives. I’m a part of history.”
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Thunder stays composed on big stage
Crypto.com Arena was quiet three hours before tipoff, but energy hung in the air. A nervous energy.
By tip-off, the crowd was ready to combust.
Fans roared every time James touched the ball until he broke the record. They were hungry (and had paid a large sum of money) to see history.
Two video boards in the top corners of the arena showed a countdown of how many points James needed to pass Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list. Thunder rookie Jalen Williams stared up at the board as he walked onto the court to warm up.
It all felt like one huge party, a pending coronation for King James. The actual game was overshadowed by a single stat: points for No. 6 in gold.
Gilgeous-Alexander said the gravity of the game ranked second in his career, only behind Game 7 of the Thunder-Rockets playoff series in 2020.
“It was so unique,” SGA said. “Something like this might never happen again.”
For most of the Thunder, the youngest team in the NBA, it was the craziest game any of them had ever played in.
But somehow OKC stayed composed.
“Everything that happened tonight, our team acted like we expected it to happen,” Daigneault said. “That’s the best way I can put it. I thought the collective focus and the collective poise was there.”
And while the result felt inconsequential, it actually mattered a good deal in the Western Conference standings.
The Thunder is only half a game out of 10th place — the final play-in spot. The Lakers fell two games back of 10th.
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Williams, Williams and Williams
The family law firm of Kenrich Williams, Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams started together for the first time, and all had their moments.
Jalen Williams drew the starting defensive assignment against James. What a spot for a rookie.
J-Dub was asked what he learned about guarding James.
“I learned that he’s strong,” Williams said with a laugh. “That was a pretty surreal moment … a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. It was pretty cool to get that challenge and that assignment.”
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J-Dub on guarding LeBron pic.twitter.com/TReynAJUyk
— Joe Mussatto (@joe_mussatto) February 8, 2023
The other Williamses and Aaron Wiggins also had their turns.
In the second quarter, James drove for an and-one against Wiggins for his 10th and 11 points.
On LA’s next possession, James drove and finished another and-one, this time over Jaylin Williams.
Jaylin Williams has taken a lot of charges in his basketball career, but none more memorable than the one he took against James in the third quarter. James helped Williams up, and Williams tapped James on the butt.
Jaylin, the center from Arkansas, finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. The points and assists were both career-highs.
Jalen, the guard from Santa Clara, had 25 points and seven rebounds. He shot 10-of-19 from the floor.
Thunder guard Josh Giddey also shot 10-of-19, scoring 20 points with six assists and five rebounds.
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Thunder’s 3-point shooting
It seemed every time the Lakers made a run, the Thunder responded with a 3-pointer.
OKC shot 17-of-34 from 3-point range, holding off the Lakers, which shot a solid 14-of-31 from deep.
Reserves Mike Muscala and Isaiah Joe were on target from behind the arc.
Joe was 5-of-10 and Muscala was 4-of-7.
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● Thunder rookies Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams will be teammates in the four-team Rising Stars tournament at All-Star weekend. Former NBA players Pau Gasol, Deron Williams and Joakim Noah drafted three of the teams Tuesday. The fourth team will exclusively be filled with G League players.
● Noah selected Giddey with the fourth overall pick — behind Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner and Evan Mobley — and Williams with the ninth pick.
● Jordan Poole’s common foul against Jalen Williams on Monday night in San Francisco was upgraded to a Flagrant 1, the NBA announced Tuesday. Poole made contact with Williams’ backside while Williams was midair on a dunk attempt. Williams was knocked off balance and landed hard. “I thought that was certainly worthy of a look if nothing else,” Daigneault said. The play was not reviewed.
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● Two courtside seats for Thunder-Lakers sold for $75,000 a piece, NBA.com reported. With fees, the total was $181,500.
● Thunder chairman Clay Bennett was in attendance.
● Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Patrick Beverley chatted pregame. They were Clippers teammates.
● Among the celebrity sightings: Denzel Washington, Woody Harrelson, Jay-Z, Usher, Bad Bunny, Shannon Sharpe and John McEnroe.
● SGA was introduced by legendary PA man Lawrence Tanter as “a 6-6 guard from Kentucky, an All-Star, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.”
● Jaylin Williams shot 2-of-2 from 3-point range. He’s 15-of-30 on the season.
● Former Thunder great Russell Westbrook had 27 points, eight assists and four rebounds off the bench. He shot 4-of-7 from three.
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This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: LeBron James sets all-time NBA scoring record as Thunder beat Lakers