It’s not as if, when Al Jefferson returns from his injury, the Charlotte Hornets will face A Dreaded Center Controversy. It’s not.
Big Al starts; Bismack Biyombo replaces him.
We all know the Biyombo story. The Hornets selected him with the seventh pick in the 2011 draft, two picks before they selected Kemba Walker. Since then, we have been waiting. But not all of the fans have been waiting. Some stopped, wondering why he still had a jersey.
They might have noticed that Biyombo is having his best season. But if fans hadn’t, they couldn’t help but notice him Wednesday at Time Warner Cable Arena against the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs. And this was the game almost too big to play. The Hornets came in with five straight victories. San Antonio has won five NBA championships.
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Biyombo, 6-foot-9, 245 pounds and somehow only 22 years old, was amazing. Yes, that’s the proper word, amazing.
San Antonio ended Charlotte’s winning streak 98-93.
Yet Biyombo was named Gatorade Recover Player of the Game. And despite Walker’s 28 points, there could be no other.
This was Biyombo’s line: 29 minutes, 15 rebounds, 12 points, a career-high nine reporters around his locker after the game, seven offensive rebounds and one standing ovation.
Doubt me if you must. But I have pictures.
I also have San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich.
“I thought he was a monster,” Popovich said about Biyombo. “He’s so strong. So athletic. So young. We just didn’t have anybody. We were talking about gang rebounding; it didn’t matter. He was too much of an athlete for us.”
Popovich was asked if Biyombo’s presence was such that his guards had to stop going to the basket.
“Well, one would think that a reasonable individual, after being just humiliated several times in a row, would think of a different option,” he said. “But we weren’t that reasonable. We just kept doing it. It’s a mystery to me, too. That will certainly be on the film session: ‘What were you thinking?’ ”
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford was thinking that Biyombo was impressive. He praised his center’s work in the pick and roll and he praised Biyombo’s defense. A teammate would gamble for a steal and fail, and the big man would come through with the save.
There are things Biyombo can’t do. His hands aren’t great, his shot isn’t pretty and his range is not much longer than this column.
But this is what he can do: change a game. Of course, that sounds overblown. But he did. Um, son, you might not want to bring that shot in here. Or that one, or that one or – just go back outside and nobody gets hurt.
The standing ovation, which might have tied a career high, was deserved. Nobody on the court spent more time leaping above the basket or diving to the floor. One sequence: Biyombo blocked a shot, ran the court, grabbed an offensive rebound, hit a basket, drew a foul and hit a free throw.
I don’t care what you think about him. You would have liked him Wednesday night. And if you talked to him after the game, you would have liked him more.
As Biyombo carefully put on his gray vest and gray tie, I asked him if this was the best game he had ever played.
“No,” Biyombo said. “We didn’t win. As long as we don’t win, it doesn’t matter.”