Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best performances in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
It started, naturally, with a game-tying 3 from Buddy Hield, who, prior to the night, had converted only 29.2 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. Luckily for the Pelicans, that wasn’t where the miracle ended. Less than 20 seconds later, this happened:
And thus started a frightening suite of chain reactions: Anthony Davis had been deployed and detonated. After trailing 90–85 with just under five minutes remaining in the game, the Pelicans rattled off 15 unanswered points in just under four minutes of game time, with the final 10 points all scored by Davis. In the span of two minutes and 17 seconds, AD unveiled the full kaleidoscope of his absurd talent: he blocked a point guard from out beyond the arc; he blocked a flip shot down in the post; he leaked out for an easy dunk; he successfully guarded an All-Star wing out on the perimeter; he settled his team down to milk the clock, trailing the play, then called for the ball from deep for an easy 3-pointer; he repeatedly took contact and converted at the free throw line. The Pelicans won 102–95. Davis finished with 35 points, 16 rebounds, and five blocks.
At his very best, during his breakout season in 2015, Davis felt like an inevitability down the stretch; laws of nature did not apply to a player whose frame itself was an affront to natural sense and order. The most iconic play of his career thus far, his double-clutch game winner from 3 against the Thunder two seasons ago — a play that would later prove to be the decider in the Pelicans-Thunder playoff tiebreaker — was so startling because it was in that precise moment that we realized that nothing was off the table for Davis. He could really, truly do it all.
But that weight of iconography and collective memory can only be established in games of consequence, and there just haven’t been very many in the seasons since. While it’d be a stretch to consider Thursday night’s contest important, the way he dominated on both ends during the most crucial juncture of the game was undeniable.
“There’s still time,” Pelicans analyst David Wesley stressed late in the broadcast. He wasn’t talking about the score against the Pacers; by then, the demolition job Davis single-handedly brought forth had already come and gone. He was talking about the playoff race. At 9–18, the Pelicans have won only a third of their games so far this season, and have claimed victory in only three of their past 10 games. That sense of wonderment, of inevitability surrounding Davis’s game has returned, though. It’s enough to keep hope alive in what has become yet another setback season for the franchise.
Runner-up: JaVale McGee
Look, I understand that Damian Lillard dropped 40 and 10 on Thursday night, but those numbers were inflated in a 132–120 Nuggets win that might as well have taken place inside one of Doug Moe’s daydreams. I understand Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 30 and 14 in a game that was decided midway through the second quarter, but frankly, are we supposed to be shocked by that line at this point? Context matters, and here’s a little context for you: JaVale McGee scored 17 points in just over 15 and a half minutes, outscoring the past three league MVPs; he hadn’t had a night of offense that productive in more than three and a half years.
I rewatched all 10 shots McGee took. He dribbled the ball exactly twice, and only once — on his first shot attempt of the night — did it look intentional. He missed that shot. While his time with the Warriors has humbled McGee a bit, after he logged his 16th and 17th point, there was a moment where he was calling for the ball from the free throw line, hands ready to receive the ball right in his shooting pocket (McGee has a shooting pocket, right?) and was completely ignored. Cold.
But he got a chance to prove he is more than just a lob artist!
This is McGee in the post, throwing a one-handed bounce pass to Klay Thompson for a basket and the foul. His reaction to making the right play is downright uplifting.
Here is the bench’s reaction:
Honorable Mention: Craig Sager
Thanks for everything, Craig.