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.
King of the Court: Thaddeus Young (Paul George)
A few facts to hold tight to your breast for warmth in this cold, indifferent universe: The Harry Potter movies count as Christmas movies; Bob Dylan technically wrote it, but “All Along the Watchtower” is Jimi Hendrix’s song; death comes for us all, regardless of whether we eat turkey bacon or not; and Paul George is clutch.
Want some anecdotal evidence? How about when the Pacers completed a season sweep of the Clippers, on the road in Los Angeles earlier this month. On his first night back from injury and after a not-so-great night of shooting, George hit a massive corner 3 to seal the game late, getting Indiana back to .500. You know what he said after hitting that massive corner 3? “I deliver when I need to.” Which, I think, is the exact moment I realized that I wasn’t really that tight, and also probably a coward.
Last week in a game against Portland, wherein the Pacers trailed by as much as 20, George led a 19–6 run by scoring 15 straight points by his damn self in the final frame. Including two that he ripped directly out of Myles Turner’s hands with just over 30 seconds left because, nearing the end of a 37-point statement of intent, George, in full feral mode, was incapable of distinguishing friend from foe.
So far this season, in what NBA.com/stats defines as clutch time, PG13 — despite taking more shots in these situations than any other Pacer — is shooting 57.5 percent from the field, 50 percent from the 3-point line, and a perfect 100 percent from the stripe. The only player above him in clutch stats who’s played at least 10 such games this season is Russell Westbrook, who averages more points, but on more attempts and with less accuracy (41.3 percent from the field).
The Pacers beat the Wizards on Monday 107–105, but as is the Pacers’ way, it was both uneasy and unsatisfying, like hastily chugging down a quart of milk on its expiration date. A 7–0 Wiz run late in the fourth quarter, punctuated by a game-tying long 2 from Bradley Beal, Future All-Star Snub, made it 105 apiece with 15 seconds left, and a game when it might not have been one, even just one minute before.
Indiana got the ball at half court for one last possession, and Nate McMillan drew up a play that was probably supposed to end with the ball in George’s hands. After all, he’d scored nine straight Pacers points going into the final two minutes of the game, and he’d also pan-fried John Wall.
But the play broke down, and the ball was inbounded to Thaddeus Young (WHO BLEW THE PICK HE WAS SUPPOSED TO SET BUT THAT’S NEITHER HERE NOR THERE), who breezed by Markieff Morris like his feet were glued to the hardwood and hit the game-winning floater.
The Wizards got the ball back with 0.9 seconds left and Beal got a wide-open look from the corner with a chance to ruin everything, but the shot didn’t fall. The Pacers won, and while it was Paul George who led all scorers with 27 points, it was the final two of Young’s 12 that pushed Indiana one game over .500, again.
But Paul George is still clutch, always remember to never forget that.
Runner-up: Russell Westbrook, Duh
Russell Westbrook is an actual battle bot, and he’s still going at this triple-double-or-nothing thing, full bore. Except this time out he was three assists short of a triple-double, resulting in a meager stat line of 46 points, 11 rebounds, and only seven assists, tsk tsk. The Thunder fell to the Hawks 110–108 after a series of strange no-calls in the final 15 seconds, and a pesky buzzer that robbed us of a would-be game-tying Steven Adams dunk.
After the game, some reporter asked Westbrook the standard “good takeaways” question after the loss. “No, we don’t have any moral victories around here, buddy,” Westbrook said.
In case you were wondering what my moral compass looks like, it’s a rumpled Twister spinner with Westbrook’s face wherever “North” is supposed to be.