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: DeMarcus Cousins
In less than 24 hours, we witnessed DeMarcus Cousins get fined $50,000 by the Kings for losing his temper in a confrontation with local media; drop 54 points against a hapless Blazers team; get ejected for accruing his second technical foul as a result of ejecting his mouthpiece in the vicinity of the Portland bench; get un-ejected in a strange mea culpa from the officiating crew; make the long run, soundtracked by a frenzied Sacramento home crowd, from the tunnel back onto the court to score his 55th point on the and-1 opportunity that was waiting for him, pre-ejection; slide in for a game-deciding block on Damian Lillard; and provide one of the most candidly conspiratorial postgame interviews ever, punctuated by audio issues from Comcast SportsNet that had Cousins cutting out at the end of his tirade. The Kings beat the Blazers 126–121 in regulation Tuesday. I can go the rest of my days knowing that I’ve already lived a full life.
“It’s ridiculous,” Cousins said, repeatedly, in the postgame interview. “It’s obvious what’s being done out here. It’s a nightly basis. I hope the world can see now what’s really going on out here, because it’s getting ridiculous.” The accusations are vague, which makes sense: Cousins isn’t out here overtly trying to get fined again, nor is there any specific perpetrator — we’re not looking at isolated incidents, but a culture surrounding Cousins that he hasn’t been able to shake his entire NBA career. Six coaches in seven seasons; a history of emotional outbursts that have calcified into an unbreakable reputation as an asshole; a front office that, in recent years, has aimlessly stockpiled incongruous frontcourt partners while Cousins has, in an age of unicorns, willed a spiralized horn onto his ox frame. Whether or not the idea of Boogie being targeted by the league and its constituents holds any water, it’s become clear that we’ve only ever been able to view Cousins through the context of his suppression. His time with Sacramento hasn’t been mutually beneficial, it’s been mutually assured destruction.
There’s clearly a perspective to be had on this that paints Cousins as the one in the wrong. Meyers Leonard — the canvas upon which Cousins completely Pollocked — for instance, worked his role as Boogie’s cool and collected foil after the game. “He deserved to be out of the game for what he did,” Leonard said. “… I saw some comment from him that ‘The world needs to see that this is ridiculous.’ No, it’s not ridiculous. He did it to himself, and that’s the truth.” Leonard finished with five fouls, all committed against Cousins in the first three quarters.
Yet, none of that mattered. Cousins scored 55 points on a remarkable true shooting percentage of 77.5; he single-handedly made more shots from behind the arc than one of the best 3-point-shooting teams in the league; and he brought Sacramento back from a 12-point deficit near the beginning of the third quarter with 31 second-half points.
Midway through the third, I muttered to myself, So this is what it would’ve felt like if Sheed ever decided to completely take over. (Little did I know then that Cousins would save his most evocative Rasheed Wallace impersonation for postgame.) Wallace, too, tried to speak truth to power when it came to the conspiratorial underpinnings of the NBA; he had long argued that the league picked favorites, targeting players like him for persecution while protecting the game’s “baby dolls.”
For a large portion of his career, Wallace was defined by his hotheadedness, not his futuristic gifts as a rim-protecting floor spacer capable of doing anything on the court; in the Associated Press recap of Wallace’s career-high 42-point night against the Nuggets back in 2001, the lede read: “Rasheed Wallace had nothing to do with a thrown headband or a pair of ejections Tuesday night.” Time has mellowed the league’s perception of Wallace as an outsider into a wisecracking, curmudgeonly uncle figure, but in his prime, his game rarely matched the enormity of his emotional outbursts. With Cousins, it’s not just a matter of matching the emotion; there’s a hope that his game might transcend all of it.
Tuesday night’s performance was so perfectly, demonstratively Boogie that not even an ejection could keep him off the floor. This was not only the best performance of Cousins’s career, it was his moment of undeniability. The game was subsumed by Cousins’s talent, and not the other way around.
Runner-up: Tuesday Night, Period.
Truly one of the best nights of basketball we’ve had all season. Seven games decided by seven points or fewer, and four total overtime periods. Isaiah Thomas went Future Iverson on the Grizzlies, gunning for 44 points on only 16 shots for a mind-boggling true shooting percentage of 93.7. Carmelo Anthony had it goink in the second half of the Knicks’ amazing comeback win over the Pacers, scoring 26 points (including 6-for-8 from 3) in the final two frames en route to 35 points on the game.
Malcolm Brogdon yammed on the King:
But LeBron had the last laugh, hitting the dagger from Neptune:
What a beautiful sport.