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: Paul Millsap
In a game that took nearly four hours — longer than The Godfather: Part II, the previous night’s Australian Open men’s finals, and a wait at the Genius Bar — and had four overtimes, neither the New York Knicks nor the Atlanta Hawks managed to score the most points of any team this weekend. Atlanta outlasted the Knicks 142–139 on Sunday. It wasn’t glamorous basketball: The teams combined to go 28-of-82 from deep, the Hawks shot 70 percent from the line, and Carmelo Anthony fouled out in the second overtime — but still took 20 more shots than any other Knick did on Sunday. (To be fair, Melo finished with 45 points, his most since 2014.)
The ability to outlast rather than the ability to dazzle and drain bucket after bucket is not what won the game for the Hawks. Rather, it was Paul Millsap: He played a franchise-record-tying 60:07 (over an hour!), scoring 37 points, grabbing 19 rebounds, dishing seven assists, and nabbing both a steal and a block, while also managing the most important offensive rebound and put-back hook in the 68-minute game.
Coming with 27 seconds left in the fourth overtime, it was the final tiebreaker in a game that was even 21 times and had 23 lead changes. By that bucket, Millsap had gone more than 35 straight minutes without a break, yet he still ended up with numbers that were better in every shooting category than his averages this year, going 13-of-29 from the field, 3-of-8 from behind the 3-point line, and sunk eight of 10 shots at the line.
By the fourth overtime, with Kristaps Porzingis, Melo, and Joakim Noah on the bench after fouling out (and with Derrick Rose sitting out because of a sprained left ankle), 80 percent of New York’s usual starting lineup was off the court. It became a YMCA game for the guys who didn’t get picked on the first go-round — and they lit it up. A 3 from Brandon Jennings was answered by a 3 from Kent Bazemore, which was answered by a 3 from Justin Holiday, which was answered by another 3 from Kent Bazemore, which was answered by another 3 from Brandon Jennings, bringing it full circle. Correct: Millsap hit none of those, but he did make it to the line, tie the game, and then score the game-deciding basket — after playing more than 59 minutes.
We all owe Millsap a huge thank you. Yes, there are more fun players to watch for an hour — say Joel Embiid, who lost out on an All-Star spot (and a date) possibly because Millsap made the roster. But we can appreciate the player who musters up the energy and strength in the fourth OT to grab a rebound and end it, for all of our sakes.
Honorable Mention: Kyrie Irving
In the galaxy of unbalanced teams, none orbits around a single playmaker more than Oklahoma City does with Russell Westbrook. He currently leads his team in almost every statistical category and is the first (and second, and third) option for OKC’s offense, but Irving won the point guard battle in the Thunder’s 107–91 loss to Cavs on Sunday. Kyrie didn’t get a triple-double like Russ, but he finished with 29 points and 10 assists, scoring on three consecutive trips in the third to push the Cavs’ lead from mildly comfortable to really cozy, and made Russ go nekked on a walk of atonement through King’s Landing.
In need of a playmaker? Kyrie says check ball.