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: Damian Lillard, for Standing Up for Himself
Damian Lillard, John Wall, and Isaiah Thomas have all pointed to their wrists after hitting clutch baskets in clutch situations this NBA season, as if to say, “It’s over, y’all had y’all’s chance.” Which is just fine — or, at least it would be if, say, Lillard were a basketball player, Thomas a football player, and Wall a soccer player. Everyone from Antonio Brown to Christian Pulisic has co-opted LeBron James’s celebratory Double-Pump High-Step Badge Slap — which is what I will continue to call it, because in three years of looking at it a more concise name has yet to reveal itself. But their mimicry runs across different disciplines. The issue among these three point guards is that they are all playing the same sport, at the same time. So when it comes to these celebrations, it’s either homage or larceny — there is no in-between. Lillard seems pretty firm on the idea that his counterparts are committing the latter:
If we’re whittling the idea of ownership down to whoever did the thing earliest, then Lillard has a point. Of course, nonexistent-watch-pointing is not exactly an uncommon human action, but remember back in December 2014 when Lillard came free at the top of the key off of an inbound pass and forced overtime against the Thunder with a deep 3? He asked if we knew what time it was then, and we did. It was Lillard Time. Tremble.
But time passed, Lillard became marginally less scary, the Blazers faded in the Western Conference, and in that void, others tried to claim the “You Know What Time It Is” for themselves. Most recently John Wall, who finished a tough three-point play over Kevin Love in Monday night’s cardiac episode against the Cavs. The rub here is that you can’t do it and then lose. Not that you shouldn’t always call your shots (and not that Wall could have possibly known he would lose at the time) but the game is the game.
If we’re talking ownership in terms of whoever is currently doing the thing best, it would have to be Isaiah Thomas. There’s the original, and there’s the remix that replaces it in the rotation. There’s Jay Z’s “Show Me What You Got,” and then there’s Lil Wayne rapping over the same beat like a man possessed to make us all forget that Jay Z was ever posted up on Danica Patrick’s stock car in the music video. Thomas currently leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring with 10.7 points per game. Lillard comes in seventh with 7.1. Wall is a lowly (but respectable!) 12th with 6.3. Moreover: Lillard is 6-foot-3, Wall is 6-foot-4, and Thomas is, like, 4-foot-11. It’s math, man.
Lillard had a chance to reclaim his throne in Tuesday’s 114–113 win over the Dallas Mavericks and nearly did so. Dame had a remarkable first half, scoring 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting and hitting all four of his 3-pointers. After a quiet third quarter in which Lillard scored only three points, the Portland guard snapped a 13–0 Mavs run in the final frame with 3:06 left by dropping Harrison Barnes off a cliff with a step-back and burying a long 2. It was ultimately his teammate C.J. McCollum who split Devin Harris and Yogi Ferrell for the game-winning floater, though, so Lillard will have to wait until Thursday’s game against Thomas and the Celtics to settle this once and for all.
Then again, there might not have been a need for a McCollum game winner, but for Dirk Nowitzki — who has roamed this earth for millennia, sticking daggers in things — hitting this 3 with 3.9 seconds left in regulation. What is dead may never die.
If I didn’t have to adhere to rules I’ve only just made up, I’d say the Wrist Tap now belongs to Dirk Nowitzki, whether or not he wants it.
Whatever the Opposite of an Honorable Mention Is: Phil Jackson
On Tuesday, Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding published a profile of Carmelo Anthony, the thrust of which detailed how Knicks president Phil Jackson has had it up to here with Anthony’s general disinterest in winning stuff, and that the organization is ready to move on.
As are we all.
Jackson later took to Twitter to clarify Ding’s assessment of his comments, using his customary moonspeak. Jackson took another shot at Anthony by comparing him to a player he coached on the Albany Patroons, Michael Graham, whom Jackson had similar difficulty getting through to.
All else equal, the Knicks are 70 games under .500 since Jackson took the reins, and “daze” has the exact same number of letters in it as “days” does.