Every now and again, one sports story dominates an evening, for better or for worse. And on Monday night, the NBA was as far on the back burner as possible.
Typically, I’d utilize the intro to this piece to wittily summarize the night in the NBA. But today, that feels utterly inappropriate. As a Buffalo Bills fan, but primarily, as a human being, the only thing I can help but focus on is Damar Hamlin’s health. In case you somehow missed it, Hamlin tackled Cincinnati Bengals’ wide receiver Tee Higgins late in the first quarter of Monday night’s game between the Bills and the Bengals, and moments after his tackle, Hamlin collapsed. He was administered CPR before being rushed to the hospital at 9:25 p.m. EST. He was intubated and reported to be in critical condition; the game was suspended with 5:58 remaining in the first quarter and eventually postponed altogether. It was sickening in the moment, in the aftermath, and is still sickening now.
I write about the NBA, not the NFL. But to attempt to recap Monday night in the NBA without acknowledging what dominated the evening in sports, for good reason, felt wrong. God, I hope Damar Hamlin is okay. More than anything — more than Donovan Mitchell’s epic night, more than Brooklyn’s win streak, more than LeBron James chasing history — that’s what matters. It’s the only thing that matters.
Now, somehow, onto Monday’s NBA action.
Historic performance from Mitchell pushes Cavs past Bulls, 145-134
Never has a player recorded a 70-point, 10-assist game in NBA history, until Monday night. Donovan Mitchell, with the third 70-point performance since 2000, led Cleveland to an overtime win over the Chicago Bulls. It’s the eighth-most points scored in a game in NBA history, and he may not have reached such a historic total if not for his own heroics in regulation — he grabbed his own intentionally missed free throw and made a wild put-back layup with three seconds remaining to tie the game at 130. That broke the Cavaliers’ franchise record of 58 points in a game and sent the game to overtime, where Mitchell obviously shattered said record and became the 12th player in NBA history to score 70 points in a game.
Knicks get back on track, clobber Suns, 102-83
The Knicks won five in a row, and then lost five in a row. The latter is not exactly the streak you want to be on. Now, however, the Knicks have won two in a row, and appear to be figuring it out... again. They blew out Phoenix by 19 on Monday, led by Julius Randle’s 28 points and 16 rebounds. The Spurs and Raptors, both beatable opponents, are up next; nothing is guaranteed, but if the Knicks can put together another win streak, playoff contention is far from out of the question.
Lakers sneak by Hornets, 121-115
Forty-three points for LeBron James in Los Angeles’ win over Charlotte, and he is now 484 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabaar on the all-time points leaderboard in NBA history. Naturally, though, he’s focused on the important things.
LeBron speaking on Damar Hamlin situation pic.twitter.com/NaM7iEd7r6— LakeShowYo (@LakeShowYo) January 3, 2023
Pacers rally past Raptors, 122-114
Dominant night from Embiid sees Sixers down Pelicans, 120-111
Joel Embiid’s 42-point outing (a “yawn”, per Liberty Ballers) makes headlines, but the story of the game might be Zion Williamson’s hamstring injury. He came up gingerly midway through the third and exited soon after.
Something happened w/ Zion here. He subbed out during FT pic.twitter.com/RzUPMH14NT— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) January 3, 2023
Of course, you hope it’s nothing serious, especially considering the season he’s had to this point. But it’s impossible not to wonder what his presence could have done to this otherwise-close game down the stretch. In any case, the Sixers eked it out behind Embiid’s MVP-level outing and James Harden’s 27 additional points.
Nets win 12th-straight, crush Spurs, 139-103
Brooklyn now has the longest win streak by any team this season and is just one game behind the Boston Celtics for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Had you been told that one month ago, you’d have cackled. This is an unthinkable turnaround; Jacque Vaughn, Kevin Durant, and yes, Kyrie Irving, deserve a remarkable bit of credit.
Timberwolves snap six-game skid, upset Nuggets, 124-111
It must be acknowledged: NBA.com’s headline regarding this game notes that Minnesota kept Nikola Jokic “in check” en route to their win over the Nuggets. Jokic, though, dropped 24 points and added seven rebounds and nine assists. Hey, kudos to the T-Wolves, but if that’s keeping Nikola Jokic in check, what counts as keeping Luka Doncic in check?
Mavericks win seventh-straight, eke past Rockets, 111-106
Well... Does holding him to 39 count? Given that it came in a loss, I’d say no. But hey, Houston did what it could against a player who’s averaging 34.2 points per game this season and 45.6 over his last five games. It’s unthinkable what Doncic is doing this season — if Dallas could win more games, the MVP conversation would already be over.
Trail Blazers throttle Pistons, 135-106
Heat stave off Clippers, 110-100
Warriors edge Hawks in 2OT thriller, 143-141
Kevon Looney tipped in the game-winner as the buzzer sounded...
... but it was Klay Thompson who was the star on the night, dropping a season-best 54 points in Golden State’s thrilling dub over the Hawks. He shot 21 for 39, draining 10 triples (another season high), and was just six points off his career-best scoring outing of 60.
This makes it five-straight wins for the Warriors. All without Stephen Curry. The defending champs might finally be back on track.