scored an NBA-high 54 points against the Knicks
on Feb. 27. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
This season has been loaded with phenomenal individual efforts. At the risk of leaving out some spectacular performance or another, here's a look at the greatest offensive spectacles in 2012-13:
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Feb. 27 at New York: 54 points, seven assists, six rebounds
Curry not only scored the most points in an NBA game this season but also put together the most magnificent display of shooting, hitting 11-of-13 three-pointers. The Knicks plodded along helplessly as Curry's heat checks grew progressively bolder -- from quick catch-and-shoot tries to off-the-dribble threes to bafflingly accurate heaves from a few feet beyond the three-point arc. It made for a hell of a show, and Curry proved so lethal from the field that Warriors coach Mark Jackson couldn't take him off the floor for a single second.
[BALLARD: Curry perfecting the imperfect art of shooting]
Believe what you will about the merits of the hot hand, but Curry shifted into another state of consciousness against the Knicks. To know this ridiculous level of scoring prowess is to know peace, and though Curry's efforts were ultimately in vain (the Warriors fell to the Knicks 109-105), his shooting serenity stands as one of the season's most miraculous individual achievements.
2. LeBron James, Miami Heat
Feb. 14 at Oklahoma City: 39 points, seven assists, 12 rebounds
James controlled every aspect of the game against the Thunder, dropping a tidy 39 points on 14-of-24 shooting (including 4-of-8 from three-point range) to go with seven assists and a game-high 12 rebounds in a 110-100 victory. The performance came in the midst of an unreal February that I've already discussed in detail.
got revenge on his former team on Feb. 20, dropping 46 points on just 19 shots. (Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
3. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Feb. 20 vs. Oklahoma City: 46 points (on just 19 shots), six assists, seven rebounds, sweet vindication
Harden's first two games against his former team this season were relatively tame, but the third brought an incredible scoring output with maxed-out efficiency as Houston rallied from a 14-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter to win 122-119. Harden shot 7-for-11 on two-pointers and 7-for-8 on threes (14-of-19 overall), earned 12 free throws (making 11) and committed just two turnovers in 44 minutes against a team that currently ranks fourth in the league in defense. That's batty.
High-scoring games don't get much better, as most players inevitably wind up compromising some aspect of their offensive economy as they ratchet up their scoring. That just wasn't the case for Harden, who maintained his pick-and-roll evisceration of the Thunder while settling into comfortable threes in semi-transition. That such a deluge came against the Thunder is just narrative icing on the cake.
4. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
April 2 at Miami: 50 points, two assists, zero turnovers
Anthony's explosion (50 points on 18-of-26 shooting) in a 102-90 victory against a Heat team missing James and Dwyane Wade kicked off a torrid stretch for the Knicks' star. In three consecutive games, he compiled 131 points (on 64.2 percent from the field and 57.9 percent from long distance), 21 rebounds and just six turnovers.
It's clear that Anthony has reached a point of pure, bucket-getting grandeur that is simply impossible to overlook or disregard in any fashion. Scoring at least 40 points in three straight games is a hell of a feat (as is dropping 50 in any context), and the fact that Anthony accomplished the feat by doing all the right things -- driving past slower defenders and bullying opponents from the block -- is fantastic news for the Knicks.
5. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jan. 18 at Dallas: 52 points, nine rebounds, 21-for-21 from the free-throw line
Durant technically needed an overtime period to set this career high in scoring, but there's room to forgive such a caveat with a player so persistent off the dribble. Scorers of Durant's caliber are known to get a favorable whistle or two, but he racked up a whopping 21 foul shots in the Thunder's 117-114 win because he consistently attacked Dallas' best perimeter defenders.
Vince Carter has had a fine defensive season, but he was out of his league in covering a player with every conceivable physical advantage. Shawn Marion has generally done quite well in guarding Durant, but he was too generous with his contact on this night. Durant took advantage and left no points at the charity stripe in what wound up being a very competitive game, which made each of his 52 points matter a great deal.
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
March 8 vs. Toronto: 41 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, a handful of insane three-pointers
In perhaps the apex of Bryant's turn as a do-it-all shot creator, he carried the Lakers with high-volume scoring and passing in a game that they really should have lost (they rallied from a 15-point deficit in regulation and prevailed 118-116 in overtime). His bulk scoring and assisting didn't come without a price (Bryant also registered nine turnovers), but I'm willing to overlook that kind of statistical blemish given the sheer ridiculousness of his trio of three-point attempts that set up OT:
That first shot is just a horrendous use of a possession, but Bryant remains the best in the league in finding redeeming value in his own self-spawned disasters. The highly difficult attempts that follow on the next two trips down the floor follow suit, and what could have been a tough loss to a lesser team becomes an incredible opportunity with a few splashes of the net. No Laker would dare step between Bryant and the questionable fourth-quarter shot selection he deems to be his divine right, and no Raptor could deny Bryant from taking -- and making -- unbelievable three after unbelievable three.
It was our distinct pleasure to watch it all unfold, from the high totals to the big threes and, eventually, to a go-ahead dunk in overtime as Bryant looked sprier and more athletic than players a decade younger. It's been a fantastic year for Bryant, but this easily stands as his most memorable showing.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
March 18 vs. Miami: 43 points, seven rebounds
The sheer improbability of this game still astounds me. Green was having a perfectly decent season for the Celtics, but in no way did it seem plausible for him to hang 43 on the streaking Heat while appearing to be the most dominant player on the court. This is the closest that Green has ever come to legitimate basketball stardom. No Heat defender could contain him through three quarters, with his swift drives to the basket rendering the concept of help defense irrelevant.
Unfortunately for Green, the fourth quarter brought a hard fall back to reality. He scored only five points in the final period and Miami returned the universe to its natural order by rallying for a 105-103 victory to extend its winning streak to 23. It was a tough loss for the Celtics, but Green's career-best showing (he made 14-of-21 from the field and 5-of-7 from long range) made for a hell of a silver lining and served as a high point in his strong late-season play.
Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
March 30 vs. Chicago: 35 points (82.4 percent shooting from the field, 83.3 percent shooting from three-point range), seven rebounds, a game-winning three-pointer to (potentially) save the Mavericks' season
At the time, this game was crucial to the Mavs' resilient playoff push. The eighth seed was in sight, but was only attainable if the Mavs were able to steal a few wins from the Pacers, Bulls, Lakers and Nuggets -- consecutive opponents that collectively made for a postseason crucible. It seemed possible at the time given Dallas' hot shooting, but a gut-punch loss to the Pacers loaded even more pressure on the three games to come.
The Bulls made for a miserable matchup for an all-offense team like the Mavs, but it hardly mattered: Nowitzki faked and faded his way through his usual arsenal of impossible shots, going 14-of-17 from the field (including 5-of-6 from deep) in Dallas' most important game of the season. Yet even that wasn't enough for the Mavs to gain adequate footing; standout performances from Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng gave the Bulls the slightest of edges down the stretch, until this:
A gutsy shot from Nowitzki in signature fashion, all as a fitting finish to an unstoppable offensive showing against one of the NBA's toughest defensive teams. Nowitzki was so good that the basketball fates seemed to turn in the Mavs' favor ... until all that hard work and hot shooting was undone in a loss to the Lakers three days later that essentially ended Dallas' postseason hopes. A bummer, to say the least, but one that can't totally erase a jubilant night of Nowitzki being Nowitzki.