Paul George was already at the Kia MVP table. On Thursday, he blatantly and unapologetically moved his chair closer to that table's head.
The Thunder star also earned some sweet revenge in OKC's epic 148-147 double-OT win over Utah, which was surely hoping to see the George that underwhelmed in OKC's 4-2 first-round loss to the Jazz last year.
That man is gone, replaced by the true alpha star many thought George could be but not necessarily would be. This year's edition has no issues guarding Donovan Mitchell (14-for-35 FG), nor qualms about turning a make into a message, overtime fatigue be damned.
Most important of all, George took -- and made -- the big shot after years of missing them in Indiana. And what shot is bigger or more unmakeable than a game-winning floater over reigning Kia Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert?
That's a moment, one that polished off a 50-minute, 45-point, zero-turnover night for the MVP candidate that can no longer be ignored or explained away.
George has effectively become what Thunder fans feared they had lost forever when Kevin Durant left in 2016: a do-it-all forward that can co-exist with Russell Westbrook and dominate on both ends. The two combined for 88 points, just the fifth time in the last 22 years two teammates have each scored 40-plus. And though both were All-Stars last year, this year's edition feels like more of a threat come May.
Especially if George keeps playing like an MVP.
Shorter contracts and the grass-is-greener era make franchise icons a rare occurrence. By year seven or eight, an All-Star talent is ready to move on.
Not DeMar DeRozan. The nine-year Raptor had no intention of leaving the only team he'd ever known. Only the availability of Kawhi Leonard, a two-time Kia Defensive Player of the Year, kept that feeling from being mutual.
On Thursday night, DeRozan the Spur returned to Scotiabank Arena for the first time since he was shockingly dealt last summer. His former team drowned him with the kind of tribute and ovation fitting for the best Raptor in franchise history.
The Toronto Raptors thank DeMar DeRozan for everything he did during his time with the team with an incredible tribute video and it's followed up by an extended standing ovation. pic.twitter.com/P7SpSlaoJy— TSN (@TSN_Sports) February 23, 2019
And though he didn't get the win, DeRozan reminded everyone how he earned him four All-Star selections and a pair of All-NBA honors. The veteran swingman scored 23 points on just 12 shots (all of them inside the arc). Raptors fans gladly clapped for their "opponent" when he pulled off his signature 360-degree assault on the rim:
DeRozan more than deserved Toronto's warm welcome. He's their longest-tenured player, all-time scoring leader, and had moments in a Raptors uniform. Guys like that are the blocks on which a franchise's history is built.
A change of scenery hasn't seen Thon Maker exactly erupt in Detroit, but the former 10th overall pick did enjoy his first signature moment with his new team. The seven-foot big man found himself catching a pass near the right corner with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation. Maker pump-faked, launched and made the game-winning 3-pointer to give the Pistons a 125-122 win at Atlanta.
The Pistons' victory was at least partly inspired by their hosts. That's according to several Detroit players, who said after the game that music artist and Atlanta celebrity Quavo unintentionally motivated the visitors.
“I told (Quavo) he fueled that,” Andre Drummond told reporters. “He was talking too much.”
“Quavo started talking and saying I couldn’t hold Trae [Young],” Pistons rookie Bruce Brown added. “I just did what I needed to do. It was fun.”
Detroit guard Reggie Jackson (32 points) took the sentiment one step further, immediately running the game ball to Quavo as time expired.
How many guys get a defender to turn a complete circle in confusion before realizing he's been duped? Trae Young is one of them.
The Hornets aren't viewed as contenders, but the East's elite should be wary of taking them lightly when a first-round series shifts to Charlotte. The league's recent All-Star hosts hold a 20-9 record at home, a surprisingly solid mark given their overall sub-.500 record.
Coach James Borrego made a change in hopes of stimulating more universal success, inserting rookie Mikal Bridges into the starting lineup for Jeremy Lamb. The move worked in Charlotte's comeback win over Washington. The Hornets' new starting five boasted a whopping 19.5 net rating while on the floor and assisted on 11 of its 16 makes.
The sample size is small, but any consistency the Hornets can slide alongside All-Star starter Kemba Walker would be welcome.