As his point total surged into the 50s and more people gathered around screens to witness the spectacle, Anthony Davis, a 6-foot-10, 253-pound forward/center/Galactus, received a handoff on the right wing and buried a 3-pointer, his second of the game.
Much was expected from Davis this season: MVP, defensive player of the year, a postseason run. All of it was within reach for the wunderkind following one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history, according to player efficiency rating, in his age-21 season. After Zapruder film of Davis hoisting 3-pointers circulated in the offseason, the sky gave way to the sun and the stars as the limit.
That meteoric follow-up hasn’t happened just yet. Injuries have marred what was expected to be a banner season in New Orleans and have dragged Davis down with them. But on this afternoon in Detroit, the 22-year-old titillated any and all wild fantasies.
Dunks, floaters, midrange jumpers and yes, even the 3-ball: The whole package was finally being realized like never before, and it sent the NBA landscape into the type of tizzy that pre-Lob City Blake Griffin used to by dunking over and on any loafing post player in his path.
By the end of the night, Davis had smashed the record book with his size-17 Nikes. He finished with 59 points on 24-for-34 shooting from the field, 9-for-10 from the free throw line and 2-for-2 on 3-pointers to go with 20 rebounds and four assists in a 111-106 Pelicans win.
"You just feel like you're really locked in, and the rim is really big," Davis told reporters in Detroit. "Like I said, [it was] like any shot you put up is going in. But you're just locked-in. You feel like you want the ball at all times. Any time you touch it, it's gonna go up. That's how I felt tonight. They were going in, so when they keep going in, you get more and more locked in. Then your teammates have fun with it and get locked in as well."
Davis told ESPN Radio's NBA Insiders after the game that he was surprised Detroit didn't start sending double-teams his way. But he was happy about it. He now has a few new pieces for his trophy room.
"I'm definitely gonna frame [the box score] with the game ball, definitely have to do that," he said. "Probably retire the jersey, hang the jersey up. It's just so memorable, a memorable night for me. It's been one of my dreams to score 50, to finally do it ... everything that I had on will probably be going in a glass case somewhere."
His list of accomplishments from this night alone is longer than most career resumes. To wit, via our friends at ESPN Stats & Information:
Davis is one of only 20 players in NBA history to score 59 or more points.
He is the youngest player in NBA history to score at least 59 points, having bested Jerry West by almost a full year, and the second-youngest player with a 50-20 game, behind only Bob McAdoo.
He had 28 points in the paint (career high), eight midrange field goals (season high) and two 3-pointers (for the fourth time in his career).
His 59 points were a season high, career high, franchise high and the most in a single game by any NBA player this season.
"You don't really appreciate it until afterwards, the magnitude at which he played and some of the things that he did," said coach Alvin Gentry, who was on the Warriors' bench the past season when Klay Thompson scored 37 points in a quarter. "AD's a great midrange shooter. And if he gets into a rhythm, things like that can happen."
Davis said recently that being in the locker room at the All-Star Game and listening to his peers talk about what they needed to do in the second half inspired him to do the same, even as the Pelicans' odds of making the playoffs remain just over 1 percent, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index.
Davis also has $23 million worth of reasons to play up to that standard, as the maximum extension he signed the past offseason will pay him more, as stipulated by the so-called "Derrick Rose Rule," if he makes any of the three All-NBA teams.
Maybe none of it happens. Maybe the Pelicans, now 22-33 and 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, never overcome their 27th-ranked defensive to make a run. Maybe Davis, whose season-long PER coming into the night (25.15) ranks lower than it did in his past two seasons, never gets the room he needs -- in an offense forced because of injures to play multiple nonshooters -- to dominate like this again.
But for one day, at least, everything seemed within reach.
"I think it allows you to understand the type of player that he can [be] if you can create space for him," Gentry said. "If you can create space for him, then you can see -- shooting-wise, taking the ball to the basket, dunking the basketball, rolling hard ... you can see all those things when he's playing in space. He's not a real grind-it-out, bump-in-the-low-post kind of guy, but he can catch it in the post and square up, face a guy up, and you can get good results from that."