OKLAHOMA CITY -- The message before the game from Monty Williams was simple and direct and stuck with Anthony Davis before he would take the signature shot of his young career.
"If you don't want to be great," Williams told his team. "Step aside and let someone else be great."
On a young New Orleans Pelicans team that has struggled to find a leader willing to be great in previous seasons, Davis demanded the ball and greatness on Friday night.
"He was not willing to step aside and let someone else be great," Williams said following the game.
After Russell Westbrook had hit three consecutive free throws to tie the game at 113-113 and bring the Oklahoma City Thunder back from seven points down with less than two minutes left in the game, Davis knew he was going to get the ball with 1.2 seconds left.
He just didn't know how.
The most memorable shot of Davis' career, like most memorable shots great players take, didn't come as a result of a beautifully scripted play, but rather a gut reaction in the moment and the willingness to take a shot in the midst of chaos.
"We were trying to lob it, but they went zone, so I told A.D. [Davis], 'If you see the guy go underneath, pop back,' not knowing he was going to pop back for a 3," Williams said. "He just made a great read. They came out and went zone, and that kind of freed up some space for us to move around. And because of the movement, he pops free and he just makes a great play. I wish I could say I drew that up, but I didn't. I drew it up for him to get it in a different spot, and he just makes one of the best plays of his career, if not the best."
As Tyreke Evans held the ball out of bounds, Davis looked for the lob. But Steven Adams was patrolling the paint, so Davis circled back, past Kevin Durant and went behind the three-point line for the pass despite missing all eight of his previous attempts behind the arc this season and hitting only 2 of 23 attempts in his career.
"I want to be great, so you have to accept those challenges," Davis said. "I saw K.D. make those two 3s [in the fourth quarter], and it bothered me, but I couldn't let it affect me to the point where I couldn't make play."
Davis might have missed every one of his previous long-range attempts this season, but his lone attempt behind the arc on Friday night was never in doubt and gave New Orleans a 116-113 win over Oklahoma City to put them one game behind Phoenix for the 8-seed in the West.
After the game, Davis' teammates were teasing him about hitting the game winner despite double-clutching his shot as Durant unsuccessfully tried to block it. Not only was it Davis' first 3-pointer of the season, it was also the first buzzer-beater he could remember making in his career.
"I knew we had 1.2 seconds left," Davis said. "I didn't have to rush it. There was enough time to get a good look in, but when I saw K.D. flying in, I knew I had to adjust so he couldn't block it. I double-clutched it and made sure I got it off in time."
"I was falling, so I couldn't really see, but I saw that it was on line. I never saw it go in; I saw Tyreke and Quincy [Pondexter] start running towards me, and I thought, 'I better hurry up and get up before they jump on me.'"
The game winner was simply the exclamation point on Davis' dominating night, as he finished with 41 points and 10 rebounds and hit all five of his free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. In the biggest game of the Pelicans' season as they fight with Oklahoma City and Phoenix for that 8-seed, he played his best game and showed why he should be in the MVP conversation if New Orleans is able to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
"Tonight you saw greatness from a guy who doesn't run from it," Williams said. "You don't get a lot of time to celebrate in the NBA, but I'm sure he feels that he's not just one of the better players in the league, he might be the best when it comes to being a young guy who's not afraid of the moment. He's carrying his team at 21, and not many guys have been able to do that at his age. It just adds to his experience. He knows that he can come through. We've put him in situations before and maybe gave him too much responsibility, but that may be helping him now."
Despite being the leader of the team and one of the best players in the league, Davis isn't immune from being teased by the veterans on the team after his biggest moment of his career. As he spoke to reporters, Evans and Ryan Anderson were trying to distract Davis as Evans jokingly remarked how the "cute baby" had grown up right before their eyes.
"That's just a superstar shot," Anderson said. "You rarely see a shot like that go in. Leave it to Anthony to make a ridiculous, double-clutch shot like that. It's just crazy. He's just at another level. He continues to get better every day and surprise us with something new. That's going to be one of those shots that forever in his career he'll look back on, probably in awe himself that it dropped in. He continues to be fun to watch. He's just insane."
While everyone in the Pelicans' locker room spoke in detail about Davis' game winner after the game, he admitted he still hadn't seen it but was planning on spending the next few hours watching it over and over again.
"I'll probably watch it all night tonight," Davis said. "I'm not going to lie."