Michael Jordan will forever have the universal acclaim but when it comes to Chicago’s late 1990s dynasty, Steve Kerr is the player who beats even “His Airness” when it comes to respect.
Patty Mills has turned on a Christmas Day show, equalling his NBA career high with 34 points to lift the COVID-hit Brooklyn Nets to a 122-115 win over the LeBron James and Los Angeles Lakers.
The Boomers captain has been the eastern conference leaders’ ever-present mainstay in recent times as they’ve struggled to put a team on court with many absent under COVID-19 protocols.
It was no different on Saturday night as he combined with fellow backcourt star James Harden to improve the Nets’ season record to 22-9 despite a 39-point game from LeBron James before his home fans.
Watched by a huge holiday television audience, Mills made eight three-pointers from his 13 attempts and also provided seven assists. The eight three-pointers was the most ever made on Christmas Day while bringing up his 100th triple for the season — along with a season-high seven assists.
Afterwards Mills was asked if he was in the best form of his career.
“Yeah, could be,” he said. “I think maybe in the NBA. I think production wise playing for my country is probably where I tend to play the best.
“So possibly, but a lot of factors go into that. I’m just having a lot of fun playing in this team and with these guys.”
“Patty’s added so much to our team, obviously, we don’t win tonight without him,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash.
“So many nights this year, whether it’s scoring, mature I.Q., experience, it’s just the way he approaches the game. His spirit. His mentality. He’s added so much to our group, our culture, just by the person he is. By how pure his motives are, and by how much he wants to win as a group and for his teammates.
“He’s been unbelievable, not just on the floor, but off the floor as well.”
The Nets were returning from a week-long hiatus with three games postponed and were still without superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, among others.
In his 13th NBA season, 33-year-old Mills matched his previous best individual game tally set way back in the 2011-12 season when with San Antonio.
Patty Mills tonight:
34 PTS (ties career-high)
It’s his 2nd 30-point game this season. He never had more than 1 in a season before. pic.twitter.com/J4wO8dMPr9
— StatMuse (@statmuse) December 26, 2021
Harden finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, the last a late lob that Nic Claxton caught to score while soaring over James, who had just helped Los Angeles erase a 20-point deficit.
James’ 39 points took him past Kobe Bryant for most career points on Christmas Day, but it was not enough to stop the Lakers’ losing streak reaching five.
Earlier in Phoenix, Stephen Curry led short-handed Golden State to a 116-107 win over the Phoenix Suns in a clash of teams with the best season records.
The Warriors arrived without three of their top four scorers out under COVID protocols – Andrew Wiggins, Damion Lee and Jordan Poole.
Curry (30 points) carried most of the load, overcoming a mediocre shooting night as the Warriors (27-6) passed the Suns (26-6) for top spot in the western conference standings.
Chris Paul had 21 points and eight assists for the Suns to take up some of the slack from leading scorer Devin Booker, who was held to 13 points.
In Milwaukee, Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from COVID-19 protocols to score 36 points as reigning champions Milwaukee snatched a 117-103 win over the Boston Celtics.
In his first game since December 12, two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo played 30 minutes and connected on 13 of 23 shots.
In New York, Kemba Walker became the seventh NBA player to record a triple-double on Christmas Day, as his New York Knicks beat the depleted Atlanta Hawks 101-87 for their first win on the holiday in a decade.
Walker finished with 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds and Julius Randle had 25 points and 12 rebounds.