SAN FRANCISCO – Anthony Davis sat next to LeBron James, watching James praise him.
James said Tuesday night, following a dominant performance by Davis in the Lakers’ Game 1 win in the Western Conference Semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors. “That’s why their jerseys are in the rafters. M will be there when he’s done playing.”
James went for another minute along the same lines. Once he was done, Davis patted him on the back.
“I’ll take my watch next week,” said James, smirking at his quip about the swap. “or a car.”
Although the series evoked nostalgia for the years when James Warriors guard Stephen Curry used to battle each June for the NBA championship, it can depend on Davis, who has the potential to be the best player in it. He wasn’t always like that, as he was prone to injuries and inconsistent play. But on Tuesday night, Davis showed what his dominance can mean to the Lakers, as he propelled them to a 117-112 win on the road over the defending champion Warriors, and snatched home court advantage.
Curry finished with 27 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists while two other Golden State guards, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole, lost 20 points.
Davis finished the game with 30 points, 23 rebounds, and 4 blocks. With at least 30 points and 20 rebounds, Davis joined an elite team in Lakers playoff history: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. The sharpest statistical difference between the two teams was a direct result of Davis’ play: the Lakers outscored the Warriors inside the paint, 54-28.
“He’s everything to us,” Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder said. “Defensive, offensive, a big part of this organization. I mean, he wasn’t an All-Star, he wasn’t the Defensive Player of the Year. He takes it very seriously, he does everything for us, and he’s the announcer.”
It made sense that James and Carrie would be the narrative center of the series. They are two of the best players to ever play in the NBA, each winning four championships. They’ve played against each other in the finals every year from 2015 to 2018, and have each won a championship since then too – James in 2020 and Curry last season.
This is the first time since 2018 that the two have faced off against each other in the playoffs, and there were plenty of moments on Tuesday night when they dominated the stage.
Before the match, the two shared a laugh at the scorer’s table. Midway through the second quarter, as Davis was shooting free throws, James wandered down the sideline with Curry, who was heading to the Golden State bench. James stayed next to Carrie until he sat down, and even after that he continued to talk to him.
“He was just joking about having to guard me all the way until I sat on the bench,” Curry said.
But in the first half, James was with Davis. The two of them walked off the field together, side by side, step by step.
The scene was reminiscent of their first year together, the 2019-20 championship season, when Davis and James would barely go anywhere without each other and wait for each other to finish interviews on the court after each game.
The Lakers gave up a lot to acquire Davis the summer prior to this season, including players who would become crucial pieces for other franchises. But Davis seemed to reward the Lakers immediately. He was named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive first team. He was a nominee for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s a perfect fit for Team James.
Part of what made this partnership work so smoothly is the way their personalities intertwine. Davis never needed to be the center of attention. James didn’t mind it, but I thrived on it.
“We’re not jealous of each other,” James said during the 2020 NBA Finals.
This dynamic came into play on Tuesday night when James and Carey were the center of attention.
Davis may not seek attention, but he does demand it on the court, especially when he plays the way he did in Game 1.
“We know that’s what he can do,” said Lakers coach Darvin Hamm. “It’s great. We needed every bit of all those points and rebounds and blocked shots, and assists too.”
Although Davis excelled on defense inside the paint, he made his presence felt all over the court. Late in the game, the Warriors stymied the Warriors shortly after Curry tied the game with a heart-stopping 3-pointer with 1 minute and 38 seconds left to cap it 14-0.
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell scored the difference up front. Moments later, Curry tried again, this time heading toward the basket, only for Davis to block his shot. With 39.3 seconds left in the game and the Lakers leading by three, Davis grabbed a rebound from a Paul foul.
Davies was also aggressive and seemed tireless despite playing 43 minutes and 50 seconds, more than any other player. Play the entire second half.
Hamm credited managing the Lakers’ loads during the regular season to Davis’ ability to play big minutes in the playoffs.
Davis’s critics questioned his stamina and consistency, and not without reason. He missed games due to injury every year of his career and only played 56 games this season.
He said “I don’t care”. “I don’t care what no one else thinks. Only the guys in the locker room, the coaching staff, only the opinions I care about. Other than that, I just go out and play basketball, and do what I can do to help the team win.”
Davis and James were two of the last players left on the court Tuesday night, with Davis giving a postgame interview with TNT and James speaking with the Lakers regional broadcast channel. Davis briefly interrupts James’ meeting to make a personal handshake before leaving the court.
“It’s going to be a different game,” Davis said when asked about Game Two on Thursday. “They will make adjustments. We will make adjustments.” “I will continue to be aggressive,” he added.
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”
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