SAN FRANCISCO—Anthony Davis sat next to LeBron James watching him praise him.
After Davis’ dominant performance in a Lakers game, James said Tuesday night, “During the course of its existence, the Lakers franchise has always had a dominant big man, a dominant man who has been strong at the rim. I had men,” he said. Golden State won one in his Western Conference Semifinals series against the Warriors. “That’s why their jerseys are in the rafters. AD will be there when they’re done playing.”
James continued in the same vein for another minute. When he was finished, Davis patted him on the back.
“I’ll bring the watch next week,” James said, smiling at his joke about the price.
The series has stirred long-standing nostalgia of James and Warriors guard Stephen Curry facing off each June for the NBA championship, but it’s likely the best player in it all. He was prone to injuries and inconsistent play, which wasn’t always the case. robbed the defending champion Warriors 117-112 and led the Lakers to a 117-112 victory, showing what his dominance meant for the Lakers.
Curry had 27 points, six rebounds and three assists, while two other Golden State guards, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole, also topped the 20-point mark.
Davis finished the game with 30 points, 23 rebounds and four blocks. Davis, who had at least 30 points and 20 rebounds, made Lakers playoff history. Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal. The most dramatic statistical difference between the teams was a direct result of Davis’ play. The Lakers outscored the Warriors in the paint with him 54-28.
“He’s everything to us,” Lakers guard Dennis Schrader said. “He’s been a big part of this organization, both defensively and offensively. I am an anchor.”
It makes sense that James and Curry would be central to the narrative of this series. They are his two best ever to have played in the NBA, each winning his four championships. They met in the finals every year from 2015 to 2018, and have each won championships since then: James in 2020 and Curry last season.
It was the first time the two sides had faced each other in the playoffs since 2018, and there were plenty of moments where they dominated the stage on Tuesday night.
The two laughed at each other at the scorers table before the game. Midway through the second quarter, James wandered the sidelines with Curry heading to the Golden State bench while Davis shot free throws. James stayed with Curry until he sat down and continued to talk to him afterwards.
“He joked that he had to protect me all the way until I got to the bench,” Curry said.
But James was with Davis at halftime. The two left the court together, shoulder to shoulder, striding.
This scene brings back memories of our first year together in the 2019-20 Championship season. Back then, Davis and James hardly went anywhere without each other, waiting for each other to finish their on-court interviews after every game.
The Lakers gave up a lot to acquire Davis the summer before that season, including a player who would go on to become a key component of other franchises. However, Davis seemed to pay off the Lakers quickly. He was named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team. He was a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He was a perfect fit for James’ team.
Part of the reason that partnership worked so seamlessly was the way their personalities meshed together: Davis didn’t have to be the center of attention. James didn’t mind it.
“We are not jealous of each other,” James said at the 2020 NBA Finals.
That dynamic came into play on Tuesday night when James and Curry were the center of attention.
Davis may not want attention, but he needs attention on the court.
“I know that’s what he’s capable of,” said Lakers coach Durbin Hamm. Points, rebounds, blocks. He needed shots, assists.”
Davis was good at defending in the paint, but he made his presence felt all over the court. In the closing minutes of the game, he hampered the Warriors and capped a 14-0 run just after Curry tied the game with his heart-stopping 3-pointer with 1 minute and 38 seconds remaining.
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell scored to regain the lead for the Lakers. Moments later, Curry tried again, this time driving to the basket, but his shot was blocked by Davis with 39.3 seconds remaining and the Lakers trailing him by three. grabbed the rebound from a pool mistake.
Davis was also aggressive offensively and looked tireless despite playing 43 minutes and 50 seconds more than any other player. He played the entire second half.
Hamm credited the Lakers’ load management during the regular season with Davis’ ability to make big plays in the playoffs.
Critics of Davis have questioned his durability and consistency, and for good reason. He has missed a game every year in his career due to injury, and he has played just 56 games this season.
“It’s none of my business,” he said. “I don’t care what anyone thinks. The guys in the locker room, the coaching staff, all I care about is the opinion. Other than that, I go out and play basketball and do what I can to help my team win.”
Davis and James were two of the last players on the court Tuesday night, with Davis conducting a post-game interview with TNT and James speaking to the Lakers’ regional broadcast channel. Davis briefly interrupted James’ interview for a personal handshake before leaving the court.
“It’s going to be another game,” Davis said when asked about Game 2 on Thursday. “They’re going to make adjustments. They’re going to make adjustments.”