LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — When opposing teams shoot free throws, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis ventures to the opposite end of the court to get in early post positioning on offense.
Late in the first quarter of the Lakers’ Western Conference finals Game 2 victory on Sunday, Davis walked to his post spot near the Lakers’ bench while Denver Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. was at the line. Nikola Jokic followed Davis and the two bigs were all alone.
Once the Lakers’ bench saw it was Jokic tasked with guarding Davis, it brought the noise with JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard screaming, “Thanksgiving, steak dinner, appetizers, filet mignon and potatoes, a glass of champagne!”
Porter Jr. missed his second free throw, and Rajon Rondo threw the ball ahead to Davis, who faced up Jokic and maneuvered his way around the big man for a bucket in the paint. McGee shouted, “Told you it was a feast out there!”
Davis ate well on that possession, but the biggest meal of his career would take place down the stretch.
The Lakers had the game under control for most of the evening, holding a lead as large as 16 in the first half, but the resilient Nuggets stayed the course and the game came down to the final 2.1 seconds.
Denver was up one. The Lakers’ Alex Caruso missed a wide open 3-pointer from the top of the key with 6.9 seconds left, and Danny Green wrestled away the offensive rebound, but his shot was blocked out of bounds by Denver’s Jamal Murray. The Lakers had one more shot with 2.1 seconds remaining, but they were out of timeouts. Rondo was the inbounder behind the Lakers basket.
“That's what this [practice] floor right here that we're all on right now is all about,” LeBron James said after the game, referring to out-of-timeout plays. “It's the practices; it's the shootarounds. We talk about every single scenario possible: up three, down three, up two, down two. Do we have a foul to give? Do we not? Do we have a timeout? Do we not? Are we going full-court; half-court; BOB, which is baseline out-of-bounds; SOB, sideline out-of-bounds? You talk about all those things. You want to be a championship club, you have to be able to do that on the fly.”
James was stationed near the left side of the free-throw line on the winning play with Denver’s Jerami Grant covering him, and Davis was to James’ right with Mason Plumlee defending. The official handed Rondo the ball. The first option was to the four-time MVP, but he had yet to make his move to get open. Davis saw an opening and sprinted around James.
For some puzzling reason, Plumlee called for Grant to switch, but Grant didn’t. Plumlee could have easily followed Davis because there wasn’t a screen impeding him. So James had Grant and Plumlee on him. Davis then came off the curl free for a 3-point look.
“Just happened, a little bit of miscommunication,” Jokic said.
“I just saw how they were playing it,” Davis said. “Plumlee was kind of off of me, so I knew if I kind of flew around with them kind of locked in on 'Bron, I was going to probably have a clean look. I just kind of looked at 'Do and we made eye contact.”
The bounce pass was made, and Davis caught it and squared up. Jokic was guarding the inbounder, but quickly raced over to contest the shot. With a hand in his face, Davis raised up and drew nothing but net right in front of the Nuggets’ bench.
Game. Or as the Lakers would say: dinner.
“Just a big-time shot by a big-time player,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel after the 105-103 victory.
Davis yelled, “Kobe!” as he dashed to his teammates, who rushed him as he inadvertently obliterated Talen Horton-Tucker with a flying knee to the chest that sent the Lakers rookie crashing to the hardwood. Horton-Tucker had to be helped up by Markieff Morris before rejoining his teammates to surround Davis in celebration.
“Oh, I’m good,” Horton-Tucker told Yahoo Sports. “That knee energized me.”
The Lakers are now up 2-0 in the series, with Davis leading the way with a game-high 31 points to go with nine rebounds and two blocks. James added 26 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. The team delivered in the clutch while wearing the Kobe Bryant-inspired “Black Mamba” jerseys.
“I mean, obviously wearing the jerseys, [Kobe’s] hit countless shots like that to win games, whether it's in the playoffs, Finals. But it was a special one for me. Special one for my teammates,” Davis said. “I told 'Bron, in L.A., right before the hiatus against the Brooklyn Nets, same spot, slightly different play and I missed a shot. I was upset with myself. And he said, ‘Man, we gonna live or die with you shooting that shot.’ I got the same opportunity tonight. Ready to make it. Special moment for me. Special moment for the team. Especially in a situation like trying to go up 2-0 against a special team who are great competitors and going to fight for the entire 48 minutes. To do something like that, and with the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special.”
Jokic finished with 30 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
“I mean, they have two really good, really good players,” Jokic said. “They have LeBron, who is probably the best player in the league, and they have A.D., who is probably the best scorer in the league. I think it's not easy to figure them out. They are really talented. We can just make it tough, make them feel uncomfortable. … But they're really talented. They're going to find solutions. We just need to kind of stay on top and just make them uncomfortable.”
It was the biggest shot of Davis’ career. This is why he desperately wanted out of New Orleans. He wanted a legitimate chance to make a huge impact while playing for a championship-caliber team after spending his first seven seasons in “The Big Easy” and never getting past the second round of the playoffs.
On this night it was all Davis, and he devoured the Nuggets on both ends of the floor. But there was one downside to his incredible night: He could only imagine what the reaction would have been like if the game were played in Los Angeles.
“It's a huge dream. To make it even better, kind of wish it was in Staples tonight with the fans that support us all year,” Davis said. “But still to be in that moment and hit a shot like that is still a dream. I've never hit a game-winner like that before, so to hit like that and to be a three, it's a special moment for me. Something I'll let soak in for the next couple hours and then tomorrow try to get ready and prep for Game 3.”
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