Lakers head coach Frank Vogel didn’t make any changes to the starting lineup after his team lost to the Miami Heat in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, but he did make one crucial adjustment ahead of Game 4.
Instead of putting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green or LeBron James on Jimmy Butler, who scored 40 points in Game 3, Vogel gave the defensive assignment to Anthony Davis, and according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, it was Davis that suggested the tactical change:
After that game, privately, a frustrated Davis alerted teammates and coaches that he needed to be glued to Butler, sources told Yahoo Sports.
And in Monday’s practice, Davis was officially given the assignment he wanted. After the ball was tipped and when the Heat got their first offensive possession, the tone was set when Davis shadowed Butler.
Butler ended the game with 22 points on a pretty efficient 47.1% shooting from the field, but he struggled with Davis as his primary defender. According to NBA.com’s matchup data, Butler shot 1-5 from the field in the 7:47 he was defended by Davis in Game 4. It’s not just about the shots that Butler missed, though: it’s about the ones he didn’t take a result of Davis’s defense too. Davis wanted the challenge, and he rose to it. He dominated the game defensively.
“That’s why he’s the Defensive Player of the Year,” LeBron James said of Davis. “We said that all year. His ability to play one through five, guard anybody on the floor, take the challenge, not only guard on the perimeter, continue to protect the paint. Guards drive on him. It’s hard to score on him. You see how high Herro threw that ball up? It went in, but he had to throw that thing up to the skyscrapers, right?
“That guy can do everything defensively. Guarding the ball, guard the post, slide his feet with guards, contest, can body up with bigs. I mean, need I say more?”
Unfortunately, Davis isn’t the actual Defensive Players of the Year — that title officially belongs to Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, there’s one title that Antetokounmpo doesn’t have that Davis likely in a few day, and that title is more valuable to Davis than any individual award.
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: it don’t mean a thing without the ring.
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