Anthony Davis didn’t play bad in Game 1 of the Lakers’ first-round NBA playoffs matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers. He scored 28 points while drawing 17 free throws to wear down Portland’s frontline, and even if he only shot 8-24 and was a -20 in plus-minus, he still clearly wasn’t the reason the Lakers lost.
For a day or so though, no one could say that to Davis. His teammates and coaches tried to tell him he played fine, but each one saying so just made Davis — his own harshest critic — go to another person and ask them how he could improve in Game 2. And for a bit, his co-star LeBron James just let Davis wallow in the pain of not living up to his own expectations in his first playoff game as a Laker. But after a while, enough was enough.
“I was really down on myself after Game 1. I didn’t feel like I performed to the level that I needed to,” Davis recalled after Game 2. “He let me have my moment and kind of get on myself. And then he talked to me and said I was fine. He said it was one game.”
The two resolved to not let it become two, making a concerted effort to get Davis the ball on the move and going to the rim in Game 2. The result was a blowout victory for the Lakers to even the series at 1-1.
After the game, Davis acknowledged how appreciative he was of James picking him up.
“As a guy who’s won multiple championships and been in these situations before, he knows what to expect. He knows what he expects from his teammates,” Davis said. “He was there for me to kind of encourage me and keep me level-headed, because it was just one game.”
None of that meant James was in Davis’ ear non-stop. In the lead-up to Game 2, he could see Davis was so locked in that he didn’t want to bother him.
“Bron, he didn’t say one word to me today. He just kind of knew. He saw the look on my face from the beginning,” Davis said.
James has played with a lot of great teammates. He has literally never played with someone capable of dropping 30 points and 10 rebounds in less than 30 minutes, mainly because Davis became one of just six players to do so in the shot-clock era on Thursday night.
“AD is one of those unicorns,” James said. “He does some things that those other teammates are not capable of doing. In the same sense, I’ve played with Dwyane Wade, and he can do some things that AD is not capable of doing. I also played with Kyrie Irving, and he can do some things that D-Wade and AD are not capable of doing. I’ve had the luxury of playing with some great players, and that’s just three of them.”
Very few of those teammates though, if any, have allowed James to come away with dominant playoff wins on a night when he only scored just 10 points.
“To be able to go out and orchestrate the offense, orchestrate the tempo and get it to the hot man, get it to AD and run the offense through him, it’s a luxury for myself, it’s a luxury for our team,” James said. “Tonight didn’t call for me to do much offensively or force much, because not only did AD have it going, but we had our shooters going as well, and our bench came in and just gave us a huge lift.
“Every game has its own challenges, and tonight AD was magnificent.”
Davis has always been capable of nights like he had in Game 2 against Portland, but he’s been trying to learn from James all season. He describes their relationship as “great,” and says he’s constantly picking his co-star’s brain for tips.
“I’m just trying to figure out the tricks and trades of playing with a guy like him on a team like this. It’s been fun,” Davis said. “The on-court chemistry has clicked from day one. The off-court chemistry, I mean you guys see it all the time on social media and stuff, how close we are.”
No sooner was that brotherly bond on display than as Davis was finishing his answer, when he mentioned that James — a 35-year-old, 17-year NBA veteran — has “seen it all in the 25 years he’s been playing,” drawing hearty laughs from the assembled media, and a lighthearted “f--- you” from James, watching the interview from just off-screen.
But just the fact that James was there, watching his teammates’ interview as he waited to walk out of the arena together — something he and Davis have done constantly in the bubble, and all season — is emblematic of the bond they’ve forged. Whether Davis is the best teammate James has ever had or not, he’s clearly one of the closest, and easily the most seamless fit he’s ever had with a co-star on the court.
In Davis’ mind, there’s no doubt where James stands among everyone he’s played with in his career.
“On-court I’ve never played with a guy of his caliber, and to be able to have the success that we’re having so far has been great, and he’s just been staying in my ear about everything, especially in the playoffs right now,” Davis said. “He’s kind of just been there for me and supporting me, and just guiding me through this entire process.”
And if the Lakers have things their way, that process will continue right up until they raise the franchise’s 17th banner in a few months, and for years to come afterwards.