Anthony Davis had a rough go at it against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. For just the fourth time this season, Davis was held under 15 points and shot below 30% from the field. The Lakers are 2-2 in games where Davis scores less than 15 points.
The most concerning part of his stat line wasn’t his point total or shooting percentage, though; it was how many shots he attempted. In 35:07, Davis attempted seven shots, including just one shot attempt in the fourth quarter. With the game as close as it was, they needed more from him — like, a lot more.
That disappointing performance followed Davis into the Lakers’ game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, and he made sure that feeling didn’t last another game. Against the Jazz, Davis scored 42 points on 28 shots, which is tied for the third-most shot attempts he’s made in a game this season, all while being guarded by a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in Rudy Gobert.
It was a statement performance from Davis, and his head coach Frank Vogel was happy to see him take charge following an uncharacteristically sluggish night from his star forward.
“Last game he was being unselfish, and we always want that from all of our guys, but there’s a time where you’ve got to assert yourself,” Vogel said. “For 48 minutes tonight, he was in attack mode.
“You know, he passed up one early, in early catch-and-shoot and we kind of got on him during the time out that we want him to be aggressive in the catch-and-shoot game, especially when Rudy is on him. Make him close out. He responded in a big-time way and had a great night.”
Davis also tallied 12 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. When he’s engaged on both ends of the floor, he’s an impossible matchup for any team.
“He dominated the game,” Vogel said. “I’ve said over and over again, Anthony is the most talented defender in the NBA. He proves it night in and night out. He’s a big reason why we’ve had so much success this year, because of what he does on that end of the floor and I thought he showed that tonight.”
Davis credited Vogel for encouraging him to be more involved on offense, but he knew himself that he had to do more.
“Coach told me to be more aggressive,” Davis said. “He felt like — and I felt like too — that I just kind of played into Toronto’s defense, accepting the double team. I was making the right plays, but I still have to be aggressive at the same time. I just tried to come out very aggressive tonight and still make the same scoring plays, finding guys in the corner and finding the open guy to put pressure on the defense.”
“I have to play better basketball than I did (against Toronto) to help the team win,” Davis added. “Even though I was making the right plays, I still have to be aggressive. I didn’t like the way I performed, and we didn’t like the way we performed as a team, so it was a collective effort to come out and be more aggressive... I think everybody was more aggressive tonight.”
That last part is why Davis being aggressive is so important to the Lakers. Obviously, the Lakers are a better team when Davis is scoring 42 points a night, but when he’s locked in at the start of games, his energy is infectious.
Over the past two games, the Lakers have been outscored 17-0 in the first two minutes of the first quarter. On Saturday, Davis attempted two shots in the first quarter. On Monday, he attempted 14 shots and scored 13 points. It wasn’t his most-efficient quarter from the field this season, but it set the tone for the rest of the game.
“He was very aggressive from the beginning,” LeBron James said. “When you’re a great player, you learn from one game, you adjust and then you turn into something different the next game, and he absolutely did that tonight.”
Hopefully, Davis will build on this performance as the Lakers get ready for their first postseason appearance in seven years. They don’t need him to score 40-plus points every night, but if he’s playing as hard he did on Monday, it won’t be difficult for him to get there.