In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers led the Denver Nuggets from the 11:44 mark of the second quarter to the final buzzer. The game wasn’t close, either. The same couldn’t be said about Game 2.
In the last 30 seconds of Sunday’s game, the team that had the lead changed four times, which equaled the amount of lead changes up to that point in the game. The final lead change came with two seconds left on the game clock.
After a missed 3-point attempt from Alex Caruso, and a blocked 2-point attempt by Danny Green, the Lakers had just two seconds to get a shot off and potentially win the game. The overwhelming expectation was that the ball would end up in LeBron James’ hands but it didn’t, even though we’d later find out that James was supposed to get the last shot.
Instead, Rajon Rondo inbounded the ball to Anthony Davis, who attempted a 3-pointer over the extended arms of Nikola Jokic. The ball went in, and the Lakers won 105-103 to go up 2-0 in the series.
Lost in the celebration of the shot, though, was Davis’ own celebration. Before Davis ran to the bench, where his teammates were losing their minds, Davis said “Kobe” as a tribute to the late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who hit countless clutch shots in the 20 years he donned the purple and gold. In fact, prior to last night, the last Lakers player to hit a game-winning 3-pointer in a playoff game was Bryant in 2006.
Game winner. He said KOBE pic.twitter.com/khGiGDSk3Y— Kobe Bryant Lakers Murals (@kobemurals) September 21, 2020
After the game, Davis confirmed that he said Kobe, and talked about what it meant for him to hit that shot in the Black Mamba jerseys, which were designed in partnership with Bryant in 2017.
“I mean obviously we’re wearing the jerseys, and he’s hit countless shots like that to win games in the regular season, playoffs, and finals. But it was a special moment for me, a special moment for my teammates,” Davis said.
“I think I told Bron that in L.A., right before the hiatus against Brooklyn, same spot, slightly different play, and I missed the shot and I was upset at myself. He said ‘hey man, we’re going to live or die with you shooting that shot,’ and I got the same opportunity tonight to be able to make it ... To do something like that in the jersey we wore tonight, that just makes it even more special.”
The Lakers haven’t lost a game in the Black Mamba jerseys since they reintroduced them on August 24, which is Kobe Bryant Day in both the Los Angeles County and Orange County. While the Lakers obviously want to win every game that they compete in, especially at this stage of the season, they take extra pride in not losing games in that particular jersey.
“I just feel like we play a little different,” Davis said. “Our swag is a little different every time we put on those jerseys. Obviously we’re representing him, but especially in those jerseys. Those are his jerseys, the ones he created, so every time we put it on, we feel like we want to win, and coach made sure that we knew that in that huddle.
“He said ‘look at the jerseys you have on, he made big time plays, so it’s time for us to make big time plays.’ I think that was with like six minutes left in the game, and guys were able to do that. So just looking down at the jersey and coach telling us, it’s a constant reminder that Kobe is with us and we kind of have his spirit in those jerseys.”
The Lakers have tried to honor Bryant in everything they’ve done this season and they’ll continue to do that as a team throughout their playoff run, but Davis’ game-winner on Sunday felt significant. Not only was it a shot that Davis will always remember, but it was a shot that Lakers fans will never forget too.
Kobe gave us a few of those.