Prior to requesting a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, Anthony Davis had only made two playoff appearances and won five playoff games. Since he had his request granted, Davis has added 10 playoff wins to his resume, and he’s played a major role in each and every one of them.
The defining moment of Davis’ playoff career to date came in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday. With two seconds left on the game clock, Davis buried a contested 3-point jump shot to give the Lakers a 105-103 win over the Denver Nuggets, and a 2-0 lead in the series.
“It’s for sure the biggest shot of my career,” Davis said after Sunday’s game.
However, what was even more impressive than the shot itself was the fact that Davis wanted to take it. Rajon Rondo, who masterfully navigated the Nuggets’ defense to inbound the ball to Davis, could have thrown the ball to a more proven LeBron James in the post for the go-ahead basket, but he gave it to Davis — a career 31.9% 3-point shooter — because Davis made himself available.
Davis wasn’t scared of the moment — he relished it.
“When I left (New Orleans), I just wanted to be able to compete for a championship,” Davis said. “And I know that moments like this come with it, especially being in L.A., the biggest market in basketball. I know the quote unquote pressure is going to be on us, on me, especially this first year with everything that happened last year. And then also playing alongside Bron. I know he gets criticized more than any basketball player ever, so just being able to play alongside him, he kind of helped me with all this quote unquote pressure ... he makes it a lot easier for me.
“But just being able to want this type of pressure, this type of spotlight and go out and play in big games and make big time plays and big time shots for my team, that’s definitely what I wanted.”
LeBron James has tried to instill confidence in Davis, who’s nearly nine years his junior, throughout the season, but James recalled a moment from earlier in the season that felt significant to him after the events of Game 2.
“You know, I think right back to our game right before COVID hit,” James said. “We played Brooklyn at home and he had a similar shot right there on that left wing — right in front of their bench — for us to win the game, and he missed it and he was down on himself. But at the end of the day, I told him, ‘listen man, if you’re open...’
“It’s just the confidence to take the shot. You’re not going to make them all, but the belief to just take it and just live with the results is what it’s all about. And tonight was his moment.”
If Davis were to ever lose that belief in himself, James said he has no problem lifting him back up again, but James knows that Davis was built for the spotlight — it’s why he’s in Los Angeles.
“AD, he knows how special he is, and when he don’t, I’ll be the first one to tell him how special he is.” James said. “He wanted to be here. I’m happy he wanted to be here, because if he didn’t, we wouldn’t have had a moment like tonight. So that’s what it’s all about, but you put that pressure on yourself when you don’t really care what other people think. Because what other people think doesn’t really matter, because they don’t understand.
“Anybody can talk from outside, but if they got into the ring or got into the arena, probably 10 times out of 10 they’d shit their pants.”
Before the season started, people questioned whether or not Davis would be able to handle the pressure of playing in a big market, let alone a historic franchise like the Lakers. While he’s certainly had the right help, he’s also shown on his own that he can.
Now, there’s only one thing left for him to prove: that he and James can lead the Lakers to a championship.
“The job is definitely not over until we’re able to win a ring,” Davis said. “That’s when it’s over, and that’s when the task is completed. So I mean it was a big shot, we’ll celebrate it for a couple hours, but this team fought. They could have easily won this game and we’ve still got to get ready for Game 3.”
The Lakers and Nuggets will tip-off Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals at 6 p.m. on TNT.