Anthony Davis yelled “Kobe” after draining a game-winning three pointer in Game 2 against Denver.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Anthony Davis said, “Details matter,” and this was either proof that they do or they don’t. Details matter because the Lakers’ Rajon Rondo had to throw a perfect inbounds bounce pass around Nikola Jokic, and Denver’s Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant were both so worried about LeBron James rolling to the basket that they left Davis open behind the three-point line. Maybe if the Nuggets got one or two more details right or the Lakers got a few more wrong, the Western Conference Finals would be tied 1-1 right now.
Details don’t matter because Davis is a 6-10 freak and most hurricanes can’t redirect his shot; because however you choose to guard Davis and James, it probably won’t work; because the Lakers seem to believe that Kobe Bryant really is watching over them; and, most of all, because they are the Lakers. They have been doing this for decades.
This is the kind of shot Anthony Davis never had a chance to hit until he became a Laker: Three-pointer in a conference final to put his team six wins from a championship. The Nuggets had come all the way back from 16 down, they took the lead in the final minute after a crazy-back-and-forth, and they lost anyway. It’s great that the Nuggets never give up, because this is the kind of thing that would make them do it.
We can break down the video 100 times. What’s the difference? In the end, Jokic had a hand up to contest Davis’s shot and Davis made it anyway. Rondo said Davis “is arguably the best scorer in our game.” Even Jokic said “I kind of felt it going in” as soon as Davis released it.
“Special moment for a special player,” James said of Davis afterward. “Happy to be a part of it.”
Jokic was asked afterward if the Nuggets had found some defensive answers for the Lakers after getting torched in Game 1, and he gave a meandering answer, feeling his way through the question like he was surveying a defense, before he finally said, “Maybe. But they’re really talented. They’re going to find solutions.”
The Lakers always find solutions. That’s why they’re the Lakers. They can be bad for five straight years and sign LeBron James, then miss the playoffs and trade a whole bunch of talent and draft picks for Anthony Davis—without worrying that he is a year from free agency, because they know he wants to be a Laker. We do not recommend this strategy for Oklahoma City.
The Nuggets can change a lot about this series. They cannot change the fact that one team is the Lakers and the other is not.
The Nuggets played much better in this game than they did in Game 1. They played much more like themselves. As Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, “leads mean nothing against this team. They’re a nightmare to guard.” Jamal Murray is a brilliant and tough scorer, Jokic is one of the best passing big men ever, and there is enough talent around them to give anybody fits.
But let’s not kid ourselves. LeBron James had all sorts of problems in the second half, the kind we normally associate with actual humans. He is such a breathtaking player—so great in so many ways that there is nobody of his generation who even comes close to his body of work. We are not used to seeing him play like he did in the second half. Anybody can miss shots, and anybody can have a poor game, but this was different. James got all the details wrong.
He went in for the kind of one-handed dunk he usually makes when he is alone on the break, but he was being guarded and he missed the dunk. He drove to the basket and fell to the floor. He repeatedly slowed the Lakers’ offense down by himself, dribbling too much and firing up shots instead of getting everybody involved. He reached for a ball that Jokic tipped in for Denver’s go-ahead basket for the Nuggets. The Lakers were outscored by nine points while James was on the floor. It is quite possible that the best play LeBron made the whole fourth quarter was standing still while Plumlee and Grant collapsed on him, leaving Davis just a bit of space to shoot.
And still, the Lakers had that chance because Davis was so great. He finished with 31 points and nine rebounds.
“To be completely honest, in the second half, I leaned on him,” James said of Davis. “And he brought us home.”
What do the Nuggets do now? James probably won’t play another second half like that the rest of the series. As Vogel said of Davis and James, “If one of them doesn’t have it going, the other one does. We saw a little bit of that tonight. When they’re both going at the same time, we’re near impossible to stop.”
Maybe the Nuggets still believe. Good on them if they do. But even a team that came back from two straight 3-1 deficits does not believe like these Lakers believe. The Lakers wore their “Mamba jerseys,” to honor Kobe and Gigi Bryant, and they are now 3-0 in those jerseys. Vogel mentioned Kobe to his team in a timeout. Davis yelled Kobe’s name after he hit the shot. They keep winning, and whether it’s to honor the Bryants or for each other or because they have two of the best players in the world, all those reasons blend together. They are the Lakers, a self-perpetuating phenomenon. The rest is just details.
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