When the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James were pushing to acquire Anthony Davis during the 2018-19 season, they had every reason to believe that they were going after the future face of the franchise. In the Lakers’ 117-112 Game 1 victory over the Golden State Warriors in the second round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs, Davis showed a national audience that the Lakers gutting their roster and draft capital to acquire him was a no-brainer move.
On Tuesday night in San Francisco, Davis scored 30 points on 57.9 percent shooting from the field. He also grabbed 23 rebounds — making him the only Laker not named Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, or Wilt Chamberlain to put up a 30/20 game in the playoffs — and he also tacked on five assists and four blocks.
As impressive as Davis’ stats were for the entire game he only scored two points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers only made two field goals during the last six minutes of the final period. They held the lead for nearly the entire fourth quarter, and midway through were up by double digits — on the road. However, the Lakers’ cold offense allowed the Warriors to tie the game with just over 1:30 remaining in the game.
A D’Angelo Russell off-balanced jump hook gave the Lakers the lead with 1:24 left on the clock, but it was Davis’ defense from that point on that allowed his team to take a 1-0 series lead on the road. He blocked Stephen Curry’s runner on the following possession. Then after James split two free throws, Davis contested Jordan Poole’s runner so well there was no chance of that ball falling through the net. He then corralled the miss.
Davis dominant on both sides of the floor
Davis was the best Laker on both sides of the floor while playing just under 44 total minutes. The Warriors made several runs to attempt to pull out this Game 1 victory, but it was Davis at every turn who refused their advances. James was excellent, D’Angelo Russell’s shot was on for a second-consecutive game, Jarred Vanderbilt was great on defense, and Austin Reaves made timely baskets, but it was Davis who put the team on his back as he planted a Laker flag straight through the Warriors’ home-court advantage.
That dominant Anthony Davis at Chase Center on Tuesday has largely not been the player wearing No. 3 in the Lakers’ purple and gold for the last four seasons. With the New Orleans Pelicans he was named first-team All NBA for both the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. Prior to his trade request in late January 2019, that season he was averaging 29.3 points per game with a 50.8 percent field-goal percentage along with 13.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. The Pelicans were not able to agree to a deal with the Lakers that season, so for much of 2019, they put Davis on the floor for just enough minutes so that he would be able to remember how to play basketball.
During the Summer of 2019, the Lakers sent a future all-star and two other players capable of averaging 30-plus minutes per game on any team in the league, along with three first-round picks and a swap to the Pelicans for Davis. His regular season statistics dipped slightly during that first season, but he still was named first-team All-NBA for a fourth time. During the bubble playoffs, he shot 38.3 percent from the 3-point line, and the Lakers won a championship — the franchise’s 17th.
AD has had to overcome injury
Injuries plagued Davis for the next three seasons. He played more than 50 percent of the Lakers’ regular season games only once during that span. That was the 2022-23 season in which he played in 56 of 82 games. Davis played 75 games in each of the two seasons before his trade request.
Not only was Davis spending too much time in street clothes, but on the floor he did not play as aggressively as the Lakers needed him to after the bubble. The Lakers were a top-three seed for much of 2020-21 until Davis and James both got hurt during the second half of the season. That season Davis recorded his worst scoring average since his second in the NBA — 21.8 points per game. He bumped it up to 23.2 points per game the next season but he only played in 40 of 82 games. In 2021-22 the Lakers didn’t even make the play-in.
This season, Davis played the way that he did in New Orleans, and if not for injury he might have been an MVP candidate. Even though he won’t be taking home any of the new 2023 NBA trophies, the Lakers would not have a 1-0 lead on the Warriors without his dominance or have even qualified for the postseason. In Davis’ 56 regular-season games he averaged 25 points while registering the highest field-goal percentage of his career. He also still found time to put a chain-link fence around the paint with his defense as one of the best players on that end of the floor in the NBA.
He was healthy for all of the Lakers’ first-round victory against the Memphis Grizzlies last month, but his performance on offense was erratic. The Lakers needed big nights from Reaves, Rui Hachimura, and Russell shooting 70.6 percent from the field in Game 6 to get out of that series.
Davis’ Laker career has been littered with shortcomings. The team has won five postseason series since his arrival — four of them in the bubble. For the Lakers to make a second impressive playoff run with Davis, he is going to have to fly the plane from take-off to landing against the defending NBA Champions.
Throughout his professional career, Davis has always been seen as the type of player who has the ability to lead a franchise to postseason glory. The Pelicans never had enough talent alongside him, and with the Lakers, his performance and availability have been inconsistent. If he is as effective on the floor as he was on Tuesday night for the majority of the remaining postseason, the seventh-seed Lakers might be hanging up banner No. 18 come October.