Awash in the euphoria of the moment, Anthony Davis looked over to his right when a question regarding the significance of every single possession at this stage of the postseason caught his attention.
The Lakers own a 2-0 series lead over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals and are 9-0 thus far in these playoffs in Games 2 through 5.
That doesn’t mean L.A. expects an easy ride the rest of the way against a Denver squad that is the only team in NBA history to have overcome two 3-1 series deficits in the same playoffs.
“Teams are great at this level [which have] made it this far,” Davis said. “Players are a lot better than teams you might see in the first round. This guy to my left (LeBron James) is a constant reminder of how we should play, the details, and what it takes to win championships. He constantly preaches that in the timeouts and the film room because he’s been there. We want to be there, too. So, details matter. It’s definitely a possessions game when you get this late in the playoffs.”
In his eighth NBA season, Davis is playing in his first conference finals. After perusing the box score on the heels of hitting the game-winner at the buzzer of the Lakers’ 105-103 win on Sunday, Davis lamented his team giving Denver 23 extra possessions by way of turnovers that the Nuggets turned into 19 points.
Those 23 turnovers marked a postseason high for Los Angeles.
“Every possession does matter,” Davis said. “Twenty-four turnovers [actually 23] tonight. We gave them 24 more possessions. We turned the ball over. We’ve got to get shots at the rim. Things like that matter. Details matter because now teams will make you pay. Teams are already good enough to get this far that they’re going to make plays. If when we have mistakes defensively, breakdowns offensively, not talking, not sprinting back on defense or whatever, and we give them extra points, then we make it a lot harder for us to win a game. So, you never want to give them extra possessions.”
The Nuggets, meanwhile, feel optimistic about slowing down the Lakers in transition in Game 2, as that was a main point of emphasis headed into the contest. Los Angeles scored just eight points on fast breaks in Game 2, after reeling off 16 points off the break in Game 1.
Coach Michael Malone believes that improvement is what allowed Denver to remain competitive in a game that it trailed by as many as 16 points, before taking a one-point lead with just 20.8 ticks remaining on a Nikola Jokic tip-in.
Davis’ game-winning buzzer-beater marked Los Angeles’ first in the postseason since Metta World Peace accomplished the feat in the 2010 NBA Finals, and gave Denver its first 2-0 series deficit under Malone.
Since coming into the NBA bubble, the Nuggets are 5-7 on the heels of a loss.
“We did a much better job of taking away their transition,” Malone said. “That was a huge point of emphasis going in. So, to clean that up allowed us to be in the game. I thought our defense in that second half was tremendous. Our defense will keep us in games. We’re 8-8 in the postseason. In our eight wins, the defense has been great. Defensive transition was tremendous. If we can continue that, we’ll continue to give ourselves a chance.”
Denver also increases its prospects if it can find a way to keep Jokic plugging away in the face of all the adversity he’s faced this postseason. In the opening round, Jokic emerged victorious in tough battles against two-time Defensive Player of the year Rudy Gobert, only to work against Ivica Zubac in the conference semifinals against the L.A. Clippers, as well as Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell.
Now, Jokic faces a three-headed monster of Lakers bigs in Davis, Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee. Although he’s held his own against that trio through the first two games, it’s logical to question whether Jokic can keep up the production on both ends for the rest of the series against so much front-court depth. Led by James’ 11 boards, the Lakers out-rebounded Denver 44-31 in Game 2.
“To be honest, I don’t think about it,” said Jokic, who scored 12 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2. “Whoever is over there, I’m going to try to beat him and try to win the game. It is what it is. Like I said: It’s not just me against them. It’s Nuggets against Lakers. We are underdogs. We need to fight. That’s our only chance.”
Malone expressed a similar sentiment headed into Tuesday’s Game 3. Going back to the regular season, the Lakers are 5-1 against the Nuggets and are in the midst of a six-game postseason winning streak.
“The message is we’re down 2-0. Let’s go out and win Game 3,” Malone said. “That’s been our mindset in the first round, the second round and we’re in the same situation here. Whether you’re down 3-1 or 2-0, obviously, next game is the biggest game for us. Some guys like to win. Some guys hate to lose. I think we’re a group of guys that hates to lose. Even though we’re disappointed, we’re frustrated, we’re angry, we’ll use that motivation to come out and try to take Game 3.”
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