ORLANDO, Fla. -- This was the type of moment that Anthony Davis has been craving, the type of opportunity that led him to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Two seconds left with the Lakers trailing by a point in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. Of course, he wants the ball, wants to take the shot that the great ones take, the one the champions and legends make.
Davis drained the “biggest shot of his career thus far,” his 3-pointer at the buzzer delivering the Lakers a 105-103 win over the Denver Nuggets for a 2-0 lead in this series. Two wins away from that biggest of stages that Davis has been yearning for.
The celebration inside AdventHealth Arena was muted compared to what it might have been in a crowded Staples Center with a raucous home crowd joining in on the pandemonium that left Lakers rookie Talen Horton-Tucker flattened after Davis leaped into a crowd of his teammates after the buzzer sounded.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel called it a “Mamba Shot.” The Lakers were wearing their "Black Mamba" uniforms, in honor of the late Kobe Bryant. And Davis channeled his inner-Kobe in that moment. He didn’t hesitate, rising and firing the way the Lakers icon Bryant did so many times during his Hall of Fame career.
That's a shot Kobe Bryant would hit. To me, AD coming off just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it's a Mamba shot.”
“Well, we want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honor his memory,” Vogel said after Davis saved the Lakers from squandering a 16-point lead and control of the series. “Obviously, there are certain games where we are going to feel it a little bit more than others. When we have that uniform on, I think we feel it more than others. That's a shot Kobe Bryant would hit. To me, AD coming off just flying to the wing like that, catch-and-shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, it's a Mamba shot.”
Davis yelled “Kobe!” after the shot swished through the net.
“I did. You know, I mean, obviously wearing the jerseys. He's hit countless shots like that to win games, whether it's in the playoffs, Finals,” Davis said. “But it was a special one for me. Special one for my teammates. I told 'Bron, in L.A., right before the hiatus against the Brooklyn Nets, same spot, slightly different play and I missed a shot. I was upset with myself. And he said, 'Man, we gonna live or die with you shooting that shot.' I got the same opportunity tonight. Ready to make it.
“Special moment for me. Special moment for the team. Especially in a situation like trying to go up 2-0 against a special team who are great competitors and going to fight for the entire 48 minutes. To do something like that, and with the jersey we wore tonight, it just makes it even more special.”
Special is the only way to describe what Davis is doing in the deepest playoff run of his career. He smoked the Nuggets for 37 points in Game 1 and 31 Sunday night. He was the only Lakers player to score in the final five minutes. And his final shot, of course, was the most significant to date in this postseason run for the Lakers.
“Just a big-time shot by a big-time player,” Vogel said. “ We have a set where we can basically isolate LeBron on a baseline out-of-bounds situation like that. [Rajon] Rondo came up and whispered in my ear about do I want him in there as a passer, and obviously I said heck yes. He made a great read on it, and Anthony flew over to the wing. We talked about missing that shot, similar type of shot, against Brooklyn before the hiatus. Like I said, big-time shot by a big-time player.”
Rondo called it the biggest shot of Davis’ career, so far, and Davis agreed. Rondo would know, having played with Davis in New Orleans in the only other significant postseason run of his career (the Pelicans made it to the conference semifinals in 2018).
So he understood the magnitude of this moment for Davis, the man who led the Lakers in 13 statistical categories in his first season playing alongside James. He had no doubt Davis would come through.
“AD had it going in the second half. He was scoring from inside out, and fortunately came through in the end,” Rondo said. “But he’s arguably the best scorer in our game. He’s 7 feet tall. He can take bigs off the dribble. He can post smalls. He’s a foul magnet and shoots 99 percent from the line, so he’s definitely a great option to have. And also LeBron, 1A or 1B, it doesn’t matter. You have two guys on the floor who can draw fouls or get a wide-open look.
“He’s always been dominant force for any opponent he’s ever played against. But to see him grow and hit a shot in this type of environment, the Western Conference finals, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. I’m extremely happy for him as a teammate, as a friend. And I love watching him grow.”
Growing into moments like the one the Lakers experienced Sunday night is why Davis forced his way out of New Orleans and into the partnership with LeBron. All of the scrutiny and pressure that comes with it, the opportunity to face a moment with a conference final game on the one and the ball in his hands, he wanted that, too.
“When I left, I just wanted to be able to compete for a championship, and I know that moments like this comes with it,” Davis said. “Especially being in L.A., the biggest market in basketball. I know the quote, unquote, pressure is going to be on us, going to be on me, especially the 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, and he kind of helped me with all this quote, unquote, pressure, going out and playing. You guys saw that in Game 5 of the Rockets [series] where he comes to me at the scorer's table and talks to me when I was struggling. Just going out there and just playing basketball. He makes it a lot easier for me. 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, it was definitely what I wanted.”
James knows the feeling. That same yearning for the big moments has led him on a journey from Cleveland to Miami, back to Cleveland and, ultimately, to these Lakers.
He knows what it feels like to take the type of shots Davis nailed Sunday. He knows what it’s like to miss them. He knows that only certain players can deal with that sort of pressure, that sort of responsibility.
“AD, he knows how special he is and when he doesn'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 a moment like tonight. That's what it's all about. 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 they got into the arena, probably 10 times out of 10, they [expletive] their pants.”
Not Davis. Not in that jersey, in that moment he’s been craving for so long, and not with everything riding on the outcome of those final two seconds.
Watch the replay again and again and you’ll see the look of certainty on Davis' face as the ball left his hands and he watches it in flight.
“It was a big shot,” Davis said. “Like I said, we'll celebrate it for a couple hours. But they could have easily won this game and we have to be ready for Game 3 …the job is definitely not over until we're able to win the ring. I mean, that's when it's over and that's when the test is completed.
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