SAN FRANCISCO — Anthony Davis sat next to LeBron James, watching James praise him.
“The Lakers franchise over the years, in its existence, has always had big, dominant men, dominant guys who have been a force on the edge,” James said Tuesday night, after a dominant performance by Davis in the Lakers game. 1 win in their Western Conference Semifinals series against the Golden State Warriors. “That’s why their jerseys are in the rafters. AD will be up there when he’s done playing.
James continued for another minute in the same vein. Once he was done, Davis patted his back.
“I’ll take my watch next week,” James said, smiling at his quid pro quo joke. “Or a car.”
While this series has sparked nostalgia for the years when James and Warriors guard Stephen Curry faced off each June for the NBA championship, it could hinge on Davis, who has the potential to be the best player there. . He wasn’t always like this, having been prone to injury and inconsistent play. But on Tuesday night, Davis showed what his dominance can mean for the Lakers, pushing them to a 117-112 road win over the defending champion Warriors, snatching home-court advantage.
Curry finished with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists while two other Golden State guards, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole, also eclipsed 20 points.
Davis finished the game with 30 points, 23 rebounds and 4 blocks. With at least 30 points and 20 rebounds, Davis joined the elite of Lakers playoff history: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. The most drastic statistical difference between the teams was a direct result of Davis’ play: the Lakers outscored the Warriors inside the paint by 54-28.
“He’s everything to us,” Lakers guard Dennis Schröder said. “Defensively, offensively, a big role for this organization. I mean, wasn’t an All-Star, wasn’t Defensive Player of the Year. He takes things seriously, does everything for us, and he is the anchor.
Having James and Curry be the narrative center of this series made sense. They are two of the best to ever play in the NBA and each has won four championships. They faced each other in the final every year from 2015 to 2018, and each has also won a championship since then – James in 2020 and Curry last season.
It’s the first time since 2018 that the two have faced each other in the playoffs, and there were plenty of moments Tuesday night where they dominated the scene.
Before the game, the two shared a laugh at the scorer’s table. Midway through the second quarter, as Davis was shooting free throws, James strolled to the sideline with Curry, who was heading to the Golden State bench. James stayed by Curry’s side until he sat down, and even then continued to talk to him.
“He was just joking that he had to keep me until I got on the bench,” Curry said.
But at halftime, James was with Davis. The two men left the field together, shoulder to shoulder, stride for stride.
The scene recalled their first year together, the 2019-20 Championship season, when Davis and James barely went anywhere without each other and expected each other to finish their talks on the field after each match.
The Lakers gave up a lot to acquire Davis the summer before this season, including players who would become staples for other franchises. But Davis seemed to reward the Lakers right away. He was named to the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Teams. He was a candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year award. He fits perfectly into James’ team.
Part of what made this partnership work so smoothly was how their personalities meshed. Davis never needed to be the center of attention. James didn’t care, he even thrived there.
“We’re not jealous of each other,” James said during the 2020 NBA Finals.
That dynamic came into play Tuesday night when James and Curry were the center of attention.
Davis may not be looking for attention, but on the court he needs it, especially when playing like he did in Game 1.
“We know that’s what he’s capable of,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “It’s good. We needed all those points, rebounds and blocked shots, as well as the assists.
Although Davis excelled at defending inside the paint, he made his presence felt all over the court. Late in the game, he thwarted the Warriors shortly after Curry tied the game with a 3-point heartbeat with 1 minute 38 seconds remaining that capped a 14-0 run.
Lakers goalie D’Angelo Russell scored, retaking the Lakers lead. Moments later, Curry tried again, this time heading for the basket, only to have his shot blocked by Davis. With 39.3 seconds left and the Lakers up 3, Davis grabbed a rebound on a Poole miss.
Davis was also aggressive offensively and seemed tireless despite playing 43 minutes and 50 seconds, more than any other player. He played the whole second half.
Ham credited the Lakers’ regular-season load management for Davis’ ability to play big playoff minutes.
Critics of Davis have questioned his durability and consistency, and not without reason. He has missed games through injury every year of his career and has only played 56 games this season.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I don’t care what nobody thinks. Only the guys in the locker room, the technical staff, only the opinions that are close to my heart. Other than that, I go out and play basketball, do what I can to help the team win.
Davis and James were two of the last remaining players on the court Tuesday night, with Davis doing a postgame interview with TNT and James speaking with the Lakers regional broadcast channel. Davis briefly interrupted James’ interview to do a personalized handshake before leaving the court.
“It’s going to be a different game,” Davis said when asked about Game 2 on Thursday. “They are going to make adjustments; we will make adjustments. He added: “I will continue to be aggressive.”