Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images
LAS VEGAS — At risk of speaking for Anthony Davis, if there’s one thing he can be quick about in the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament, it’s that the individual stats from the championship game won’t roll over. average times.
AD was outstanding in Friday’s 123-109 victory against the Indiana Pacers, totaling 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks. He left an indelible impression on the game, dominating both ends of the floor and keeping the Pacers in check throughout.
After being down by double-digits early in the second half, Indiana put together several runs to at least make LA (or its fans) uncomfortable. The Pacers pulled within three points twice, including with six minutes left in the game.
But every time it looked like the underdog was gaining a little momentum, Davis was there to snuff it out.
Late in the first half, when LA was down four, Davis blocked Obi Toppin’s attempt at the rim and cleaned up the rebound. In the fourth quarter, two possessions after Tyrese Haliburton hit a three that cut the lead to four points, AD missed his own to give his team some breathing room.
But nothing compares to what Davis did a couple of possessions after his layup.
With less than seven minutes left, TJ McConnell cut to the rim and looked poised for a layup that would have put the Pacers within two points. Tyrese Haliburton fed him at the right time, but when he went up, AD completely wiped out every inch of space he had.
Davis raised the block. The ball went to LeBron James, who quickly threw a hit-ahead pass to Cam Reddish for the dunk.
AD BLOCK. REDDISH JAM.
LAKERS LEAD IN VEGAS.
🏆 NBA In-Season Tournament Championship on ABC pic.twitter.com/ZiTH0okE69
Davis’ reaction to the sequence shows how important this game is to him.
Bleacher Report @Bleacher Report
AD COOKING Lakers IST Championship W vs. Pacers 🔥
And if this is a preview of how he’ll play if the Lakers have a shot at “the real one,” as Davis described the Larry O’Brien trophy after Friday’s game, LA fans may have a fun spring and summer to look forward to. in.
As long as LeBron is around (which could be forever), AD’s scoring numbers won’t be what they were when he was a clear No. 1 pick to the New Orleans Pelicans. But he can still do it on individual nights like Friday. And that’s especially true for this team, with LeBron, D’Angelo Russell and Austin Reaves all able to make up for him.
More importantly, Davis is a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber anchor, whether he gets many scoring opportunities or not.
“Whenever I step on the floor, I know I’m the anchor of the defense, giving guys the freedom to go forward and get some pressure on the ball, and if they lose, I’m at the rim to change the shot. or block it,” Davis told reporters after Friday’s win. “But that’s my job.”
And he more than lived up to his job description.
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images
This season—and again, Friday’s numbers don’t count—Davis is averaging 9.0 defensive rebounds, 2.7 blocks and 1.0 steals.
the list of players who have equaled or surpassed all three numbers in a season there are only nine names beyond AD’s, and it reads like a who’s-who of all-time defenders.
Getting that kind of defensive production from the same player who is also comfortably over 20 points per game is huge.
Of course, all this praise may also come with some caveats. As for Friday, in particular, the Pacers are a little underwhelming. They had one of the worst defenses in the league all season. And it’s December. AD has long been vulnerable to injuries, breakdowns and the effects of both. He may look different in April, May and, if the Lakers are still playing, June.
Whatever his history says, though, that’s still speculation. Based on what we see now, Davis is a worthy No. 2 in a title contender, like when LA won it all in 2020.
And he looks set to take over the mantle of franchise player from LeBron, who was asked what playing with Davis has meant for his career.
“Everything, especially at this late stage of my career, to get a young, hungry alpha male to go out there and just do the things that he does,” James said after the game. “It definitely gives me an opportunity to not only watch as he continues to grow, but also try to encourage him as he continues to grow in his career and vice versa.”
That final phase of growth included Davis stepping into LeBron’s metaphorical shoes to lead the Lakers past the all-time career.
He had a chance to become No. 1 to the Pelicans, and it never led to meaningful success for the team. Now, for half a decade, he’s had an up-close look at how LeBron handles that responsibility.
If he is finally ready to admit it, and LeBron continues to defy (or maybe, more accurately, destroy) Father Time, LA will have a shot at a second title with this duo.