SAN FRANCISCO — Anthony Davis sat next to LeBron James and watched as James praised him.
“The Lakers franchise, over the course of their existence, has had dominant big men, dominant men who have been a force on the rim,” James said after Davis’ dominant performance in the Lakers’ Game 1 win. Tuesday night in a Western Conference semifinal series against the Golden State Warriors. “That’s why their jerseys are in the rafters. After the game, AD
James went on in the same fashion for another minute. When he finished, Davis patted him on the back.
“I’ll get my watch next week,” James said, laughing at his joke about a quid pro quo. “Or a car.”
The streak fueled years of nostalgia as James and Warriors guard Stephen Curry faced off each June for the NBA championship. But it all depends on Davis, who has the potential to be the best player in the series. On Tuesday night, Davis showed what his dominance means to the Lakers as he led them to a 117-112 victory over the defending champion Warriors.
Curry finished with 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists, while two other Golden State guards, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole, also scored 20 points.
Davis finished the game with 30 points, 23 rebounds and 4 blocks. With at least 30 points and 20 rebounds, Davis joined elite company in Lakers playoff history: Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. The starkest statistical difference between the teams is a direct result of Davis’ play: The Lakers outscored the Warriors inside the paint 54-28.
“He’s everything to us,” Lakers guard Dennis Schroder said. “Defensively, offensively, big role for this organization. I mean, no All-Star, no Defensive Player of the Year. He takes it seriously, does everything for us, and he’s an anchor.
It made sense that James and Curry were central to the story of the series. They are two of the best to ever play in the NBA, and have won four championships each. They played against each other in the Finals every year from 2015 to 2018, and each has won the championship since then — James in 2020 and Curry last season.
It’s the first time the two have faced each other in the playoffs since 2018, and there were plenty of moments Tuesday night when they commanded the stage.
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 wandered to the sideline with Curry on his way to the Golden State bench. He stayed by James Curry’s side until he sat down and continued to talk to him afterward.
“He was joking about guarding me all the way until I got to the bench,” Curry said.
But at halftime, James was with Davis. They both left the court shoulder to shoulder.
It was reminiscent of their first season, the 2019-20 championship season, when Davis and James went anywhere without each other and waited to finish their on-court interviews after each game.
The Lakers gave up a lot to acquire Davis the summer before that season, including players who would become important pieces to other owners, and Davis seemed to reward them right away. He was also named First-Team All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team that year. He was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He fit right in on James’ team.
Part of what made that partnership work so seamlessly was the way their personalities meshed. Davis doesn’t need to be the center of attention. James didn’t mind and thrived on it.
“We don’t envy 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 seek the spotlight, but he demands it on the court, especially when playing the way he did in Game 1.
“We know what he’s capable of,” Lakers coach Darwin Hamm said. “That’s a big thing. We need those points and rebounds and blocked shots and assists.”
While Davis excels at defending inside the paint, he makes his presence felt all over the court. He broke the Warriors short with a heart-stopping 3-pointer late in the game, 14-0, with 1 minute and 38 seconds left.
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell scored and the Lakers regained the lead. Moments later, Curry tried again, this time driving toward the basket, and his shot was blocked by Davis. With 39.3 seconds left, the Lakers were up by 3 points when Davis grabbed a missed rebound by Poole.
Davies was aggressive and aggressive and, despite playing 43 minutes 50 seconds, was more tireless than any other player. Played the entire second half.
Hamm credited the Lakers’ load management earlier in the year with Davis playing big minutes in the playoffs.
Davis’ critics questioned his durability and his consistency, and not without reason. He has missed games every year of his career due to injury and only played in 56 games this season.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “I don’t care what anyone thinks. The guys in the locker room, the coaching staff, those are the only opinions I care about. Other than that, I just go out and play basketball and do what I can to help the team win.
Davis and James were two of the last players left on the court Tuesday night, with Davis doing a postgame interview with TNT and James speaking with the Lakers’ regional broadcast channel. Davis interrupted James’ interview to shake hands privately before leaving the court.
“It’s going to be a different game,” Davis said Thursday when asked about Game 2. “They are going to make changes; We are going to make changes. He added: “I’m going to continue to be aggressive.”