Last night the Los Angels Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets in game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, 105-103 on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. The victory gave the Lakers a 2-0 series lead and a strangle-hold against this persistent Nuggets team. Although, most importantly it gave the Lakers a glimpse into what the future might look like without LeBron.
This summer when the Lakers gave up a war chest of assets to acquire the 27-year-old big man from New Orleans, most prognosticators knew the Lakers would be getting a top-5 talent but many wondered if Anthony Davis would have the killer instinct to help Lebron win.
In his time with the Pelicans, Davis had never made it out of the second round. While being counted on as "the guy" for a team that could never match his talents AD had struggled to carve out a legacy. This was a chance for Davis to prove that he has the "clutch" gene and cement himself atop the sport.
Game two was another typical Denver playoff bubble game, where the score was tight early until it wasn't. Denver traded early buckets against Lebron who dominated the opening quarter while his team awoke from their pre-game naps.
Lebron would score 5/11 of his team's buckets in the first while opening the game with the Lakers' first 12-points; keeping them attached to Nuggets until his teammates provided enough help to give them a 29-21 lead.
This has been the theme through these playoffs, while LeBron certainly needs help, he has proved that this team will only go as far as he will take them. Davis has shown he can perform in the ideal scenarios Lebron puts him in but has yet to show the type of player he wants to be.
In the 2nd quarter with Nikola Jokic struggling from the floor, the Lakers were able to stretch their lead out to 10-points. This was due to the play of Alex Caruso and not AD. Alex continues to show why he's a fan favourite, hitting a 3-pointer and two tough layups on his way to a 7/2/1 slash-line at the half. Almost outproducing his superstar teammate's line of 9/5/1.
Entering half-time down double-digits was nothing new for this Nuggets team. They didn't start the quarter particularly well; allowing the Lakers to take their biggest advantage of the game.
Losing by 16 mid-way through the 3rd quarter something awoke in Denver. Over the final 8-mins of the period, Denver had a 24-12 run to close the gap down to 4. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic lead the charge putting in 11 and 10 points respectively for the quarter.
While we have seen teams go cold against the Nuggets and watched as they take back games in which they allow double-digit leads, there was one Laker who refused to let them pull ahead. Anthony Davis during that 8-min stretch scored 10-consecutive points for the Lakers, keeping them afloat and foreshadowing what was to come.
With LeBron slowing down, Davis was the one to carry this Lakers team to victory. Anthony poured in 22-points in the second half compared to LeBron's 6. While Jokic and Murray fought their way back into the game, it was AD who rose to the challenge of keeping them down.
The Lakers had led from the mid-way point of the 1st until 31.8 seconds left in the game. Jamal Murray took an air-ball from the 3-point line, that Jokic somehow managed, in the middle of three Lakers, to tap into the basket. This didn't phase AD as he caught a pass from LeBron, charged the lane a released a touch floater to take the lead again.
After Jokic hit another clutch shot, giving him Denver's final 10-points and the 103-102 lead, Davis refused to allow it to end that way. Danny Green had his 3-point attempt blocked and knocked out of bounds with 2.1 seconds left, queue AD.
Much maligned for being unable to lift his team when they need him most and in the biggest game of his career to date, AD took the shot of his life. Running atop the 3-point arc, Miles Plumlee confusion had him switched onto Lebron, leaving AD wide-open. Rondo threaded a bounce-pass by Jokic, who could do nothing but pray that AD would miss.
After the shot left his hands and dropped through the basket he turned and ran towards the mob of teammates coming to congratulate him. After the game, he talked about how those are the shots he wants to take, that he wants to have that legacy. This was a step in the right direction.