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Anthony Davis silences ‘street clothes’ critics during Lakers win

They couldn’t splash him. They couldn’t Steph him. They couldn’t stop him.

He danced over Draymond. He lugged around Looney. He was as sturdy as that giant bridge that adorns the Chase Center court, never swaying, never buckling, pure gold.

Lakers fans have long been waiting for this. The NBA has long been fearing this. The Golden State Warriors have just been reminded of this.

And everybody — absolutely everybody — once doubted this.

His name is Anthony Davis, and he is in the process of proving that everybody is full of it.

Full of the misconception that he’s not tough. Full of the misguided notion that he’s not clutch. Full of the unwarranted criticism that he’s not built for nights like Tuesday, on the big stage, with his team desperately relying on his punch to overcome the Warriors’ pluck.

In a redemptive Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, Davis was tough, he was clutch, and goodness, how he punched.

Leading the Lakers to a 117-112 victory that surely tore a bit of the heart out of the defending champs, Davis dominated from the deafening start to the murmuring finish, sending the Warriors into desperation mode and their surrendering fans scurrying early for the exits.

Davis scored 14 points in the first quarter to open it, then blocked or altered two of the final shots to help stop a 14-0 Warriors run and close it. In between, he was an unanswerable force of nature, scoring 30 points with 23 rebounds to push his way into Lakers legend.

The last Laker to have a playoff game with this kind of thump was 19 years ago, guy by the name of Shaquille O’Neal. Before him, the only other Lakers to have at least 30 points and 20 rebounds in a playoff game were guys by the name of Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

All of which made the greatest current Laker raise his eyebrows.

“The Lakers franchise over the years, over the course of their existence, has always had dominant big men, dominant guys that have been a force at the rim,” LeBron James said. “That’s why their jerseys are in the rafters. A.D. will be up there when he’s done playing. The No. 3 will be up in the rafters.”

Oh, and the A.D. who can’t stay on the court? On Tuesday he wouldn’t leave the court, swaggering and staggering for a game-high 44 minutes.

And, yeah, this is the second consecutive playoff game that he’s carried them, as he furiously finished the first-round series against Memphis before showing up huge here.

A bunch of you hardly believe it. The columnist, who has often criticized Davis’ mettle, hardly believes it.

And A.D. just doesn’t care.

“It doesn’t matter to me,” he said in his postgame news conference when I asked if he felt he was proving people wrong. “I don’t care what no one thinks. Only the guys in the locker room, coaching staff, only opinions that I care about. Other than that, I just go out and play basketball, do what I can do to help the team win.”

He added, “Opinions outside the locker room, what guys say, guys think, is irrelevant to me.”

Opinions inside the locker room have always publicly supported him. As annoyed as some of the Lakers have been at Davis’ tendency to figuratively — and literally — disappear, they’ve always had his back.

Listen to D’Angelo Russell, who had 19 points and six assists, rush to Davis’ defense when asked about his dominance.

“Big, huge, huge, huge performance,” he said. “He’s been dominating the playoffs. He gets a lot of hate from the media throughout the year. … I don’t know what you can say about the guy, he was on the court for almost the whole game … the last series he dominated when he was out there, never asks for a sub, never asks for a break.”

Russell said the critics need to give him a break.

“If he can play, he’ll dominate the game,” Russell said. “If he can’t play, he can’t play.”

Now listen again to James, who scored 22 points but spent most of the night playing through his suddenly more prominent teammate.

“He continues to show why he’s one of the best players that we have in this league,” he said. “For us, it’s a treat for us to be able to have such a dynamic player that can not only go out and get you 30 and 20, but also command the paint defensively, can switch out the guards, [and] also get you five assists, as well. It’s a treat for us, a treat for the Laker franchise to have another one that wears the purple and gold that’s in the present right now.”

Since Davis arrived in a franchise-gutting trade in the summer of 2019, he’s been more trick than treat. He’s seemingly spent most of his time on the bench, so much that NBA analyst Charles Barkley once nicknamed him “Street Clothes.”

His biggest Laker moments until this spring? He had one, his game-winning “Mamba Shot” against the Denver Nuggets in the 2020 bubble playoffs.

Even this season seemed like another waste, as he missed 26 games and didn’t start playing regularly until the team began its final playoff push in late March. But once he started dominating, he kept dominating, putting up six double-doubles in seven playoff games, obliterating short-handed Memphis inside while steamrolling the Lakers’ slighter opponents on Tuesday.

The Lakers outscored the Warriors by an astounding 26 points in the paint while shooting 23 more free throws because of their more aggressive play. Golden State, meanwhile, tried to stop Davis by not going near him, and they made 15 more three-pointers, but even that wasn’t enough.

Davis was so powerful he even stymied a crowd that wore “Gold Blooded” T-shirts but acted more like wimps. They started loud but quieted quickly. They didn’t chant “Beat L.A.” until late in the game. And the Lakers noticed.

Said Russell: “It’s not really that loud.”

Said Davis of Game 2: “The building will probably be a little bit louder … the crowd will be more into it.”

But you still must wonder, seriously, how is any of this going to change over the next two weeks? How can Golden State instantly come up with the personnel to stop what seems unstoppable?

“A.D. is going to put pressure on your whole game,” Stephen Curry said.

Imagine that. A guy who has spent four years feeling all the pressure suddenly becoming the one who applies the pressure?

“I’m going to continue to be aggressive, I know our guys are going to continue to be aggressive,” Davis said. “Obviously we know that Draymond [Green] likes the help, so if they do decide to put him on me, figure out ways I can be effective with him doing his thing defensively.”

The Warriors will obviously make adjustments. The Lakers will make adjustments to those adjustments. But the truth about this series lies in the words of Russell.

If A.D. can play, he will dominate the game. And if he can’t play …

Don’t say it. Just don’t say it.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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