The man who was mockingly nicknamed “Street Clothes” because of the many injuries that have kept him on the sidelines in recent years looked pretty good in a Laker uniform Friday night.
Actually, Anthony Davis looked sensational in the Lakers’ series-clinching 122-101 rout of the Golden State Warriors, given that two days earlier he had taken an elbow to the face during the fourth quarter of Game 5 and became dazed and wobbly enough that he reportedly was transported in a wheelchair beneath the stands at San Francisco’s Chase Center.
Davis recovered well enough that night to board the team bus under his own power, and preliminary indications were that he’d be able to play Friday at Crypto.com Arena in the Lakers’ second attempt to close out the defending champion Warriors. But head injuries can be unpredictable. Problems can arise well after impact.
As much as Lakers coach Darvin Ham hoped Davis would be available for Game 6, Ham couldn’t be sure until he checked his phone early in the day. “Woke up [Friday] morning to a text from him saying how great he felt and so much better and he couldn’t wait to get to the game,” Ham said.
An eager Davis was an effective Davis. “Anthony Davis is a monster down there,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said, with little exaggeration.
Davis played just under 40 minutes Friday, grabbing 20 rebounds — his second game in the series with at least 20 rebounds — in addition to scoring 17 points, earning three assists, recording two steals and blocking two shots as the Lakers continued their improbable climb from the depths of the standings to a matchup against the top-seeded Nuggets in the Western Conference final, starting Tuesday in Denver.
In other words, Davis was his best self, complementing LeBron James’ ferocity and leadership with his own dominance on the boards.
Davis wasn’t “Street Clothes.” He wasn’t a joke. He was the big presence the Lakers needed to be sure of subduing a team whose poor three-point shooting and overall ragged play didn’t match its enormous pride and championship pedigree.
“LeBron and AD are just brilliant players. They controlled the series,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr graciously said after the Lakers ended his team’s reign.
Davis wasn’t bad for a guy who was dazed and barely able to stay on his feet after taking that elbow from Kevon Looney just 48 hours and one city ago.
“It’s unbelievable, but that’s just who he is,” Ham said. “You can’t get caught up in the chatter, all the nonsense that goes on outside our building in regards to AD.
“You just have to come in with the understanding there’s a plan in place. Our medical staff assured us that he would be OK. It was an unfortunate hit that he took but by the time we were getting ready to leave the arena in San Francisco, he was already on pace to start getting himself back together feeling great.”
Davis said he felt fine and was never hesitant Friday about absorbing contact. Rebounding was his focus, he said, because he and the Lakers wanted to quash any comeback hopes Golden State might have been clinging to after winning Game 5.
“The times that they beat us, they got a lot of offensive rebounds and a lot of kick-outs for threes or getting second-chance points. Just wanted to have an emphasis on rebounding the basketball and limit their offensive rebounding,” Davis said. “They got a couple. But I just wanted to make sure I did my part in getting every rebound possible on both ends of the floor, but mainly defensively to limit them for their second-chance points, where they’re most deadly.”
That was Ham’s plan. “His impact was huge. On both sides of the ball,” Ham said. “He was huge, specifically, cleaning up the glass because again, this team will kill you with their second-chance and third-chance opportunities, so his defensive rebounding — 17 defensive rebounds — unreal. I hope whatever was said, whatever has been said, that he gets the same energy albeit on the positive side instead of all the foolishness.”
Before the game, Ham strongly defended Davis, whose seeming fragility in Game 5 had been mocked by players-turned-commentators Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley.
“I don’t really put much emotional or mental stock into that type of stuff. The only thing I know is he’s highly appreciated by the Lakers’ organization. He’s highly appreciated by myself, the coaching staff, his teammates,” Ham said. “And I think anything that’s gone on outside of those walls, what we’re doing and our environment is, it’s useless. It’s irrelevant.”
Davis said he never feared he’d miss Game 6. He was counting on himself. And his teammates were counting on him, too. “He’s a champion. I don’t think he’d miss a game like that,” said D’Angelo Russell, who scored 19 points Friday. “I think this is the time of the year that if anything is going wrong right now for you, your body will ache, I think you’ll play through it this time of the year for sure.”
By the way, the street clothes Davis wore to his postgame news conference were impressive. A sparkly brooch that featured a dangling pearl was pinned to his white jacket, making for an eye-catching outfit. But his best look is still a Laker uniform, and he will get to wear that again in the conference finals.
This story originally appeared on LA Times