When Anthony Davis decided to drag the New Orleans Pelicans and his own reputation through the mud by bullying his way into a trade to the Lakers, this was the reason. In New Orleans, he was a star without a stage. With the Lakers, next to LeBron James, he suddenly finds himself two wins from the NBA Finals after hitting a buzzer-beating 3-pointer on Sunday to give L.A. a 105-103 win and 2-0 lead over the Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
A lot went into Davis getting the opportunity to make this shot. First, Nikola Jokic put the Nuggets up one by muscling through Davis in the post for a baby hook. On the other end, the Nuggets played sound defense and forced the Lakers into an Alex Caruso top-of-the-key 3-pointer, which clanked. One Denver rebound, and this series is likely tied. But they couldn't grab it, and the Lakers wound up with the ball out of bounds with 2.1 seconds remaining.
That's when Davis hit what is, to this point, the signature shot of his career:
Before we go any further, we have to acknowledge a monumental defensive gaffe by Mason Plumlee. Watch the clip again, and you will see that Plumlee is assigned to Davis, but as Davis curls around the top and toward the wing, Plumlee just inexplicably jumps to LeBron and motions for Jerami Grant to switch onto Davis. But nobody is screening Plumlee. All he had to do was just follow Davis around the horn and stay attached.
Grant, meanwhile, started the play between James and the basket. Even if Plumlee's thought process was to get Grant, a better perimeter defender, onto Davis at the 3-point arc, he had to see that Grant's path to Davis was being at least partially blocked by LeBron, and clearly any communication you can avoid in these scenarios lessens your chance for confusion.
Besides that, there were only 2.1 seconds left. Plumlee was not going to have to guard Davis beyond one dribble at the most. This was a catch-and-shoot all the way, and Plumlee abandoned the shooter. Plain and simple.
And it just so happened that the shooter was a scorching-hot Davis, who scored the Lakers' final 10 points and wound up with 31. This after scoring 37 in Game 1. Do the math, and that's 34 points per game -- on better than 52 percent from the floor, 42 percent from three and 86 percent from the foul line -- for Davis in his first conference finals appearance.
For the playoffs, Davis is averaging just under 29 points per game on 57 percent shooting, including 40 percent from three. Anyone remember when the "narrative" surrounding Davis was that he wasn't a big-time performer, as evidenced by his inability to lead the Pelicans anywhere meaningful?
That was always bogus. In his first postseason appearance with New Orleans, Davis averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks and 1.3 steals on 54-percent shooting in a four-game loss to the Warriors, who went on to win the championship that season. In his second postseason, Davis and the Pelicans smothered Damian Lillard and the Blazers en route to a first-round victory before falling in the second round, again, to the Warriors, who again went on to win the championship. During that postseason run, Davis averaged 30.1 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
Sure, Davis only led the Pelicans to the playoffs those two times over seven seasons in New Orleans. But let's really put that into context. The final season was a wash as Davis' trade demands submarined the whole campaign. DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon just as he and Davis were finding a groove in 2018. Davis' first two seasons he was 19 and 20 years old.
And listen, New Orleans is in the Western Conference. That can't be overstated. Neither Ben Simmons nor Joel Embiid has been a better player than Davis through their rookie contracts, but they've been in the postseason three times already because they have a way better team and play in a weaker conference.
In the West, Davis needed, at least, a true second superstar to put himself on this stage, where his talent has always belonged. That second guy turned out to be LeBron, who also needed Davis, which is why he put as much pressure as he could on the Lakers to get that trade done in the first place. LeBron scored 20 points in the first half on Sunday. Davis scored 22 in the second half. That's a tag team, people.
The Lakers were LeBron's team in the regular season, but they have become Davis' team in the postseason. The playoffs are about matchups, and there are no matchups for Davis, who is 6-foot-10 with about as pure a jumper as you'll ever see, a true three-level scorer. Now that Davis, who can at times look downright automatic in the mid-range, is hitting threes, there is nothing you can do with him.
LeBron knows that, and he's admirably deferring to Davis in these playoffs whenever the situation calls for it, which is often. In Game 2, LeBron made just one shot against two turnovers in the fourth quarter. Had Davis not pulled that shot out of his bag, we would've been in a for a long two days of ridiculous "LeBron choked" talk. Thank the basketball gods we don't have to endure that nonsense, and it shouldn't be a surprise that Davis saved us from such suffering.
Including Sunday's shot, Davis, for his career, is now 14 for 29 (48 percent) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final 24 seconds of a game. That is the best percentage among all players since 1997 who've taken more than 25 such shots, via Stathead. That is what you call a big-time player who simply needed a reasonable opportunity to compete on a big-time stage. Now he's got it, and he's taking full advantage.