The Los Angeles Lakers figured out what it would take to beat the Houston Rockets in their second-round playoff series: a lot of Anthony Davis.
Due to Houston’s unconventional and super-petite formula that features 6’5 ″ PJ Tucker down center, this streak has doubled as a battle for the soul of the NBA center. And after Tucker locked Davis in the Rockets’ resounding victory in Game 1 on Friday, it looked like the Houston experiment could work: Davis scored 25 points in that game but was unable to keep up with Tucker or to assert its offensive will.
On Sunday, in a tied 117-109 Lakers win, Davis was the force of nature he can be and will need to be every night for this team, who is deeply flawed outside of himself and LeBron James, reaches its championship cap. .
Its box numbers jump off the page. He finished with 34 points, 10 rebounds and four assists on 15 of 24 shots. But it was the way he got his points that made the difference.
This time around Davis went back to his roots, overpowering the smaller, faster Rockets in painting. He took just one three points, well below his season average of 3.5 attempts per game.
“I’m trying to stay as close to the basket as possible,” Davis said after the game in his virtual media availability.
Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel kept his usual starting lineup with Davis up front and JaVale McGee down center, but it turned out to be a bad direction. Davis spent much of the center of play to counter Houston’s smaller formation. Even after McGee left the game with an ankle injury, Davis remained the only big one on the ground with Dwight Howard completely out of the rotation.
Keeping him alongside James and surrounding them with guards Rajon Rondo and Alex Caruso and striker Kyle Kuzma allowed Davis to operate without worrying about the paint on both ends of the floor. The Lakers ‘starting lineup was a minus-8 on Sunday night, while Davis’ center lineup most used from him, James, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and Danny Green was a plus-7.
“He is clearly in my mind the defensive player of the year,” said Vogel. “No disrespect for Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. It covers so much ground. ”
The Lakers led by 16 points at halftime, but the Rockets opened the third quarter in a 14-0 run as the three points missed in the first period began to drop. Vogel’s reintegration of Rondo and Caruso into the roster stabilized the defense, but it all started and ended with Davis on Sunday.
“They’re a great three-point shooter,” said Davis. “They’re going to shoot a lot of threes, and they’re going to do some. Our job is to get it off the rim and push. … They were able to get us out of the three point line. We didn’t settle for three. We could easily see the rim. ”
Davis is arguably the most talented player James has ever played with, and the two together are capable of overcoming so many Lakers shortcomings that Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope hit shots and how effective McGee and Howard are at night. – tonight. But Davis’ assault came and went.
Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
On Sunday, the Lakers got the version they traded for, one that can make or break their title chances.
“The way we have to play against this team, if we’re going to overtake the way we did, you have to have guys who can scramble and keep the perimeter and have mobility,” said Vogel. “If you have smaller guys around him he can cover more ground. “
Davis at center won’t be the Lakers’ catch-all solution as the playoffs progress. In other clashes, especially if they reach the final and face the bigger Toronto Raptors or Miami Heat, playing McGee and Howard makes sense. With James, Davis and McGee on the ground this year, they beat their opponents by 5.9 points per 100 possessions in the regular season and 21.6 in the playoffs.
But against this Rockets team, who found an effective wrecking ball inside Tucker but still lives and dies at three, maybe Los Angeles’ best bet is to keep playing Davis in the middle and get him down. let go to work at the cart. Vogel insists Lakers crosses will always have a place in this series, but at least for now, his team appear to have found a formula to harness the Rockets’ speed.
This formula includes an eyebrow and plenty of room to dominate inside. That’s what James and the Lakers as a whole will need for the rest of the time.
Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. He graduated from the University of Oregon and lives in Portland. His work has been honored by the Pro Basketball Writers’ Association. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and in the B / R app.