On an early defensive possession in the Los Angeles Lakers’ Game 3 victory, Steph Curry turned on the jets along the baseline and left Jarred Vanderbilt eating dust on a drive to the rim. The only deterrent between Curry and two points was Anthony Davis stepping up to contest. Curry attempted to loft one of his patented scoop floaters only for Davis to reach for the moon and return it to sender, where it was recovered by Vanderbilt who initiated a Laker transition that ended with a D’Angelo Russell corner three.
LeBron James on offense, Anthony Davis on defense
LeBron James is recognized as L.A.’s offensive pivot, but defensively it’s Anthony Davis’ world and everyone is just living in it. Midway through the third quarter, Golden State embarked on another scoring binge run that chipped into L.A.’s lead. Klay Thompson probed into the paint, then lobbed a pass to Green underneath the basket that Davis leaped to deflect. Instead, he whiffed. Somehow though, Davis demonstrated the balance to instantly recover, turn his body 180 degrees, and demolish Green’s layup from point-blank range.
It was that sort of night for Davis, who scored 25 points and cleaned 13 rebounds off the glass, but whose reverberations were felt in the seven stocks (four blocks, three steals) he accumulated in 33 minutes. Draymond Green might consider himself the best defender in NBA history, but Davis has been putting a generational clamp on Golden State’s perpetual motion offense.
Only eight percent of Golden State’s points have come from the charity stripe, the lowest among any team in the postseason, and half the rate of Golden State’s free throw productivity against Sacramento in the quarterfinals. In L.A.’s two wins, they’ve been to the line 66 times to 27 Golden State free throws. That disparity underscored the defensive discipline Davis and the Lakers have exercised through three games. Davis has turned into the ultimate skeleton key at just the right time. Davis’ generational defense is L.A.’s impetus.
Golden State is an offensive juggernaut, but not unbeatable
A common misconception about Golden State’s offense is that they’re designed to produce open looks for their otherworldly jump-shooting team. In truth, the secondary purpose of stretching defenses to their limit is they open lanes for off-ball movement benefiting players diving into the paint. During the regular season, Golden State’s shooting percentage inside the arc has typically been among the league’s highest. Davis has decimated Golden State’s interior scoring. Their 47 percent shooting percentage inside the arc would be the second-worst of any team in any round of this postseason.
The catalog of generational paint defenders who’ve been the driving forces behind championship squads since the ABA-NBA merger is brief. They aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as the offensive engines who make all the shoe sales or drive up ratings, but the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis comprise the list of two-way bigs that have been the protagonists on championship teams. In 2020, Davis was James’ equal. This is Davis’ team now. The Lakers are only as good as Davis allows them to be.
Davis was a behemoth in 2020, leading all players with 30 blocks in 21 games. He surpassed that total during Game 1 of the Golden State series. The four blocks per game Davis is averaging during the 2023 playoffs is three times the rate he was rejecting shots during his criminally underrated 2020 performance. After giving the reigning Defensive Player of the Year a clinic in the first round, Davis has the defending champions in a headlock. Golden State has had few answers for L.A.’s physicality or Davis’ length and versatility
The Lakers are allowing the lowest field goal percentage of any team in the league and Golden State’s 97 points in Game 3 was only the fourth time the Warriors failed to eclipse the century mark this season. and Davis is the culprit. Their championship defense is on life support and unless Golden State devises a way to neutralize Davis for Game 5, this could be the end of this iteration of the Warriors as we know them.
Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex