Anthony Davis rode the first bus into the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, rapping out loud. He doesn’t usually do that, so Kyle Kuzma took note: This game was clearly a little different for Davis.
Wednesday was an emotional day for Davis, one filled with reunions, boos, praise and probably a few nerves. But Davis could count on one thing — he had a formidable army of teammates behind him.
“I don’t think all season it’s shown up as strong as it did tonight, our guys really wanted to get this win for AD,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s their brother, you know what I mean. It’s a brotherhood for him and a family atmosphere with this group and they all wanted this badly for him.”
With their support, Davis responded by becoming the first player in NBA history to score more than 40 points in his first game against his former team.
“New Orleans fans should probably boo their own team for letting him get 40 when you come back,” Kuzma said.
Davis scored 41 points, picked off a game-changing steal and sealed the 114-110 win with a pair of free throws with 4.2 seconds left in the game.
“They said it pregame, we don’t want to leave this building without a win,” Davis said. “I think this game was circled on both calendars. They came out guns blazing, and we [were] able to come out with the win. My teammates, you know, kept telling me, ‘AD, don’t worry about it, we gonna get this win. We’re gonna find a way to win for you.’ And we did that.”
Davis had been anticipating this game for weeks, and knew he would be booed just like he was last season after news of his trade demand became public. Having experienced that before made it easier for Davis to prepare for Wednesday night’s game. The friendly faces helped, too. One arena worker hugged him tight pregame in the tunnel. Her name is Sandra Pierre, and she’s worked for the arena’s catering company for 30 years.
“I took him as my child,” she said. “I’m your other mama. That’s my baby. I’ll always love him.”
Said Davis: “She’s really great. She’s good peoples.”
Even from fans who didn’t know him personally, his reception wasn’t all hate.
“I actually got some love on the bench from some Pelicans fans,” Davis said.
While many organizations play tribute videos for their returning stars, the Pelicans did not play one for Davis. Rajon Rondo was asked if he was surprised, given what it meant for him to see his own tribute video when he returned to Boston.
“Yeah that wasn’t — I mean but you know, like I said, we’re talking about two different organizations,” Rondo said.
Davis proved difficult for the Pelicans to stop most of the night. His dominance in the post against a smaller frontline meant that the Lakers went to him there over and over again. Each time he touched the ball, he heard boos.
“Some people boo and they don’t even know why,” LeBron James said. “They just want to be a part of the spectacle … But you heard a lot of cheers tonight for AD as well because they still love him and they still love the people that he spent seven years with and that relationship there.”
It was Davis who closed out the game for the Lakers. He intercepted an inbound pass from Jrue Holiday with 4.2 seconds left in the game, having surveyed Holiday’s options and correctly predicting the path of the pass. Having split a pair of free throws on the previous possession, Davis didn’t want to take for granted that he would make the next two after he was fouled.
But he did, and after the Lakers finished their road trip 4-0 to improve their record to an NBA-best 16-2, Davis could finally enjoy a moment. He embraced his old teammates, then he and Holiday swapped jerseys.
“I’ve pretty much only done that with my brothers,” Holiday told The Times. “And now my other brother ... I never thought I’d do that.”
Davis conducted his on-court interviews while James waited for him. The teammates embraced when they finished and walked off the court together.
“Everyone thinks I got a vendetta against New Orleans or something like that,” Davis said. “Me and everybody is cool. Me and David Griffin dapped up twice. I have no ill will toward anybody. I’m in a happy place, they’re in a happy place. We’re just here to play basketball.”
That was apparent backstage. Davis walked over to his old locker room and stood nearby, looking unsure if he should enter. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry spotted him and urged him to go inside.
He visited with his former teammates. He spoke to first overall pick Zion Williamson, his successor in New Orleans, and gave some words of encouragement. He gave Holiday a jersey on which he’d written a lengthy message.
“I think he can now kind of put that behind him,” James said. “Definitely he can move on.”
His parents waited in the hallway outside the locker room while he finished getting dressed. They hugged arena workers and security guards, all familiar to them, as they prepared to leave. Then, Davis met them and left with at least a dozen family members and friends. He wasn’t heading back with the rest of his team. Instead, he’d spend a little more time with family and friends in this place where he spent seven years of his life.
Staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.
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Update: The Wizards (6-10) are coming off an impressive 140-132 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday during the second of a four-game trip that concludes this weekend in L.A. Washington is led by All-Star guard Bradley Beal, who had 35 points in the victory and is averaging 28.9 points a game in the absence of injured point guard John Wall. Former Laker prospect Isaac Bonga is playing 11 minutes a game for the Suns.