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Column: From clunker to classic, Anthony Davis and Lakers are back

Lakers forward Anthony Davis shouts as he celebrates a defensive stop against the Suns.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis shouts as he celebrates a defensive stop against the Suns during Game 2 of their first-round playoff series Tuesday night in Phoenix.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

He began the game by throwing up his right arm and blocking a shot.

This is what responsibility looks like.

He ended the game by throwing out his body and setting a bruising screen.

This is what accountability feels like.

In more than two vengeful hours Tuesday, Anthony Davis was everywhere and everything, driving, dunking, blocking, stealing, even accidentally kicking Phoenix‘s Jae Crowder where the Suns don’t shine.

This is what happens when a player puts a loss on his shoulders and a team on his back with remorse on his mind.

We’re good, AD. All is forgiven. Welcome to the playoffs.

Highlights from the Lakers’ win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals on Tuesday.

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Two days after being nationally ripped, locally ridiculed and even charged in this space with human evaporation, Davis pulled one of his trademark turnarounds Tuesday in leading the Lakers to a 109-102 victory over the host Phoenix Suns in an equalizing Game 2 of their first-round series.

In the wake of an embarrassing opening loss for which he took full responsibility, Davis deserved full responsibility for a late-surging win in which he scored 34 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, had seven assists and fought his way to the foul line for 21 free throws.

Two days after shrinking, he flexed. Two days after whispering, he growled.

After an opener in which he scored 13 points, grabbed zero offensive rebounds, had two assists and yawned his way to the foul line for five attempts, he turned those numbers — and the Suns — on their head.

He said he would be better. He was great. He said the Lakers could not win if he didn’t play bigger. He was huge.

These were his words after Game 1 on Sunday: “There’s no way we’re winning a game, let alone a series, with me playing the way that I played. So, I mean, this one is on me. I take full responsibility for sure.”

Lakers-Suns schedule for first-round playoff series.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

These were his actions during crunch time Tuesday night, with the Lakers leading by one in the final four minutes: He blocked a Deandre Ayton shot, he made a three-pointer, he made two free throws, he forced Devin Booker to dribble the ball off his leg, he set a vicious screen on Crowder that led to a LeBron James three-pointer.

All of it led to a 10-2 Lakers run that provided the dagger on not just the game, but likely the series. With Phoenix point guard Chris Paul’s injured right shoulder clearly hurting him — he scored just six points — the Suns will be lucky to win another game.

That is, as long as Davis can put together three more of these games and stop driving everyone crazy.

Davis “did exactly what he said he was going to do from the last game,” said Andre Drummond, who had his most impactful game as a Laker with 15 points and a dozen rebounds. “He was going to come out and be better today and he held his word. He did exactly what he was supposed to do.”

The night at the arena began on a solemn note, with a moment of silence to mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.

James said that silence spoke volumes.

“The man literally changed the world, and it’s unfortunate obviously that his family has to grieve and still ask questions of why, but he’s literally changed the world,” said James. “The conversation has not stopped. … His name continues to ring home, ring bells, and that’s very key. Anytime you talk about change, it’s very key that you continue to have these conversations. So, much respect to him. He’s an angel looking over all of us. Looking over all these Black kids and the Black community and his family, continued well wishes to them.”

Guard Dennis Schroder and center Andre Drummond rebounded from lackluster performances to help the Lakers even their playoff series against the Suns.

The game then began on a purposeful note, when Davis blocked a shot by Booker on the game’s first play, accidentally kicked Crowder in the groin moments later while coming down from a shot for a flagrant foul, then spent much of the night attacking the rim. By the fourth quarter he was in full beast mode, scoring 14 points in the final dozen minutes with 10 free-throw attempts to finish the game.

Of course, you knew this would happen. This always happens. Davis has a Lakers history of following a clunker with a classic.

Three times during last season’s playoffs he shot less than 50%. Three times he rebounded to shoot at least 57% and average 32 points.

Lakers coach Frank Vogel even called it, saying of Davis before the game: “He’s obviously going to have a different level of assertiveness.”

Davis apparently recovered from Game 1 by doing what he always does after stinking up the joint. He quietly stewed, he took extra shots after practice, and stewed some more.

“I was staying to myself … stay in my room the whole time,” he said. “Just getting locked in for Game 2, knowing that I couldn’t have that type of performance again. … It was going to be a challenge to beat this team. In order for our team to do that, I’m going to have to play how I played tonight or better. I can’t play how I played in Game 1.”

The Lakers and Clippers open the NBA playoffs on May 22-23. Here’s a guide to the Los Angeles Times’ complete coverage.

Like Vogel, James predicted a Davis revival, and even developed a game plan to accommodate it.

“Give him the ball early, often and always, it’s that simple,” said James. “He responds to games like Game 1. He’s not a guy who talks about it; he’s about it. And he goes out and does it. So give him the ball early, often and always.”

Two days after being late, rarely and never, Anthony Davis has once again flipped the script, and it’s enough to make a Lakers fan dizzy.

Dazzled, but dizzy.


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