LeBron James has called Anthony Davis a generational talent and the NBA’s defensive player of the year. Thanks to the big man’s dominant Game 4, he’s just a single win away from being called champion.
After watching Miami’s Jimmy Butler torment the Lakers in Game 3, Davis was the defensive stopper they needed Tuesday night. He protected the rim, closed off the paint and took his 6-foot-10 frame out on the wing to shut down Butler in a 102-96 victory — putting the Lakers a win away from the title.
“We feel like we got bullied [in Game 3] . We feel like we got outworked. They were scrappier than us, and we didn’t like that,” Davis said. “They were doing whatever they wanted, especially Jimmy. We didn’t like it. So we wanted to come out to be demanding on [both ends]. … If we play like that, especially next game, then we’re going to become champions.”
They will be champions with a win Friday, largely because Davis set the defensive tone Tuesday.
The Lakers’ half-court defensive efficiency had been a poor 123.9 in Games 2 and 3, but it tightened to 98.6 on Tuesday, according to Second Spectrum. Davis led the way by smothering Butler, who was coming off just the third 40-point triple-double in NBA Finals history.
“We just wanted to give him a different look, honestly. We were asking a lot out of Bron. I just told Bron I’ll take him,” Davis said. “Coming in with the mindset of knowing what he just did to us Game 3, very easy for him, the floor was very open, he got what he wanted. … I just wanted to take all that away and just make it difficult for him.”
Davis made it impossible. He defended Butler on 11 of his 17 shots, and after Butler hit his first four, he was 1-for-7 from the second quarter on.
“That’s why he’s the defensive player of the year. … His ability to play 1-through-5, guard anybody on the floor, take the challenge, not only guard on the perimeter, continue to protect the paint,” James said of Davis, who blocked four shots and altered more — Tyler Herro had to loft one nearly to the rafters to get over Davis.
“It’s hard to score on him. You see how high Herro threw that ball up? It went in, but he had to throw that thing up to the skyscrapers. That guy can do everything defensively: guard the ball, guard the post, slide his feet with guards, contest, can body up with bigs. Need I say more?”
With Goran Dragic’s status up in the air, the Heat know Butler will get another dose of Davis in Friday’s potential closeout Game 5.
“I’m sure on Friday it’ll be James and Davis on him quite a bit, and Jimmy’s not running from that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We have to try to help him a little more, create a more space for him. But these games may just end up being in the mud.”
James has admitted how much he learned from Dwyane Wade in Miami, going from a star to a champion. Davis, soaking up information from James and Rajon Rondo, is getting a similar NBA Ph.D. in Los Angeles.
“Bron and ’Do have been the two guys who’ve been in my ear throughout those playoffs,” Davis said. “These guys have been here. … Those two have been in my ear helping me through the journey, my first time here on the big stage in L.A.
“Those two have been very helpful for me just keeping me in the moment, not looking too far ahead, and when I’m playing bad, not getting down, body language, being a leader, all these things. The credit goes to them of the success I’m having, because without them, no telling where I’d be. Those two have been on my shoulders about anything you can think of, trying to help me become a champion.”