The Los Angeles Lakers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals on the back of a gritty, down-to-the-wire win on Tuesday night. It was a win they had to have, the alternative being an even series with Miami gaining the momentum from two straight wins and getting healthier and healthier as the series gets extended. Ultimately, the Lakers’ two stars – with clutch contributions from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Rajon Rondo, in particular – did not let that happen and it was Anthony Davis’ defensive effort all night that truly set the tone as the Lakers put themselves in position to win the NBA title on Friday night.
Davis played over 41 minutes on Tuesday after a disappointing game three effort that saw him glued to the bench for longstretches due to foul trouble. In game four, he was back to his aggressive self, blowing up the Heat’s actions on the perimeter to force them into second and third progressions in their offense, making huge plays at the rim (four blocks on the night) and taking the challenge to defend Jimmy Butler for large stretches of the game after the Heat star’s incredible performance in game three. Davis’ defensive mentality and playmaking had LeBron James and other Lakers raving about their superstar big man, with James saying “that’s why he’s the defensive player of the year.”
Davis obviously did not win the coveted award this year, losing out to Milwaukee Bucks star and league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Lakers have been consistent in showing they believed AD was the more deserving candidate. Regardless of how voters perceived it, however, Davis is now doing this on the biggest stage and asking for the toughest assignments as he told the media that he asked head coach Frank Vogel to allow him to be the primary defender on Butler:
AD said he wanted to take some of the load off LeBron by guarding Butler, due in part to all of LeBron’s responsibilities to create shots and run the offense. That was part of Vogel’s plan as well, simply because AD’s the most difficult defensive matchup for Butler.
— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) October 7, 2020
Frank Vogel on what led to his decision to put AD on Jimmy Butler:
"That's what we study film for. You study the game tape, you see where you're getting hurt… We identified ways to take things away from them… That's what the playoffs are about."
— Finals Faigen (@hmfaigen) October 7, 2020
The NBA’s matchup data should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s not fully accurate but according to it, Butler scored just five points on one-of-five shooting from the field in the 27 possessions where Davis was his primary defender. The Heat as a team scored a lackluster 20 points on those possessions. The Lakers outscored the Heat by 17 when Davis was on the floor, a huge mark in a game that they ultimately won by just six points, and that was largely due to the 92.5 defensive rating the team held when he was on the floor (183.3 with him off).
AD's defense was incredible, especially his defense on Jimmy Butler. Butler was 1-for-5 against him (according to https://t.co/oRkUPjqrOk), with LeBron saying after "That's why he's the defensive player of the year" pic.twitter.com/Ay0QQtAxHz
— Lakers Outsiders (@LakersOutsiders) October 7, 2020
The NBA Finals are not supposed to be easy and the Heat have certainly made it a challenge. But these are the games your superstars have to rise up to the occasion and after his most disappointing game in the Finals on Sunday, Davis came back in a major way to win the game for his team.