What a shot.
Trailing by one point with 2.1 seconds to play in Game 2 of the NBA‘s Western Conference finals against the Nuggets on Sunday night, coming off a frustrating possession that saw Alex Caruso miss a 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds to go and Danny Green have his shot blocked by Denver point Jamal Murray, Lakers star Anthony Davis rescued the situation.
Davis took an out-of-bounds pass from Rajon Rondo on the left wing after the Murray block went out of bounds and knocked down a clutch 3-pointer to give the Lakers a 2-point win and a 2-0 series lead over Denver. The Nuggets had fought back from a 16-point deficit in the game.
Here’s a look at the Davis shot:
AD WINS IT AT THE BUZZER.
OH MY. pic.twitter.com/Um2uWqjmZR
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 21, 2020
The shot was followed by a team-wide, on-court celebration and was an appropriate capper to an outstanding game for Davis, who scored 31 points on 11-for-23 shooting, with 2-for-4 shooting from the 3-point line and 7-for-7 shooting from the free-throw stripe. He added nine rebounds and two blocks on the night.
Denver’s Culprit for Anthony Davis Game-Winner: Mason Plumlee
Once the shot was in the books, Twitter sleuths began looking for a culprit on whom to blame the Denver loss. The choice was obvious: reserve big man Mason Plumlee, who had subbed into the game for the final play, replacing Paul Millsap.
Plumlee began the possession guarding Davis, but as soon as Davis ran across the floor, past James, Plumlee stuck to James—clearly he was worried about the inbound play going through James–and just pointed toward Davis. He appeared to assume that either Jerami Grant or someone else would step out onto Davis.
James was not even setting a screen for Davis on the play, Davis merely ran past him. That means there could be more to Plumlee’s decision to stick to James like Velcro than a mere mental mistake. Because social media is no place for nuance, though, Plumlee got hammered with criticism.
Mason Plumlee defense on that last play pic.twitter.com/Sa2Tw150Dp
— Mark Strotman (@markstrot) September 21, 2020
I can watch Plumlee on this play all night. Man gave up the chase and just pointed at Davis like Jesus was supposed to take the wheel. https://t.co/6Z18etdC5v
— Zito (@_Zeets) September 21, 2020
Mason Plumlee came in as a defensive sub, then *ran himself into a screen that wasn't even there*, and lost track of his man for the game-winner https://t.co/lxkUVwvkQa
— Zach Kram (@zachkram) September 21, 2020
Anthony Davis Proving His Clutch Ability
Still, Davis had to make the shot, and he did manage that. During the Lakers’ current postseason run, Davis has proven to be a player who can come through in the clutch, a reputation he had not earned when he was top dog with the Pelicans for seven seasons before he was traded to the Lakers last summer.
Fox Sports host Colin Cowherd claimed in March that Davis’s lack of clutch play would be an issue.
“He’s a super, super, high-end defensive player,” Cowherd said of Davis, “and an excellent offensive player. But he’s not a leader, he cannot carry a franchise. … He’s not really dependable late.”
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) March 11, 2020
The Lakers are now 3-1 in what the NBA deems “clutch situations”—games within five points with five or fewer minutes remaining to play—in these playoffs. Davis has been their best option. Entering the game, he had scored six points and made both of his shot attempts in clutch situations.
In the last five minutes of Sunday night’s game, Davis pushed his clutch status even further. He scored 10 points in the final five minutes, making two 3-pointers, two free-throws and a runner in the lane. The rest of the Lakers went 0-for-7 shooting the ball, with James going 0-for-3. Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope joined Caruso and Green as the other Lakers to miss shots in crunch time.
The Nuggets, whether it was Plumlee getting the blame or someone else, are left to grasp for some perspective. This is the team, after all, that fell behind 3-1 to each of its first two playoff opponents and managed to win the series.
“Losing sucks,” coach Michael Malone said. “Some guys like to win, some guys hate to lose. I think we’re a group of guys who hate to lose, whether it be by 20 points in Game 1 or at the buzzer tonight, it counts as the same.”