LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida – After his shot fell to beat the buzzer, win the game and bring the Los Angeles Lakers just two wins from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010, Anthony Davis yelled a word that said it all : “Kobe!”
Davis’ triple from the left flank won the game 105-103 when time ran out, led LA 2-0 over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals, and improved LA’s post-season record to 3-0 when wears the alternative “The Black Mamba Uniforms”, which Kobe Bryant helped design several years before his death.
“Obviously we represent him,” said Davis, who scored 10 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. “Especially in those shirts, it̵
Lakers manager Frank Vogel reminded his team at the end of the fourth quarter of the power of their uniforms, which was picked up on the TNT telecast during a conversation as the Nuggets whipped up a comeback.
“He said, ‘Look at the jerseys you’re wearing. He would have made great plays. So it’s time for us to make great plays,'” said Davis, paraphrasing Vogel. “Just by looking at the shirt and the coach who tells us, it’s a constant reminder that Kobe is with us, and we have the spirit of those shirts.”
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California in January. The current Lakers team devoted the remainder of their season to the star of the franchise, who played all 20 seasons of his career for the purple and gold. Davis and LeBron James got tattooed to honor Bryant, the team sings “1-2-3 Mamba!” to break the confusions, and the players wear the snakeskin printed jerseys.
They wore them for the first time on August 24th – 8/24 on the calendar, a tribute to the two numbers Bryant wore in Los Angeles – in the first round against Portland. They then wore them for Game 2 in each of the next two rounds. Gianna, who is remembered on the jersey with a white heart with the number 2 in the center, wore that number for her prep basketball team.
Davis’s shot wouldn’t have been necessary had the Lakers not wasted a 16-point lead in the third quarter and an eight-point lead with less than three minutes left in the fourth. Denver’s Nikola Jokic scored the Nuggets’ last 12 points, including a hook shot on Davis with 20.8 seconds left to give his team the lead.
It was then that Rajon Rondo, who was not in the game at the time, told Davis that it was time for him to get Jokic back. He took the ball in his hands to do it.
“He walked over and said, ‘Different passerby?'”, Vogel recalls. “I say, ‘Damn, yes. Come on. Let’s get him in.'”
Rondo pushed the rebounds off the baseline with 2.1 seconds remaining. There was an option, of course, to go to James, who had five playoff game winners in his career – the most in NBA history. But ultimately, Rondo found a better option in Davis.
“I think I made eye contact with all the players on my team in that game,” Rondo said. “My first glance was Kenny [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] back door. That wasn’t there. Danny [Green] back door. That wasn’t there. Bron and I looked each other in the eye, but he didn’t move, and then I saw AD arrive from the outside and I tried to get him to the target in time. I had Joker on me, so obviously I couldn’t lob pass, and he did the rest. “
It was the kind of moment that suggests what Davis can do with the rest of his career. He is now in his eighth season and shows what he is capable of in big games after playing for smaller teams in New Orleans. Both Rondo and Jokic called Davis, who averages 34 points on 52.3% from the floor, 42.9% from the 3 and 86.4% from the foul line in the series, the best offensive player in the league.
James recalled a left-wing shot Davis missed on March 10 that would have won the Lakers a game against the Brooklyn Nets – which ended up being the last game in LA before the league went on hiatus due to COVID-19. – as proof of the great man’s growing confidence.
“It’s not about making a shot. It’s about having the belief that you’re just taking it, for one, and living with the result,” said James. “He was down on himself, but at the end of the day, I told him, if you’re open, [shoot it] … It’s just the security of taking the hit. “
Now Davis has the confidence that comes from knowing he has as many playoff winning shots as Bryant, pairing the Bryant pull-up sweater in Game 4 of the 2006 Lakers first-round series against the Phoenix Suns.
“We want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honor his memory. Obviously, there are some games where we will feel that a little more than others,” Vogel said. “When we wear that uniform, I think we feel it more than others. It’s a blow that Kobe Bryant would have hit.
“For me, AD just flying to the wing like that, catch and shoot with the biggest game on the line of our season, nothing but net, is a Mamba shot.”