Anthony Davis and his status now the problem for lakers
D’Angelo Russell zipped downhill with Gary Payton II on his hip. Russell bumped Payton and went up and under Kevon Looney’s contest, scooping in a layup with 7:43 remaining in the fourth quarter of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors.
As Looney turned for a potential rebound, he inadvertently struck Anthony Davis in the temple with his left forearm. Davis immediately grabbed his face and bent over in pain. He stood under the basket for several seconds before sauntering over to the sideline and exiting the game during the next dead ball, at the 7:34 mark.
Davis sat on the bench, holding his head and wincing. He was assessed by Lakers athletic trainer Jon Ishop before going back to the locker room for further evaluation during the next timeout. Davis struggled to maintain his balance, so the Lakers transported him in a wheelchair as a precautionary measure, according to a team source, who was granted anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly. Davis did not return to the game or to the bench.
He finally exited the visitor’s locker room and walked to the team bus without assistance at 10:25 p.m. PT — almost an hour after the game ended.
Lakers’ Anthony Davis (head injury) walks out of Chase Center after Game 5 loss to Warriors pic.twitter.com/hJH9r027zW
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 11, 2023
The Lakers lost Game 5, 121-106, to the defending champion Warriors at the Chase Center on Wednesday night. The details of the game are insignificant for the Lakers considering Davis’ status, which remains unknown.
Los Angeles maintains a 3-2 series lead. Game 6 is Friday in Los Angeles — roughly 48 hours after Game 5. The team has yet to issue an official update or reason for Davis leaving the game as of early Thursday morning.
“Obviously, everyone saw he took a shot to the head, but we just checked in on him, he seems to be doing really good already,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said. “That’s just where he’s at. That’s the status of it right now.”
When asked to provide more details on Davis’ evaluation, Ham declined to offer specifics.
“We just got done with the game,” Ham said sternly.
James, who said he missed the collision but saw Davis writhing in pain, echoed Ham’s optimism about Davis’ prognosis.
“The medical team said he’s doing better,” James said. “That’s what matters the most.”
Austin Reaves added: “I believe he’ll play.”
NBA concussion protocol states that a player diagnosed with a concussion “will not return to participation: (1) on that same day or the next calendar day; and (2) before completing the required return-to-participation process.” That process includes frequent monitoring and a series of increased exertion exercises — “from a stationary bike, to jogging, to agility work, to non-contact team drills” — before a player is cleared.
Thus, if Davis is diagnosed with a concussion, he would not be able to be cleared until 24 hours after the initial injury — or late Thursday — at the earliest. Realistically, his availability for Game 6 would be in doubt.
The scene around the Lakers postgame was understandably glum. Davis’ availability has loomed over the Lakers’ playoff run — and, to a larger extent, over most of the past four seasons. It’s been a constant worry, one of the few things that could undermine the dominance of the James-Davis duo.
Davis suffered a scare in Game 1 of the Memphis series, with a shoulder stinger leaving him unable to lift his arm temporarily. But he returned to that game and has played in 24 consecutive games for the first time since the 2017-18 season. He’s been battling through the remnants of his right foot injury, but he’s been available nonetheless.
The Lakers’ locker room opened up nearly 30 minutes after the buzzer — slightly later than usual. Davis’ parents, agent Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group and Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka were seen around and in the locker room area. Davis was briefly visible walking from the shower to the training room before his stroll out of the locker room. Despite his encouraging messaging, Ham was testier than usual in his postgame press conference — even when factoring in the Lakers loss — and emphatically crumpled up the game’s stat sheet upon leaving the dais.
Davis missing any amount of time, be it Game 6, a potential Game 7, or beyond, if the Lakers were to advance in that scenario, would obviously be a season-altering blow. Davis has been the team’s best player by a clear margin in the postseason. He’s the anchor of their playoff-leading defense. He’s been the key to their defensive success against the Warriors, an elite defensive system unto himself. He’s been a top-five player in these playoffs at worst.
Davis had been effective in Game 5 before his injury, scoring 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting and adding nine rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes. His absence would require more from James, such as a throwback Herculean performance. The Lakers would likely play James and Rui Hachimura at center, as they can get away with that against the smaller, jump-shot-heavy Warriors. Wenyen Gabriel could also play a larger role, depending on his initial shot. They could dust off Tristan Thompson, who hasn’t play a rotation minute yet.
The alternatives aren’t great, of course. The Lakers would likely just go smaller and try to win a shootout — a seemingly tall task against a team featuring arguably the two greatest shooters ever.
“I mean, score more points than the other team,” Reaves said of the Lakers’ strategy vs. Golden State if Davis misses time. “Obviously, A.D. is huge to what we do. … We’re still a group of NBA basketball players that have played games without him this year. Like I said, you never want to play a game, a big game, without a guy like that, but that’s the nature of the game. That’s really it. Score more points.”
The Lakers’ second-round series against the Warriors has followed a strangely similar script to their first-round series against the Grizzlies.
The Lakers stole home-court advantage and won Game 1 in a close contest on the road. The Grizzlies/Warriors responded with a rout in Game 2. The Lakers blew them out in Game 3. Then the Lakers won a tight Game 4, taking a 3-1 series advantage. And now, following the Lakers’ double-digit Game 5 loss to the Warriors, there will once again be a Game 6 at Crypto.com Arena.
“This series we played basically the same as the last Memphis series as far as game by game, win by win, loss by loss,” Reaves said. “You can look back at that, look and see the energy and the effort that we come out with in Game 6 from the get-go.”
This wasn’t quite a no-show like their 116-99 drubbing in Game 5 in Memphis. The Lakers were within nine points with 5:25 left.
Regardless, James doesn’t believe the Lakers can take much from their previous Game 6 experience against Memphis into their Game 6 matchup with Golden State on Friday.
“This series is different,” James said. “The opponent is different. The challenges are different. Friday is another opportunity for us to see where we are, to see what we’re made of, and to go out there with, I guess, the grit and the fight that we’ve had since we came together after the All-Star break. Very resilient team, and we respond well to adversity.”
To that point, the Warriors aren’t the Grizzlies. Memphis was all bark and little bite. Golden State is both bark and bite.
The Warriors have a storied pedigree and have already made a 3-1 comeback before with this core. It happened practically a decade ago — in the 2016 Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City — but that history still matters. They’ve also already made a comeback this postseason: They were the first defending champion to come back from 2-0 down in their first-round series , doing so in seven games against Sacramento. This is not a group the Lakers should want to give life to.
Game 6 is essentially a Game 7 for the Lakers. A win and they are the second No. 7 seed to make the conference finals in NBA history (joining the 1986-87 Seattle Supersonics). A loss and their season is on the line with a road Game 7 in San Francisco.
The biggest factor in the Lakers’ favor is they’ve had a legitimate home-court advantage these playoffs: They’re 6-0 at home in the postseason and have won eight consecutive games there. The Lakers have rarely lost at all recently: They’re 17-6 over their last 23 games. Moreover, James has never lost a playoff series after leading 3-1. He’s famously won one before, against these very Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
But for the resilient Lakers to advance to the conference finals — with or without Davis — they need to summon their greatest performance yet against a proven opponent that’s brimming with confidence.
“Those six (home) games are out the window,” James said. “It’s over and done with. Our job is to try to be 1-0 on Friday. I look forward to that opportunity.”