Anthony Davis might have performed better as a facilitator in crunch time than he ever has before in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 113-106 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, but the All-Star big man was still hypercritical of his play.
“Right now, to be hard on myself, man, I think I suck right now,” Davis said after finishing with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks. “I’m not making shots. I’m not making free throws. But I think tonight my aggressiveness, just being a [post-up threat] and getting to the paint, allowed guys to get open.”
He did miss 10 of the 18 shots he attempted — shooting just 44.4% compared to the 53.2% clip he came into the night connecting on this season. And he went just 2-for-5 from the foul line, which made the career 80.1% free throw shooter just 14-for-22 (63.6%) in his past three games.
His passing, however, proved to be a difference-maker. The Lakers went 3-for-3 off Davis’ feeds in the final three minutes, allowing visiting L.A. to turn a one-possession game into a relatively comfortable win.
It was the most assists he has ever had in clutch time in a game in his career.
He laced a dish to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to boost L.A.’s lead from two to five with 2 minutes, 42 seconds remaining; he found Alex Caruso in the corner for another 3 to put the Lakers up by seven a minute later; and he set up LeBron James for a 3 with 1:04 remaining to give his team an eight-point cushion. The final flurry sealed the win and allowed the Lakers to extend their road winning streak to 8-0 to begin the season.
“I trust my teammates. AC hit one for me. Bron hit one and Kenny hit one, and they’re in the right spots where I want guys when I have the ball in the post,” Davis explained. “And just [am] able to make the read with their guys doubling or collapsing to the paint when I get there, and was able to kick it out and those guys made shots.”
While Davis finished with fewer than 20 points for the fifth straight game — his longest sub-20 streak last season was limited to just three games during the seeding games in the bubble when L.A. had already locked up the No. 1 seed — his assists have been on an uptick.
Five of Davis’ six assists against the Bucks led to a 3-pointer for L.A. — tied for the most 3s he has ever assisted on in a single game in his career — and his 13 assists over the past two games are the most he has ever had in a two-game span since joining the Lakers.
James explained that he knew Davis had this passing ability in him all along but he rarely got to display it in New Orleans because teams would play him one-on-one, figuring he can’t beat them all by himself.
“But I felt like since he’s been here, he’s so damn good that I know eventually he’s going to see a lot of double-teams,” James said.
Once those doubles come, James said, Davis has been coached to spot the lanes he can target to find open teammates.
“He’s continuing to grow every single game. Every single film session, we kind of break those things down — what he sees on the floor,” James said. “Tonight was another example of him just seeing the other side of the floor and putting the ball on time, on target and guys knocking it down.”
Much like Davis, Lakers coach Frank Vogel left the win unsatisfied, even though the Bucks came into the night ranked No. 2 in offensive efficiency and averaging 120.4 points per game and the Lakers held them far below that output.
“Well, we have to be better,” Vogel said. “We didn’t play our best basketball game tonight.”
It’s the tone of a team seeking something far more substantial than a regular-season win in January.
“My aggressiveness tonight,” Davis said, “that’s the only way I feel like I’m gonna get out of this funk or whatever that I’m in.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a better basketball player every game, and that’s what I’m gonna continue to do.”