No smiles. No high fives.
As he walked over to the sideline, his co-superstar, LeBron James, brought him closer, whispering something in his ear. The two players fist-bumped, tapped each other on the shoulder and went their separate ways to do postgame interviews.
“That’s in house,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after the game.
It may not be the loudest, like Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. It may not have the drama, like Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant. What James and Davis do have is mutual trust and respect for each other. The selflessness that’s rare between two superstars, looking to dominate every time they step onto the court.
James and Davis bring size and physicality to their games. Their ability to post up and attack the basket in the paint is giving the Heat defenders trouble, particularly without Bam Adebayo inside. But they can also shoot with efficiency, evidenced by their combined 65 points in Game 2.
This was the first time that two Lakers players combined for over 30+ points in an NBA Finals game since Bryant and O’Neal during their three-peat in the early 2000s. While Bryant was the effortless shooter and O’Neal the ferocious power player, Davis and James are a hybrid of those two greats.
“I can’t even believe I’m up here talking about myself and AD with Kobe and Shaq,” James said. “I guess all four of us, we have a winning mentality and we just tried to make enough plays out on the floor throughout the course of the game that would benefit not only ourselves individually but for the most important thing, for the better of the team.”
Davis, who is averaging 32 points through the first two games of the NBA Finals, echoed his teammate’s sentiments on the comparison between the two Laker greats.
“Those two guys were selfless. They both had a competitive spirit with themselves to will their teams to win. I think me and Bron are the same way,” Davis said.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 3, 2020
Against a small Heat lineup, James and Davis were able to expose the middle of the zone defense. As seen above, James drew the Heat defenders towards him inside, before finding an opening in the seam to Davis who cut to the basket for the slam dunk. On another play, Rondo saw an opening in the zone, passing to James, who jumped and batted the ball to Davis for the layup.
When James wasn’t facilitating, he used his size to muscle his way inside the paint. Andre Igoudala dealt with this in the second quarter, when James moved to the right and muscled his way for the “and one.” Off the ball, James used his speed to get open in the paint, evidenced by Rondo’s lob pass to the Laker superstar in the second quarter for the layup. Heat players Kelly Olynyk and Duncan Robinson got caught flat-footed, thanks to James exposing the space in the zone.
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 3, 2020
On that same sequence, Davis had an opening to the rim. He could’ve demanded the ball from Rondo. But this isn’t how this Laker tandem works.
They each have their moments and do what’s best for the team. Always.
“That’s the relationship those two guys have with one another,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. “It really is within both of their personality, which is what makes this pairing so special, so unique, is they are two alphas, but they also have a make-the-right-play mindset, a selflessness to them, that is just a winning attribute. To have that when they look at each other and have that partnership where they are just pulling for each other, you know, and on the same page, trying to compete for this championship is really special.”
When LeBron James arrived at the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago, he wanted to bring championship pedigree to a franchise that hadn’t won the Larry O’Brien trophy since 2010. More important than the rings was the pursuit of the perfect teammate.
James played with several successful players throughout his NBA career, from Dwayne Wade to Kyrie Irving. They made James better and vice versa.
However, both Wade and Irving were guards, who didn’t match James’ size and physicality on defense. Irving left the Cavaliers after the 2017 season, with the hopes of being the “go-to” player on the Boston Celtics.
None of this can be said about Anthony Davis. He possesses the length to match James. And his unselfishness doesn’t lead to jealousy, which occurred in Cleveland with Irving.
It’s not surprising why James described Davis as the “perfect teammate” during these NBA Finals.
“We’re not jealous of each other,” James said. “I think that’s the best thing. In professional sports, you have guys that join forces to become alpha males. That’s what they call them. Two guys that have been dominant in a specific sport on their own respective teams, and they get together and they talk about how dominant they can be and they talk about this is going to be this and that,”
“I believe jealousy creeps in a lot. And that is the absolute contrary to what we are. We know who we are. We want the best, seriously, every single day, both on and off the floor, for one another. We’re just not jealous of one another. I think that you align that with respect, I think the sky’s the limit.”
Vogel spoke about how “locked-in” and “committed” his team is at this point in the NBA Finals. The Lakers know they have a long way to go before clinching a championship. The Heat will make adjustments in Game 3, showcase their trademark resilience, and hope to have center Bam Adebayo back in the lineup.
But with James and Davis playing as well as they are, the Lakers should not be concerned. James is a bona fide winner, with three championships to his name. Davis is on the cusp of superstardom, averaging 29.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 7.7 APG, on 47.8 percent shooting from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.
More than the stat lines is selflessness, willing to put personal egos aside to do what’s best for the team. Watching James and Davis is like listening to a symphony of Beethoven’s.
Locked in. Perfect harmony.