SAN FRANCISCO — D’Angelo Russell zipped downhill with Gary Payton II at his waist. With 7:43 left in the fourth quarter of the Western Conference semifinal game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors, Russell Peyton went up under Kevon Looney’s contest.
As Looney turned for a potential rebound, he inadvertently hit 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 going 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. He was evaluated by Lakers athletic trainer John Ishap and returned to the locker room for further evaluation during the next period. Davis struggled to keep his balance, so the Lakers put him in a wheelchair as a precaution, according to a team source who was granted anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. Davis did not return to the game or to the bench.
He finally left the visitors’ locker room and walked unaided to the team bus at 10:25 pm PT — nearly an hour after the game.
The Lakers lost 5, 121-106, to the defending champion Warriors on Wednesday night at the Chase Center. The details of the game are trivial for the Lakers given Davis’ status, and that’s unknown.
Los Angeles leads the series 3-2. Game 6 is Friday in Los Angeles — about 48 hours after Game 5. The team has yet to make an official announcement or reason why Davis left the game as of Thursday morning.
“Obviously, everybody saw that he took a shot to the head, but we checked on him and he seems to be doing well already,” Lakers head coach Darwin Hamm said. “Where he is. That’s the situation now.”
When asked to provide more details on Davis’ assessment, Hamm declined to provide specifics.
“We’re game over,” Ham said sternly.
James, who said he missed the collision and saw Davis writhing in pain, echoed Hamm’s optimism about Davis’ prognosis.
“The medical team said he was doing great,” James said. “That’s what matters most.”
Austin Reeves added: “I’m sure he’ll play.”
NBA Concussion protocol A player diagnosed with a concussion “may not return to participation: (1) on the same day or on the following calendar day; and (2) before completing the required participation process.” That process includes frequent monitoring and increased exertion exercises — “stationary bike, jogging, agility work, non-contact group exercises” — before a player is cleared.
So if Davis is diagnosed with a concussion, it won’t be until 24 hours after the initial injury — or as late as Thursday — as soon as possible. In fact, his availability for Game 6 is doubtful.
The scene surrounding the Lakers postgame was understandably chaotic. Davis’ availability has been a factor in the Lakers’ playoff run—and has been high over the past four seasons. It’s a constant concern that something could undermine the dominance of the James-Davis pairing.
Davis suffered a scare in Game 1 of the Memphis series, with a shoulder blade that temporarily left him unable to lift his arm. But he bounced back and played 24 consecutive games for the first time since the 2017-18 season. He has been battling through the remnants of an injury to his right leg, but is still available.
The Lakers’ locker room opened 30 minutes after the buzzer – a little later than usual. Davis’ parents, Clutch Sports Group agent Rich Paul and Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Belinka were seen around the locker room area. Davis was briefly seen walking from the shower to the training room before strolling out of the locker room. Despite his encouraging message, Hamm was more testy than usual in his postgame press conference — even factoring in the Lakers’ loss — and emphatically crumpled up the game’s stat sheet upon leaving the stage.
Any time Davis misses, be it Game 6, potentially Game 7, or beyond, would obviously be a season-changing blow if the Lakers move forward in that situation. Davis was the team’s best player in the postseason by a clear margin. He’s the anchor of their playoff-leading defense. He was the main reason for their defensive success against the Warriors, an elite defensive system. He was a top-five player at worst in these playoffs.
Davis was 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 than a throwback Herculean performance. The Lakers will play James and Rui Hachimura at center because they can get away with it against the smaller, jump-shot-heavy Warriors. Wenyen Gabriel can play a big role depending on his initial shot. They could dust off Tristan Thompson, who hasn’t played a rotation minute yet.
The alternatives aren’t the best, of course. The Lakers will go small and try to win the shootout — a seemingly tall task against a team with two of the best shooters ever.
“I mean, score more points than the other team,” Reaves said of the Lakers’ and Golden State’s strategy if Davis misses time. “Obviously, for what we do, AD. … We’re still a group of NBA basketball players that played without him this year. Like I said, you don’t want to play a game, a big game, without a guy like that, but that’s the nature of the game. Indeed it is. Get more points.”
The Lakers’ second-round series against the Warriors followed an eerily 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 loss in Game 2. The Lakers blew them out in Game 3. The Lakers then won a tight Game 4, taking a 3-1 series lead. Now, following the Lakers’ double-digit Game 5 loss to the Warriors, Crypto.com Arena will once again have a Game 6.
“We played game by game, win by win, loss by loss, just like the Memphis series we played in this series,” Reaves said. “You can look back on it and see the energy and effort we came out with in Game 6.”
It wasn’t quite the show they lost in Game 5 in Memphis, 116-99. 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 enemy is different. The challenges are different. Friday is another opportunity to go there after the All-Star to see where we’ve been since we came together, see what we’ve been building. to break A highly resilient group, we respond well to adversity.
At the time, the Warriors weren’t the Grizzlies. There was bark and small bites all over Memphis. The Golden State is bark and bite.
The Warriors have a storied pedigree and are already 3-1 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 already bounced back this season: In seven games against Sacramento, the defending champs are the first to fall behind 2-0 in their first-round series. This is not a group the Lakers want to revive.
Game 6 is Game 7 for the Lakers. One win and they’re only the second 7th seed in NBA history to make the conference finals (joining the 1986-87 Seattle SuperSonics). One loss and their season is on the line with a road Game 7 in San Francisco.
The biggest factor in the Lakers’ favor is that they have legitimate home-court advantage in these playoffs: They’re 6-0 at home in the postseason and have won eight straight games. The Lakers have rarely lost recently: they are 17-6 in their last 23 games. Also, James has never lost a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead. He famously won one against these Warriors in the 2016 NBA Finals.
But to advance to the conference finals — with or without Davis — the resilient Lakers still need to summon their best performance against a proven opponent with confidence.
“Those six (home) games are out the window,” James said. “It’s over. Our job is to try to be 1-0 on Friday. I look forward to that opportunity,” he said.
(Top photo: Andrew T. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)