Anthony Davis led a defensive masterclass as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 117-112 on the road to take a 1-0 lead in their NBA Western Conference playoff series on Tuesday.
The eagerly anticipated showdown between the two Californian glamour clubs lived up to the billing as the Lakers held off a thrilling late Golden State rally to take a crucial early advantage against the NBA champions in the best-of-seven series.
The Lakers appeared to be cruising to victory after opening up a 14-point lead with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter after a clinical defensive performance at San Francisco’s Chase Center.
But the Warriors came roaring back with a flurry of three-pointers and Stephen Curry knotted the score at 112-112 to complete a 14-0 Golden State run with 1min 38sec remaining.
Yet just when it looked as if the Warriors were building unstoppable momentum, the Lakers regrouped to snatch victory.
A D’Angelo Russell layup edged them back in front at 114-112 before a LeBron James free throw increased the Lakers lead to three.
Jordan Poole then missed a game-tying 27-foot three-point effort with 9.7sec left on the clock before the Lakers drew two free throws for German international Dennis Schroder to make the game safe.
“We know this team — they’re the defending champions. No lead is safe against them, they can get hot at any moment,” Davis said of the Warriors.
“But this is just a mindset for our team, knowing we can beat this team, it’s a confidence-booster for us.
“We’ve been able to get this one in game one, but we haven’t done anything yet.”
Davis finished with 30 points, 23 rebounds, five assists and four blocks while James chipped in with 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks.
‘An elite defender’
Russell and Schroder added 19 points each while Austin Reaves finished with 10.
But it was Davis’s all-round performance that stole the show for the Lakers, with the 6ft 10in (2.08m) eight-time All-Star marshalling an immense defensive effort.
“He’s an elite defender,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He’s doing exactly what I anticipated him to do. He’s playing like one of the top five NBA players that he is.”
Ham however was quick to bring his team back to earth after a gripping win.
“The biggest thing for us is not to get too happy, to stay humble and respect our opponent, but also know there is a ton of work left.
“It’s not the first to one, it’s not the first one with the greatest individual performance. We’ve got to keep stacking performances.”
Curry led the Golden State scoring with 27 points including six three-pointers while Klay Thompson had 25, also with six from beyond the arc.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team had finished stronger but just couldn’t “get over the hump.”
“I thought we were the fresher team down the stretch – you saw the run we made,” Kerr said.
“We were right there. We gave it a great fight. Just couldn’t get over the hump. So we’ll be ready for game two.”
Game two in the series takes place in San Francisco on Thursday.
In Tuesday’s other playoff game, Jalen Brunson scored 30 points as the New York Knicks defeated the Miami Heat 111-105 to square their Eastern Conference playoff semi-final series at 1-1.
Brunson shot 10-of-19 from the field including six from three-point range as the Knicks finally overpowered a gutsy Miami line-up playing without injured talisman Jimmy Butler.
A tense duel that saw the lead change hands 16 times was finally settled in the fourth quarter as the Knicks stitched together a 12-3 run midway through the period that included a Brunson three-pointer.
It gave New York a 99-96 lead and that rally proved decisive as they held on down the stretch to close out the win before a raucous Madison Square Garden.
Brunson had berated himself after Sunday’s game one loss, describing his performance as “horrific” after missing all seven of his attempts from three-point distance.
The 26-year-old playmaker was happier with his contribution on Tuesday.
“A little bit better,” Brunson said. “I’ve still got to be better on both sides of the ball. I’m happy we won, and we can learn from the win, but we’ve got to continue to get better.”
Brunson was given offensive support from Julius Randle, who finished with 25 points. R.J. Barrett added 24 and Josh Hart 14.
Miami’s scoring was led by Caleb Martin with 22 points while Gabe Vincent finished with 21.
The series now moves to Florida with game three set for Miami on Saturday.
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