The dejected look on Anthony Davis captured his frustration. Where he sat captured his extreme limitations.
The Los Angeles Lakers' star received clearance to play in Game 6 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns in hopes to prevent or at least delay postseason elimination. But after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5 because of a strained left groin, Davis still struggled to defend, attack the rim or even move at all.
So well before the Lakers officially failed to defend their NBA title with a 113-100 loss to the Suns on Thursday at Staples Center, Davis sat on the floor adjacent to the Lakers’ bench with only 6:35 left in the first quarter. He hurt so much that he didn’t even have the strength to sit on the bench.
“It never really felt good, but it was my competitive nature to want to go out and help the team as much as I could,” Davis said. “My body didn't agree.”
Not only did that add frustration to Davis’ failed efforts both to win his second consecutive NBA title and overcome his latest ailment. It sparked criticism about his extensive injury history.
Anthony Davis grabs his injured left groin during the opening minutes of the Lakers' Game 6 loss to the Suns. (Photo: Harry How, Getty Images)
After Davis missed Game 5, TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley addressed him as “Streetclothes." After Davis returned in Game 6, Barkley questioned why the Lakers’ medical staff allowed Davis to play.
“I don’t have to prove nothing to anyone,” Davis said. “I’m not going to prove anything to anyone. It doesn’t matter to me. The things that everybody are saying? It comes with the territory. When you're a player of my caliber, guys expect things from you and are going to say things about you. Whatever their reason is, it's my job to be on the floor. I know what I go through and what I play through and what my body goes through. The front office and coaching staff know. So I don’t need to prove anything to anyone that's outside of this Lakers organization.”
That’s because those inside the Lakers’ organization appreciated what Davis did in the past week.
He hyperextended his left knee in Game 3 following a chase-down block on Suns guard Devin Booker with 2:36 left in the second quarter. After limping to the locker room at halftime, Davis wore a heatpack on the Lakers’ bench before returning in the second half. He eventually finished with a team-leading 34 points. In Game 4, Davis then injured his left groin after landing hard on the court following a missed layup with 48.3 seconds left in the first half. Davis then missed the entire second half after finishing with six points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Davis missed Game 5 after feeling discomfort with running and cutting during a pre-game workout. But he spent the next two days receiving treatment and resting before receiving permission to play in Game 6.
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“He's a warrior. He tried to get out there and play through what he knew was going to be difficult for him to move,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He did everything he could from a treatment standpoint to loosen it up. He was hoping some in-game adrenaline would also help with it. But he certainly wasn’t moving well at all to start the game.”
Granted, Davis cannot exactly hide from his injury history.
He admitted he accepted a five-year, $190 million extension with the Lakers last fall partly because of his “little history with injuries,” that included missing at least seven games in each of the past eight seasons with various ailments. Davis missed 36 games this season, including 30 because of a strained right calf. And after struggling to stay healthy during a compressed 72-game schedule less than a month after winning the NBA title in the bubble, Davis said he will consult with his trainer on how to improve his health this offseason.
“My offseason regimen is pretty intense,” Davis said. “I didn’t get to be a part of what I normally do because of the shortened offfseason. Usually when the season is over, I let my body heal. Then, I’m going six weeks straight of weight training every day and then I’m playing basketball for a month and a half before training camp.”
Yet, there’s a lot more nuance about Davis’ injuries and how he responds to them.
The majority of Davis’ ailments have been fairly minor. As much as he might elicit eyerolls for constantly falling down, Davis also has sparked praise for how he has treated them.
Consider what happened during his first season with the Lakers. Davis felt soreness in his right shoulder after dunking awkwardly against Charlotte. Two days later against Memphis, Davis played through the soreness and finished with 40 points and 20 rebounds. Davis took such a hard fall against the New York Knicks on Jan. 7 that he stayed on the ground for several minutes before limping to the locker room and receiving x-rays. Though Davis sat the next five games to heal the soreness in his lower back, that pales to the amount of time the Lakers initially feared Davis would miss.
In the 2020 NBA Finals, Davis became limited late in Game 5 after aggravating a right heel contusion and feeling soreness in his left ankle. But two days later in Game 6, Davis looked spry and helped the Lakers win a title. Davis faced a more severe injury this season when he missed a combined 30 games with his right calf strain. But the Lakers believe Davis’ injury could have been worse had both parties not detected the ailment early and stayed patient with his recovery.
Anthony Davis (3) was only able to play five minutes in his return in Game 6 from a left groin injury. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)
“Every great competitor is going to be frustrated if they can’t be in there. But I think he’s shown an incredible amount of toughness the last two years with playing through injury,” Vogel said. “He’s a tough competitor that will play through stuff.”
Davis showed those qualities even more so in the past week because of the playoff implications. He also avoided being reckless with his return. Davis chalked up his first injury in Game 3 "as a freak accident" after taking an unavoidably tough fall. Though Vogel expressed concern if Davis could resume playing, the Lakers’ medical staff assured him that Davis would not compromise himself by doing so as long as he could handle the pain.
Davis passed that test, but he could not handle the additional pain with his groin injury. Though the Lakers’ medical staff told him that ailment was connected to his left knee injury, Davis’ groin became compromised after again taking another tough fall after driving to the basket.
Nonetheless, the Lakers were cautious with Davis’ return to Game 6. Though he clearly wasn’t ready, Davis and the Lakers medical staff had the self awareness to course correct quickly.
“You go out there, try to give it your all and give your team a chance,” Davis said. “You feel like you let your team down. Once you’re on the floor and you can't, they know you tried.”
No wonder Davis looked frustrated when he labored on the court before sitting on the floor. Yet, he also appeared validated that he at least tried and that the Lakers appreciated his efforts.
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