At various points this season, the race for the eighth seed in the Western Conference has appeared to be either hotly contested or a foregone conclusion. Anthony Davis has seen to it to ensure the former for the home stretch, as on Monday night he tied a career high with 43 points (on just 23 shots) in a needed 114-103 win over the Bucks. For good measure, Davis also contributed 10 rebounds, six assists, and two blocks.
Milwaukee, which ranks second in the league in points allowed per possession, was powerless to stop Davis. He was mostly checked by Ersan Ilyasova and Giannis Antetokounmpo who are tall, lanky defenders quick on their feet. Their swipes and contests proved all but irrelevant. Davis never seemed to have much problem getting where he liked on the floor, largely by facing up against his defender and sneaking past with a single extended step. From that point his man was already playing catch up, unable to much influence the runner or layup that followed.
Davis thrives in this in-between game, though on Monday he also found a rhythm at deeper range. Opponents can only do so much to prevent Davis from getting to the rim as it is. But when he’s also connecting on jumpers at a near-flawless rate, the task of containing Davis, who’s already taller and more athletic than those generally asked to guard him, becomes all the more futile. Just look at his shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com:
What can be done with that? Davis hit short jumpers off the catch, longer shots off the spin, off-balanced runners from the drive and dunks on the follow. There are so many scoring options available to Davis that it's surprising he had only scored 40 or more points on one previous occasion this season. This was his highest output yet for 2014-15, though with only 18 games left and the postseason within reach, it wouldn’t be shocking in the slightest to see Davis do one better.
[daily_cut.NBA] Their victory over the Bucks pulled the Pelicans within a half-game of the eighth-place Thunder. It did not come without moments of doubt. Milwaukee built a first-quarter lead and kept within striking distance throughout until Davis scored eight straight points to build a five-point advantage with less than a minute remaining. As has been the case so often this season, Davis was virtually infallible in crunch time by converting shots at an absurd rate and spacing the floor for his teammates when the ball didn’t come his way.
Even slightly less exemplary basketball could have resulted in another tough loss for a Pelicans team that has tripped up several times already. Instead Davis inched New Orleans closer to an eighth-seed upset that, even as recently as a months ago, few thought possible.