Despite the supposed rivalry between the two Los Angeles franchises (it seems we might actually get to see them match up in the postseason for the first time in NBA history), LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard showed admiration for Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis on Thursday.
After the Clippers’ win over their “big brother,” I asked Leonard how his squad was able to slow down Davis early on in the game. Davis was unfortunately forced to check out of the game after nine minutes of action due to back spasms (though the initial injury appeared to be something involving his ankle), but prior to his exit, the Clippers were doing a great job of making Davis work; he scored just four points on 2-9 shooting.
Leonard explained the Clippers’ strategy, but not before acknowledging Davis’ uniqueness.
Davis truly is one of a kind. He’s a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate when healthy, as he can act as a traditional shot-blocking rim protector or move his feet when switched out onto perimeter threats. Offensively, he can spread the floor, post up or take slower opponents off the dribble. He does it all, so it makes sense that the Clippers were throwing multiple bodies at him to make things difficult.
In single coverage, Marcus Morris Sr. did an excellent job guarding Davis. He stayed in front of him and didn’t allow Davis to out-muscle him in the post. But with the Lakers extremely short-handed in terms of ball-handlers (LeBron James, Dennis Schroder and Talen Horton-Tucker all out with respective ailments), the Clippers could point all their defensive attention at Davis. He no longer had a pick-and-roll partner, which is arguably where he’s most dangerous.
If the two LA teams do end up matching up in the playoffs (they’re currently lined up in the 3-6 bracket) and the Lakers resolve their injury issues, defending Davis will be a completely different challenge than it was on Thursday night. Regardless, one key to defeating an opponent is to be sure to never underestimate them, and Leonard clearly understands Davis’ greatness.