The final 20.8 seconds during Game 2 of the Western Conference finals was full of drama for the Lakers. It was full of stops and starts, twists and turns and unknowns until the last second was drained off the clock inside of AdventHealth Arena.
Not until Anthony Davis delivered the biggest shot of his eight-year NBA career on the fifth and final sequence of that last minute did the melodrama reach a conclusion, a stirring and emotional 105-103 win over the Denver Nuggets. That's because the Lakers’ perennial All-Star and All-NBA performer rained down a three-pointer as time expired.
The Lakers were in that tenuous position because they had blown all of their 16-point lead from the third quarter and were trailing 103-102 after Denver center Nikola Jokic, who had made Sunday night miserable for them, made a hook shot over Davis with 20.8 seconds left.
The Lakers called their final timeout of the game and put the basketball into the hands of LeBron James to either score or make the right play.
James found Alex Caruso at the top of the key as he drove into the heart of the Nuggets' defense, but the reserve guard missed a three-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining, the first of the five opportunities the Lakers would have as the game hung in the balance.
Danny Green had the next two chances, first getting the offensive rebound with 5.3 seconds left and then dribbling the ball out for a baseline jumper that was blocked out of bounds by Jamal Murray with 2.1 seconds left.
Before the Lakers could get to their fourth moment of the final few precious seconds, they had to make a play knowing they didn’t have a timeout to design a play.
Rajon Rondo entered the game for Caruso to provide the right play in the fourth sequence.
He inbounded the ball from the baseline to Davis, who rose up and drilled a three-pointer from the wing over the outstretched arm of the 7-0 Jokic in front of the Nuggets’ bench, the ball settling into the net as time expired for the fifth and last act, giving the Lakers the win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“We were running this play for Bron, who hit multiple game-winners in his career, to take us home,” Davis said after scoring 31 points in 39 minutes. “I just saw how they were playing it, kind of off me, so I knew if I kind of flew around, with them kind of locked in on Bron, I was probably going to have a clean look.
“And I just kind of looked at ‘Do [Rondo] and we made eye contact. He made a great pass and I wind up making the shot. It was like a crazy possession. We had a couple of great looks. Most people would give up on plays. It was a huge offensive rebound for Danny to get us that possession. Credit goes to him as well for battling inside. We came out victorious. Everybody played great. It was a team effort.”
The Lakers’ bench erupted, all of them running out to greet their new basketball hero, Davis gladly participating, even running over and knocking down rookie Talen Horton-Tucker in the process.
It took James to explain why the Lakers were ready for this experience even though they didn’t have a timeout left to discuss matters.
“We talk about every single scenario possible — up three [points], down three, up two, down two,” James said. “Do we have a foul to give? Do we not? Do we have a time out? Do we not? Are we going full court, half court? BOB, which is baseline out of bounds. SOB, sideline out of bounds. We talk about all those things. You want to be a championship ballclub, you have to be able to do that on the fly. So, knowing that we didn’t have a timeout, we were able to get into a situation, into a set that we’ve worked on in practice and get right to it. And, the first option for me, if ‘Do [Rondo] saw me over the top and if not, then AD flashes … and the rest is history.”
Rondo wanted to be a part of the last play, approaching Lakers coach Frank Vogel with 2.1 seconds left.
“Rondo came up and whispered in my ear: Do I want him in there as a passer?” Vogel said. “Obviously I said, heck, yes.”
Rondo is a 14-year veteran who has earned the nickname “Playoff Rondo,” so he knows how to handle tense situations like last-second passes for a last-second shot.
“I think I made eye contact with every single player on my team on that play,” Rondo said. “My first look was Kenny [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] backdoor. That wasn’t there. Danny’s backdoor wasn’t there. Bron and I made eye contact, but he didn’t move. Then I saw AD coming on the outside. I just tried to get it to him on time, on target. I had Jokic on me so obviously I couldn’t throw the lob pass, and he [Davis] did the rest.”