Davis awakens late, raises brows and concerns for Warriors

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Pelicans big man Anthony Davis
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OAKLAND — In the first quarter, you virtually couldn't find Anthony Davis, on the floor or in the box score. He was in both places, of course, but we're talking figuratively.

Ten minutes plus, one basket, no rebounds. The big man for New Orleans, 6-foot-10, tons of points and boards, seemed overwhelmed by the first playoff game of his three-year NBA career. He'd been waiting for this. What was wrong?

A little bit of anxiety, that's what. And more than a bit of tight defense by the Warriors, the sort of pushing and shoving always there in the paint of a pro basketball game but, in this opener of the playoffs, much more so by the Warriors 7-foot Andrew Bogut and 6-7 Draymond Green.

They had been there and understand what they must do. Now, Davis also understands.

There were reasons Davis was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft by the team that would change its nickname to the Pelicans. And by game's end, when New Orleans kept the sellout crowd of 19,956 at Oracle Arena unable to exhale until the home team survived, 106-99, the reasons were obvious to all.

Davis finished with a game-high 35 points, 20 in the fourth quarter, and seven rebounds. He had four blocked shots. He had a lingering effect on the W's, who after leading by the ridiculous score of 28-13 at the end of the first quarter — and by 25 points near the end of the third quarter — now realize what might be in the future.

Davis, everywhere they look.

“He got comfortable,” said Warriors star Stephen Curry, who looked quite comfortable himself, scoring 34. “We want to make a couple of adjustments with how aggressive [Davis] was in the second half. But everybody goes through those first-half nerves and jitters in the playoffs.

“Obviously, AD changed the game in the fourth quarter with the way he played, and we're going to have to deal with that all series.”

Which could last the maximum seven games if Davis has figured it out, and it appears he has.

“They were just loading up defensively,” Davis said of the Warriors' tactics.

That's what teams do in the post-season. They guard a little tighter — a lot tighter — and do everything to throw a player off his game. Davis was off. Then he was unstoppable.

“It was tough to figure out ways to give him the ball,” Davis said. “If they do double-team, I can get and get the ball out of my hands faster. That's what we were able to do in the second half, catching it more at the elbow and trying to attack.”

Davis is an anomaly. He's the big man who can play like a smaller man, dribbling, making free throws — he was 9 of 10 from the line; how many 7-footers can do that? — because he had a late growth spurt while a prep in Chicago and grew up as a guard before entering Kentucky.

He'll take you inside or outside. He passes, he shoots, he puts the ball on the floor.

“He's great,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr marveled. “He's obviously a lot to deal with.

“But I thought we were good on Davis. He got to the line a little bit more than I would have liked, but great players are going to do that. We made him make some tough shots, and he scored a lot down the stretch when the game was kind of in a frantic mode. But great players are going to get their points. We're not worried about Davis scoring a lot. We're worried about making sure we cover other areas.”

Davis' eyebrows all but connect on his forehead. He has trademarked the name “Unibrow.” When you're a standout, that sort of gesture is allowed.

“I just go out and play,” said Davis, responding to a question about expectations. “That's all on you. I did expect to win the game. The playoffs are so different. You don't get a lot of calls you normally get. They're so physical. Coming out of halftime, I just tried to be aggressive.”

He was aggressive, effective and very nearly successful. One eyebrow. One tough basketball player.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com. Email him at typoes@aol.com.

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