SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A half-dozen students stood outside War Memorial Gymnasium at the University of San Francisco on Sunday morning, gazing through the glass doors to sneak a peak of a 6-foot-10 power forward who has become one of basketball’s biggest attractions.
It was only fitting that Anthony Davis received that kind of attention here and now.
This is the same place where another big man, Bill Russell, won consecutive NCAA Tournament titles in 1955 and 1956 before forming a dynasty with the Boston Celtics. Davis, who won a national championship in his one season at Kentucky, has been hyped as a player who could reach Russell-like status in his generation.
At this point, the comparisons end there. Davis is still trying to make his mark in a place Russell left an impression more than anybody else: the NBA playoffs.
Russell won 11 titles in his career. Davis is still trying to win a game.
The 22-year-old teammates and coaches call “A.D.” finally got a taste of the postseason when his New Orleans Pelicans lost 106-99 to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Davis looked lost early but dominated late, giving Golden State a scare with a brilliant fourth quarter that showed just why so many believe he’ll be an MVP someday soon.
“A lot of young guys would’ve folded the tent after his first half,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said before practice in San Francisco. “He doesn’t run from the moment. That’s not his deal.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Monday night across the bay in Oakland, where the top-seeded Warriors have won 19 straight and 40 of 42 this season. If the Pelicans have any hope to win a game, let alone the series, they’ll need Davis at his best from start to finish each time they take the floor.
Davis knows this, and he said he’s comfortable and confident in that role. But he wasn’t when Game 1 began in front of a roaring sellout crowd of 19,596 dressed in a sea of golden yellow shirts.
“It’s definitely a different level, different atmosphere,” Davis said. “Calls are different. Guys been scouting you, they know your moves. It’s very different. But this is what you come to the league for, to get playoff experience and eventually get to the Finals and win a ring. But it starts here.
“My first playoff experience, it was pretty hectic. So much going on, it was so loud I couldn’t hear my teammates, my coaches. We started off bad as a team and picked it up as a team when we all got calm.”
Indeed, Davis did his best to bring the Pelicans back from 25 points down.
He had 15 points and one rebound in the first three quarters. He had 20 points and six rebounds in the fourth, finishing with 35 points and seven rebounds.
Davis acknowledged he felt nervous and out of sync early on. Warriors center Andrew Bogut and versatile forward Draymond Green also had plenty to do with that, forcing him to take jump shots and contesting everything near the rim.
The Warriors said one of the reasons Davis got going is because they had a big lead and wanted to guard against 3-pointers. Williams said Davis calmed down and “figured some things out,” though he didn’t offer specifics.
Which side has the other solved is the biggest question heading into Game 2.
Either way, it leaves all the expectations on Davis, especially with the Pelicans facing the prospect of playing without point guard Tyreke Evans, who is questionable with a deep bone bruise in his left knee. Of course, Williams said the one thing he never worries with Davis is how he’ll handle pressure.
“Late-game situations, if I’m out there in the huddle, he’s looking me in the eyes the whole time,” Williams said. “If I look up, he’s looking at me. Because he just wants to tell me like, ‘OK, give me the ball. I’ll do it.'”
Davis has dealt with expectations at every level of his career. Even for a third-year player, he was the NBA’s biggest difference-maker this season.
David led the league with a 30.89 player efficiency rating, which calculates a player’s per-minute productivity. He averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.
But there’s a learning curve for everybody in the playoffs. Warriors point guard Stephen Curry said he had first-game jitters two years ago in Denver, and now he’s a possible MVP on the NBA’s best team.
Davis said his coaches and teammates remind him every now and then to just be himself. That was the case before Game 1, when Williams poked his head out of the coach’s office in the visiting locker room to check in with his young star.
“We hear all the stuff secondhand what everybody has to say,” Williams said. “I just wanted to remind him, ‘Don’t forget, nobody thought we’d before here, so let’s just be us. No need to reinvent yourself today. I’m going to be me, an idiot. You be you, a great player, and we’ll be in great shape.'”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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