He vanished into thin air.
He disappeared under an avalanche of pressure.
He evaporated amid a mountain of howls.
Handed the most important cue of his career, he didn’t show up.
In the biggest night of the Lakers season, he took the night off.
Is anyone else getting sick of this act that is Anthony Davis?
On a devastating Thursday evening at loud, hostile Ball Arena, the Lakers’ most important player continued his playoff-long trend of failing to consistently perform.
Only this time, his stumbles might have shoved his entire team off the stage.
Desperately needing to even their Western Conference finals series with the Denver Nuggets at one game apiece, the Lakers turned to their giant touchstone to carry them through the fire.
Instead, Davis tossed them in it.
Playing as invisible as is possible for a man standing 6 feet 10, Davis had as many turnovers as baskets — four each — as the Nuggets used a fourth-quarter onslaught to take a 108-103 victory and a commanding 2-0 series edge.
Since 1971, teams leading two games to none in the Western Conference finals are 56-6. The Lakers are indeed on the brink. And it is Davis who put them there.
While everyone will be talking about the Nuggets’ 20-5 run in the final quarter while praising Jamal Murray’s 23 points in that period, none of that would have been possible if Davis had not failed to match his teammates’ teammate’s performance over three quarters in which the Lakers were in control.
If Davis doesn’t shoot four of 15, the Lakers win.
If Davis collects more than one offensive rebound, the Lakers win.
If Davis had scored even an iota of the 40 points he had in this series opener, the Lakers win.
If Davis was aggressive around the basket instead of allowing the Nuggets to gain nine more rebounds and score 46 points in the paint, the Lakers win.
If A.D. had not played like historic A.D., the Lakers win.
Face it, this is who he is. Admit it, the Lakers have hitched their future to a guy who might never be consistently great, a guy who dazzles far less than he befuddles.
A must-win game, and he’s a no-show star? How does that happen just two nights after he scored 40 points in Game 1?
“I got the same looks,” Davis said afterward. “A lot of them were just short tonight. I’ll be better.”
He needed to have already been better.
Murray was terrible for most of the first three quarters, but he turned it on when it mattered most. Davis was terrible for most of the first three quarters … and just kept being terrible.
LeBron James threw up some awful shots, missing all six of his three-point attempts, but he ended the game favoring his injured right foot and he was clearly too pained or gassed to drive to the basket.
What was Davis’ excuse?
Austin Reaves scored 22 points and Rui Hachimura had 21, but those are role players who are not charged with carrying a team to a title. Davis is the one player who can shoulder that load, and what was his excuse?
“So our thing is to not get disappointed, not get discouraged,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Just compete, continue to compete at a high level.”
But Davis did not compete at that high level, or the Lakers would not be two losses from the extinction of their season.
“They did what they were supposed to do, take care of their home floor, held serve,” Ham said. “Now it’s on us to fill our cups back up and go do what we need to do on our home floor.”
They will have that chance in Game 3 at Crypto.com Arena on Saturday, but seriously? Even if they fill up their cups, who can trust that Davis won’t leave his half-empty?
“I liked all the looks that I got today, just a lot of them was short,” Davis repeated. “I’m going to continue to shoot those shots and I got to be better, more efficient, help the team win. So, I’ll be better.”
Maybe he’ll be better for the next game. But does anybody really believe he can dominate enough for the Lakers to win four of the next five games?
The truly aggravating thing about watching Davis on Thursday night was that it was impossible to not also watch Denver giant Nikola Jokic, who was pretty much the opposite of Davis.
Jokic only scored 23 points, but he grabbed 17 rebounds, dished out a dozen assists, and made everybody on his team better.
When Davis plays this way, he only makes his fellow Lakers worse.
The first quarter was played to a draw, but the Lakers had to feel good because they had survived an early Nuggets surge even though Davis had zero baskets. Who knew his drought would continue?
The Lakers took a five-point halftime lead even though Davis had just one basket and it was still looking good. Surely Davis would wake up?
The Lakers continued to roll in the third quarter, stymied only when Davis’ goaltending call in the final seconds allowed the Nuggets to close the gap to three. Again, Davis was saving his best for last, right?
Oh, so, so wrong.
In the decisive fourth quarter, while Murray was making plays, Davis was making a mess, committing three turnovers. While the Nuggets were constantly on the attack, Davis was failing to attack, scoring just one basket that wasn’t a three-pointer.
While the Nuggets were closers, Davis was a bystander.
Before the game, Ham laid out the Lakers’ plan.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to bring the juice to the table to be able to compete and get intangibles done,” he said.
Anthony Davis didn’t do that. He didn’t do any of that. Again.
On a desperate night in the playoffs, a giant disappeared, and the Lakers season might just have disappeared with him.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.