LOS ANGELES — Lakers star big man Anthony Davis returned Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs, scoring 21 points in a 113-104 Los Angeles victory while coming off the bench for the first time in nearly a decade.
Afterwards he said he couldn’t even remember the handful of times he didn’t start as a pro.
“It was definitely new for me since I’ve been playing,” Davis said. “I told them, I said the last time I came off the bench was the 2012 Olympics.”
Davis, out for the past 5½ weeks because of a fractured bone spur and stress reaction in his right foot, was cleared after his pregame warm-up Wednesday about two hours prior to tipoff.
“I’m happy for him, first and foremost,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said before the game. “I know how frustrating this process has been for him, especially at the level at which he was playing. I’m just happy for him, and definitely happy for us. We’ll get him out there, we won’t go too crazy with his minutes, and see how he responds.”
Davis checked in for the first time with 4:22 remaining in the opening quarter and played 26 minutes as the team managed its workload. In addition to his team-leading 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting, he contributed 12 rebounds and 4 blocks.
The last time Davis came off the bench in a game was Dec. 18, 2013, in Los Angeles against the Clippers in his second season with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Davis’ stint off the bench will be short-lived. He will be back in the starting lineup against the Boston Celtics on Saturday, sources told ESPN.
As great as Davis looked overall, there were a couple of shaky moments.
His first block of playing time in the first quarter was a little choppy, including a free throw attempt he clanked off the backboard.
“I was kind of just testing the water,” Davis explained. “Even though I’ve been playing pick-up and things, you can control that pace. In real games, you can’t. They’re flying down the floor and you’ve got to sprint back or your team is running. “
Then, at the end of the third quarter, he attempted a 3-pointer near center court and was fouled by Zach Collins, who was assessed a flagrant foul 1 for taking away Davis’ landing space following a video review by the officials.
The contact caused Davis to fall to the floor and slightly turn his right ankle — the same leg that kept him out since mid-December.
“I almost fainted,” Ham said when asked for his reaction to the foul. “To see him jump up, bounce up, ‘Big Fella, you good?’ He said, ‘I’m all right. I’m OK.’ So, that was a huge relief to see him overcome that unfortunate play.”
Davis stayed in the game and made all three free throws after the foul was called.
“Foot is fine. Ankle is fine. Body feels good,” he said.
Before the game, Ham was asked if Davis was fully recovered or if the team had any lingering concerns about the eight-time All-Star reinjuring himself.
“He’s gone through some rigorous therapy, weight training, weight-bearing exercises, activity on the court — both individually and some group workouts,” Ham said. “We would save him from himself if we thought there was any type of threat or harm that he could do to himself. So he had these boxes that he had to check, and he’s checked all of them. So we feel comfortable with him appearing tonight.”
Rui Hachimura, acquired in a trade with the Washington Wizards earlier this week, made his Lakers debut against the Spurs and also came off the bench, checking in at the same time as Davis. They were welcomed with a loud ovation from the Lakers crowd.
Hachimura finished with 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes.
“He can really, really help us on both ends of the floor,” Davis said of Hachimura. “Obviously, him getting acclimated with the team is going to take time. But tonight, it looked like he was able to fit in really well.”