Eight long years ago in this same playoff round, en route to their first title of this dynastic run, the Golden State Warriors pushed the edges of NBA defense by deciding to totally ignore Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen.
They didn't merely abandon Allen -- forcing the Grizzlies to almost play offense 4-on-5. They inverted positions by assigning their center, Andrew Bogut, as Allen's nominal defender -- and asking Bogut to hang near the paint regardless of where Allen was.
Defenses had long sagged from below-average perimeter shooters. But the league's revamped illegal defense rules had given individual defenders more freedom. The Bogut-on-Allen gambit was a flashbulb moment in NBA coaching: Oh, we can take it that far?
It wasn't long before teams deployed versions of that strategy against the Warriors themselves. Golden State has employed a long list of non-centers whom opposing defenses were and are mostly happy to let fly: Draymond Green (at times a center, of course), Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Gary Payton II.
The Warriors -- really, the Splash Brothers -- revolutionized the entire geometry of NBA offenses by expanding the universe of acceptable 3-point attempts. An under discussed ingredient in Golden State's secret sauce was how it used those 3s to unlock shots at the rim via drives and cuts. If you stretched your defense outward in every direction, you risked exposing the paint.
That brings us today to Anthony Davis, who laid waste to the Warriors with 30 points, 23 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks in the Los Angeles Lakers Game 1 road win. It is irresistible to frame this series around LeBron James and Stephen Curry, two all-time greats who have circled each other for a decade. But Davis is the epicenter of the series. He is the pivot point -- the most important player. If he is the best player for the entirety of it, the Lakers can win.