Davon Reed’s moment was four seasons in the making.
Not since his rookie year with Phoenix, when LeBron James was still with the Cavaliers, had Reed gotten a chance to face The King.
Ever since the 2017-18 season, Reed had replayed the beating he took from James over and over in his mind. Post-up, foul, and-1. James overpowered Reed and abused him, like he’s done to hundreds of other defenders in his career.
But with 25 seconds left in the first quarter of Saturday night’s Nuggets rout, there was Reed, stronger and stouter, staring down James on an island.
“It’s time to sit down,” Reed said to himself.
Here’s Davon Reed clamping Lebron. pic.twitter.com/2aBnkmXS3z
— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) January 16, 2022
James sized him up, bouncing beyond the perimeter, calculating how to attack. As the crowd buzzed, recognizing the impending collision, Reed got lower in his crouch. When James left a right-handed power dribble vulnerable, Reed swiped. He momentarily dislodged James’ dribble, temporarily thwarting the attack.
When James re-grouped, Reed clapped twice, inviting another challenge. As James charged again, he threw his forearm into Reed’s chest, then slipped and lost his balance. The 24-second violation was a temporary win for the Nuggets, but a milestone for Reed.
“I had been waiting for that moment for a while,” Reed said. “LeBron killed me my rookie year. I had to get my revenge.”
Reed and the Nuggets did, in commanding fashion. The 133-96 rout was a demolition of James’ Lakers, a humbling message sent from Reed, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green and everyone else whose defense blanketed Los Angeles’ imposing attack. The Lakers’ 36-point second half was a testament to a Nuggets team still smarting from their 25-point collapse against Los Angeles’ other team. Their 37-point win was the largest win over the Lakers in franchise history.
A few possessions after stymieing James the first time, the Laker great came down and tried to bulldoze Reed again. Reed stood his ground and stripped James, kick-starting another transition chance. As James lingered in the backcourt and complained to an official, Reed stepped confidently into a 3-pointer from the top of the arc and buried it.
According to NBA.com’s tracking data, James was 0-of-4 when guarded by Reed, with one turnover and one shot blocked.
For his defensive efforts, Reed earned the team’s coveted Defensive Player of the Game chain. But with three 3-pointers and 11 points off the bench, Reed was quick to point out he was more than an isolation defender. In college, at Miami, Reed shot nearly 40% from 3.
Nikola Jokic took exception to the phrase “dirty work” when asked about Reed’s value.
“I think that that’s a talent,” Jokic said.
The only one mildly disappointed in Reed’s effort was Jeff Green, whose physicality on James helped limit the future Hall of Famer to 25 points but on 9-of-23 shooting. Green, Nuggets coach Michael Malone said, wanted the chain for himself.
“He had a speech ready,” Malone quipped.
Reed’s ascension from Summer League, to training camp invite, to three separate 10-day contracts, to, recently, a two-way deal, is indicative of his grind. It’s also a silver-lining of the havoc COVID has wrought on this season. Reed, more than most, has seized the opportunities within his control.
Even with the certainty of a two-way deal, Reed stressed he wasn’t satisfied with the temporary safety net. He planned to watch all aspects of the film from Saturday night, not just his moments against James.
“We’re going to take the good and the bad,” he said.