The Golden State Warriors fell to the Los Angeles Lakers 117-112 in a Game 1 thriller on Tuesday, surrendering home-court advantage to Anthony Davis, LeBron James and their Southern California rivals. Here are three in-depth reactions from the defending champions’ hard-fought, frustrating loss at Chase Center.
Warriors shrink inside the arc
Golden State shot 21-of-53 from beyond the arc in Game 1, with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole becoming the first trio in NBA playoff history to connect on at least six triples. The Warriors committed just eight turnovers, their lowest amount since the season tipped off back in mid-October, and Poole finally shook off the rough struggles that dogged him throughout the first round.
Sounds like an offensive recipe for surefire victory at Chase Center, right? All those encouraging ingredients didn’t even combine into an above-average offensive rating for the Warriors, Los Angeles’ commitment to and effectiveness protecting the rim bothering them pretty much from start to finish.
Davis was the best player on the floor Tuesday night. His game-high 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting were massive with the Lakers throwing up bricks from deep, while Davis’ 23 rebounds—tying Kevon Looney’s herculean total—and four blocks point to his singular dominance in the paint.
But like Curry’s peerless gravity on the other end, there’s no real way to quantify the rippling effects Davis provides as a towering back-line anchor defensively.
Darvin Ham didn’t change his team’s defensive approach from the regular season, keeping Davis in a deep drop on ball screens and dribble hand-offs that didn’t involve Curry. The result was a barrage of easy three-point attempts for the Warriors early, and even a steady rate of good long-range looks before Los Angeles eventually had Davis venture further out to the perimeter to cool off hot hands of Thompson and Poole.
The Lakers knew that assault was coming, confident giving up three after three was the lesser evil of Golden State having full access to its offensive maze of split cuts, slipped screens and forced off-ball switches inside the arc.
Making Davis’ 7-foot-6 wingspan loom even larger at the basket? He had plenty of support shutting down the paint, the Lakers clogging the floor by daring all Warriors bigs and questionable shooters to launch jumpers from the perimeter.
Look at James “guarding” Green here as the latter initiates offense.
After meeting Draymond at the nail with Davis forcing Thompson’s pass to the roller, Rui Hachimura does a little Happy Feet dance rather than feign a close-out toward Gary Payton II.
The Lakers played at least two steps off Andrew Wiggins, too. They were fully content letting JaMychal Green put up open threes during his standalone stint in the second quarter until he made two in a row.
The Warriors were clearly flustered by that extreme defensive approach, shooting a ghastly 21-of-53 from inside the arc—just 41.5%. Davis and another defender always waiting at the rim played also into Los Angeles’ already-winning hand in the free-throw battle.
The Dubs got to the line just six times and sent the Lakers there for 29 freebies, but that discrepancy—entirely predictable coming into this series—wasn’t the product of a tough whistle for the home team. There was just no space for Golden State to attack in the halfcourt, even on the rare occasions the ball creased the paint with movement and a created advantage.
All too often, Davis, James and Vanderbilt made them disappear.
Golden State found some workarounds late, going on a 14-0 run to tie the game at 112-112 with 1:38 remaining.
Expect to see a lot more of Curry bringing the ball up the floor, attacking early with extra high drag screens and hunting switches in small-small pick-and-rolls. Non-shooters can be better activated for second-side dribble hand-offs. It’s no coincidence the Dubs’ crunch-time surge came with its best offensive lineup in the game, either, running the exhausted Lakers ragged.
As long as Davis is on the floor, though, it’s bound to be tough sledding for the Warriors’ halfcourt offense in this series. Related: Davis played 44 minutes in Game 1, including the entire second half.
Golden State disrespects LeBron James
James’ jumper has been broken for most of 2022-23. He entered Tuesday’s action shooting 19.5% on threes in the playoffs, even worse off after clanking all but one of his triples in Game 1.
The manner in which Golden State dared James to take catch-and-shoot long balls was striking. The Dubs didn’t quite treat him like the Lakers did Draymond and Looney, but were more than comfortable helping all the way off James one pass away on the weak wing.
This is flagrant disrespect from Andrew Wiggins, and rightfully so.
James found a couple ways to make Golden State pay for giving him all that air space even without splashing threes.
LeBron is still a freight train catching on the move at 38 years old, bad right wheel and all. He’ll “go-and-catch” for straight-line drives more often going forward if the Warriors continue giving him a free runway.
Taking a quick screen from the corner is another way for James to attack Golden State ignoring him on the wing.
Just like Los Angeles crunched the halfcourt on the other end, though, the Warriors can do the same—especially when Vanderbilt, easily the Lakers’ most disruptive defender on Curry, is on the floor with James and Davis.
James just isn’t the guy he was the last time the Dubs met him in the postseason. Five years is a long time for any professional athlete, let alone the NBA player with more miles on his legs than anyone else in league history.
LeBron barely tried to turn the corner in the halfcourt, and didn’t get much traction out of targeting Curry and Poole in pick-and-roll. He also missed a couple bunnies around the rim that would’ve been dunks in 2018. James was most successful creating from the block, dribbling into post-ups and bullying smaller defenders or drawing help before hitting the open man.
It’ll be difficult for this version of James to produce efficient offense against the Warriors. In a series that seems bound to go at least six games, his jumper—off the catch and the bounce—looks like its biggest swing factor.
The Poole Party is back
Poole’s individual performance—questionable shot selection in the waning moments notwithstanding—is one of the the Dubs’ most encouraging takeaways from Game 1. If he can knock down shots and play with the blend of aggression and poise he mostly managed on Tuesday night, it’ll be much easier for Golden State to find its groove offensively.
Watch Poole see Davis retreating toward the basket here, ignoring a planned screen from Payton to get into quick-hitting dribble hand-off action with Looney.
That’s the type of playmaking ingenuity and overall dynamism he displayed throughout Game 1, finishing with 21 points, six assists and zero turnovers. Maybe as big a story as Poole looking his old self, though, is the extended return of the lineup named after him.
Steve Kerr dusted off the Poole Party quintet with 6:39 left in the game, his team down 110-98. The Warriors’ subsequent 14-0 run was the product of all the extra halfcourt space and open-floor juice putting Poole next to Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Draymond provided.
The Lakers were absolutely gassed late in the fourth quarter. They found some makable looks against the downsized Warriors’ zone, too. It stands to reason Los Angeles will be better prepared if Golden State rolls out the Poole Party lineup in Game 2.
Just the fact that unit is one Ham and his team must really gameplan for going forward is a fascinating early wrinkle in this series.
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