The Los Angeles Lakers stunned Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors on Monday night, roaring back late to take Game 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals 104-101. Here are three reactions from the defending champions’ second straight loss at Crypto.com Arena, putting them on the brink of elimination as this series shifts back to back to the Bay.
LeBron James, Lonnie Walker IV flip script on Stephen Curry
Curry absolutely dominated for multiple stretches of Game 4, running the Lakers ragged with high ball screen after high ball screen.
Steve Kerr’s decision to start Gary Payton II next to Draymond Green up front paid immediate dividends offensively, giving Golden State another much-needed playmaker and finisher catching on the roll and lurking along the baseline. Curry was so incisive picking the Lakers apart that Darvin Ham toggled his team’s matchups after halftime, putting Anthony Davis on Andrew Wiggins, Jarred Vanderbilt on the reigning Finals MVP and LeBron James on Draymond, readily switching one-through-four.
Nothing much worked for Los Angeles guarding Curry in the two-man game, though—at least when he wasn’t missing threes.
Curry was Golden State’s only transition engine, too, raking and taking or catching and pushing with a head of steam for a handful of highlight-reel dimes in the open floor while garnering the Lakers’ full attention.
The Warriors couldn’t manage any consistent source of offense whatsoever without Curry’s influence. Even a gaudy line of 31 points and 14 assists—plus 10 rebounds and three steals against two turnovers—doesn’t quite convey just how much Golden State relied on him Monday night.
Curry went only 3-of-14 from deep, missing many makable—albeit very long—looks off the bounce while stepping behind screens. That epic finale against the Sacramento Kings may not ever be matched, but it’s no stretch to suggest Curry would’ve had that type of historic, all-encompassing effect on Game 4 had a few more of his long balls dropped. Curry was that good offensively while attempting to will his team to series-evening victory on the road.
Just like he relentlessly dragged Davis out of the paint with ball screens, though, James and the Lakers put Curry through a similar ringer on the other end following intermission.
A clear majority of Los Angeles’ second-half possessions involved James, suddenly activated as a halfcourt initiator, hunting Curry in pick-and-roll. The home team became so dependent on that long-familiar gambit it basically rendered Davis an afterthought offensively, a head-scratching development considering he had the jumper going early.
Curry wasn’t outright abused by James individually. He gave up a few scores when left on an island, but also forced several misses and generally kept James from getting all the way to the rim unencumbered. Golden State’s bigger problem came when LeBron drew help with Curry guarding him, finding teammates in advantage situations.
James drained both free throws after the possession below, pushing the Lakers lead to three with 1:19 left. That’s a loss for the Dubs, but hardly some damning indictment of Curry’s defense.
Late reach aside, this is about as well as Steph could be expected to do checking his fellow four-time champion solo from the top of the floor.
The most indelible memory from this game for both teams, though, will be what Lonnie Walker IV did to Curry and the Warriors in the fourth quarter.
Dusted off for more extended minutes for the first time in Los Angeles’ Game 3 win, Walker rewarded Ham’s newfound confidence in him 48 hours later with the most significant performance of his career. All 15 of Walker’s points came in the final stanza, mostly at Curry’s expense.
Walker didn’t just find success taking screens from James, Golden State loathe to switch Curry onto the Lakers superstar with the latter’s back to the basket. He also hit multiple jumpers over the top of Curry in isolation, bailing his team out of bad offensive possessions with a pair of late-clock scores in crunch-time.
“It’s the Lonnie Walker game!” pic.twitter.com/F76bfRMoCg
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) May 9, 2023
It’s a testament to Curry’s otherworldly conditioning and competitive guile that he kept Golden State afloat on offense while between being mercilessly hunted by James and Walker. Again, his defense was solid overall. There’s just only so much a 6’3” guard with limited athletic tools can do to stymie a freight train like James all by himself or manage an effective contest on Walker’s high-rising jumper.
Don’t let Los Angeles’ late-game approach fool you. The Lakers’ offensive rating on Monday was an ugly 106.4; this was an offensive loss for the Warriors more than anything else. If just a couple more of his triples had fallen or Walker’s pull-ups clanked off the rim, in fact, Curry’s tireless fight defending primary actions would’ve been just another facet of his latest postseason masterpiece.
Where are Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole?
The immense struggles of his fellow stars in the backcourt help put Curry’s herculean effort into proper perspective.
Klay Thompson was barely there in Game 4, scoring nine points on 11 shots. Just two of his field goal attempts came inside the arc, both misses from mid-range. Thompson was regularly guarded by D’Angelo Russell, too, easily the Lakers’ most exploitable defender.
This rushed, fading off-dribble three would’ve been a bad shot in the second quarter. With Los Angeles clinging to a one-point lead and the game clock ticking toward 1:40 remaining, it almost seemed like Thompson wanted his hometown team to go up 3-1.
If only Poole’s struggles were on par with Thompson’s. Instead, his playoff funk reached a new nadir on Monday, Poole notching an easy season-long low of 10 minutes and 24 seconds of playing time off the bench.
Even that minuscule seemed too big for a player who was a bright red target defensively and continued stumbling into off-balance drives and flinging up wild shots that had little chance of going in.
Poole is probably a lost cause against the Lakers at this point, and the Dubs’ season may end on Wednesday at Chase Center unless Thompson turns into ‘Game 6 Klay’ a bit early.
Golden State’s hopes of repeating as champions always rested on Curry’s supporting stars in the backcourt at least reaching the level of play they hit during last year’s title run. Eleven games in, neither Poole nor Thompson has come anywhere near it.
Moses Moody’s time is now
Moody’s numbers are pretty pedestrian. Making all three of his shots is nice, obviously, but that low volume is an issue in 19 minutes of play and he couldn’t avoid his penchant for unnecessary personal fouls.
But the physical, confident manner in which Moody comported himself in Game 4 speaks glowingly of his long-term trajectory regardless—especially because his biggest impact came on defense.
Golden State tasked him with guarding James for long stretches of Monday’s contest. Moody proved too small for LeBron, not to mention Davis, on the block, but otherwise acquitted himself well in that matchup. His splashiest defensive plays, though, came as a help defender and courtesy of hustle and second-efforts.
Moody wasn’t on the floor for all of crunch-time and almost the entire fourth quarter by accident. These types of plays loom extremely large under the postseason microscope, especially in a game points came scarcely for both teams.
This two-way sequence from the third quarter would be impressive from a seasoned postseason veteran like Thompson, let alone a 20-year-old bench player being thrown into the Curry-James playoff fire.
Moody was great on Monday, and he’ll need to be in Game 5 for Golden State to stave off elimination. Either way, his days as a benchwarmer or infrequent rotation player for the Dubs are over for good, and rightfully so.
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