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Three takeaways from LeBron, Lakers wearing down, eliminating Warriors

LOS ANGELES — It didn’t take long to see where this game was headed.

The Lakers opened Game 6 shooting 6-of-6 from the floor, while the Warriors were 3-of-13 in that same time. The Lakers were up by as many as 17 in the first quarter, and while the Warriors got within as few as four, it never felt like the Lakers would lose this game by early in the third quarter.

LeBron James was not going to let them.

LeBron and a balanced Lakers attack won Game 6 122-101, taking the series 4-2 and advancing to the Western Conference Finals (which start in Denver on Tuesday).

As for the Warriors…

“This is not a championship team. If it were, we’d be moving on,” coach Steve Kerr said.

Here are three takeaways from Game 6.

1) Vintage LeBron has best game of series, sets tone

Every time you think LeBron is running on empty and at age 38 and has to conserve his energy for selected bursts, he does things like drops a 30-point, nine rebound, nine assist close-out game. LeBron played his best, most efficient game of the series shooting 10-of-14 and getting to the line 11 times.

“I may have looked like I was conserving my energy but I was dead tired after every one of them games. Same with tonight,” LeBron said. “You know, you really don’t have the opportunity to conserve your energy versus Golden State because they always keep you on your heels.”

A lineup change to get more shooting on the floor — starting Dennis Schroder over Jared Vanderbilt — had the Lakers playing faster and with more space, and LeBron took advantage of that early to set the tone. He attacked the rim with ferocity, not settling, and he was 8-of-9 in the paint for the game (and 2-of-5 outside it).

The other Lakers fed on that, which leads to item #2.

2) The Laker depth won them this series

Los Angeles did to Golden State in this series what the Warriors have done to so many teams over the past eight seasons:

The Lakers threw so many shot creators at the Warriors that they couldn’t keep up.

While the Warriors’ role players struggled (more on that coming up, keep reading), the Laker’s depth was the key to winning the series. Darvin Ham had guys he could turn to and trust.

On Friday night that started with Austin Reaves, who finished with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting. He also made the biggest shot of the night. While the Lakers had dominated the first half they led by just seven and were letting the Warriors hang around, and Golden State looked like they would get the last shot of the half. However, Klay Thompson shot oddly early, Donte DiVincenzo grabbed Thompson’s airball to go back up but got blocked by Davis, and then this happened.

That shot made it 10 at the half, and a couple of quick buckets to start the third — including another Reaves 3 — and it was clear this would not be the Warriors’ night.

It wasn’t just Reaves, however. D’Angelo Russell had 19, Lonnie Walker IV scored 13, and of course Davis had 17 points and, more importantly 20 boards. He owned the glass in this game.

All of it was too much for a shallow Warriors roster. Whoever Ham turned to hit shots this series and made plays.

Steve Kerr did not have that luxury.

3) Depth, defensive issues that haunted Warriors all season doomed them

Going into this series, we predicted one of the keys would be how LeBron and Davis would handle the pressure of playing big minutes every other night.

We should have asked, how would Klay Thompson and the Warriors handle it?

We got our answer in the opening minutes of Game 6, when the Warriors started 1-of-10 from 3 (and 4-of-18 overall). The Warriors were getting a ton of open shots early — they were grabbing offensive boards and kicking out to open shooters — but nothing would fall. It was clear their legs were worn down.

Part of that comes back to the depth issue — the Lakers were deep with players like Reaves, Russell, Dennis Schroder, and of course LeBron, who could create their own shot. The Warriors had Stephen Curry — who was impressive again in Game 6 — and guys like Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole who were struggling. As the Lakers realized their depth advantage, they targeted the Warriors’ guards.

“We wanted to put pressure on Steph and Klay and Jordan to have to guard and defend multiple actions,” Darvin Ham said. “Sort of try to take some energy out of their legs, forcing them to defend multiple plays, multiple actions.”

It’s one of the biggest issues for the Warriors going into this offseason. If they are going to keep this core together — and that appears to be the plan, based on their words and from league sources — then they have to get more depth around them, to carry more of the load. They had it a year ago, but players like Otto Porter left, Jordan Poole got his extension but lost all his confidence in the playoffs, and the “two timelines” thing proved to be a disaster. They just missed on James Wiseman at No.2 in the draft, and while Jonathan Kuminga might yet develop into a rotation player Kerr did not trust him to play this series. Moses Moody did play, but his impact was limited.

Stephen Curry is still a top-10 — maybe top-five — player in this league and capable of leading a team to a ring. But he needs a lot more help than he has right now.