Three takeaways from Lonnie Walker putting Lakers one win from eliminating Warriors
LOS ANGELES — With :15 seconds left in the game, just as Lonnie Walker IV was knocking down free throws that would give the game its final 104-101 score, Stephen Curry walked down to the other end of the court and glared at the rim he had just missed a couple of shots on, giving a disgusted shake of his head.
Curry carried the Warriors as far as he could, but it was another night he struggled from 3 on the road against the Lakers (3-of-14). Curry couldn’t carry Golden State far enough. The Warriors fell to the Lakers and now trail 3-1 with a seemingly impossible task of winning three straight against LeBron James and Anthony Davis to keep their title defense alive.
Here are three takeaways from Crypto.com Arena and the Lakers’ win.
1) Curry and Warriors were good but couldn’t land knockout punch
There were moments in the third and fourth quarters — especially when the Warriors’ lead climbed to a dozen in the third — where one couldn’t help but think, “We’ve seen this movie before.” This is where the Warriors get a couple of stops, drain a couple of quick 3s and suddenly the game is out of reach and all but over.
Except the Warriors couldn’t land those punches all night long.
Curry smoked layups he would often make and he missed 3-pointers all night (again, 3-of-14). He wasn’t alone, Klay Thompson was 3-of-9 from deep and as a team the Warriors were 12-of-41 (29.3%) from beyond the arc.
Golden State scored just 17 points in the fourth quarter and were 2-of-9 for 3-pointers in those final 12 minutes.
“We’re going to fire, if Steph or Klay gets an opening they’re gonna let it go and they’ve had a ton of success over the years, obviously,” Steve Kerr said. “They both had sort of looks down the stretch, but give the Lakers credit they played good defense and we couldn’t get anything to go.”
Curry still impacted the game with a triple-double of 31 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds.
“Steph was amazing. His effort was incredible,” Kerr said. “Just the stamina, you know with everything they were throwing at him to do what he did and attack and rebound and distribute the ball, 14 assists and two turnovers. He was amazing. We just couldn’t quite get it done.”
Amazing or not, Curry did not hit the big shots the Warriors needed down the stretch, and he had a rough night defensively.
That’s because LeBron James returned to his old favorite: Hunting Curry in pick-and-rolls. Particularly in the fourth quarter, LeBron hunted Curry and that changed the game because Curry’s man — Lonnie Walker IV — was the beneficiary.
2) Lonnie Walker IV latest Laker role player to step up
“The game ball definitely goes to him. We don’t win without him.”
That was how LeBron described Walker’s game — and he and Davis told him as much when they surrounded him and hugged him as the final buzzer sounded. Walker had played 15 minutes through three quarters and done some good things, and in one of his two very smart coaching adjustments of the night, Darvin Ham went with Walker over D’Angelo Russell in the fourth.
Walker scored all 15 of his points in the fourth. He was guarding Curry, which meant setting a lot of picks for LeBron to force the switch, and while the Warriors’ defense focused on not letting LeBron beat them, Walker did.
Walker was one of the Lakers’ significant offseason additions, they gave him their taxpayer’s mid-level exception. However, he never fully fit in and, after missing 11 games with left knee tendinitis in January, he fell out of the rotation after the Lakers reshaped their roster at the trade deadline. He racked up DNP-CDs after the All-Star break and played a limited role in the first round against the Grizzlies. But he stayed ready.
For Lakers fans, this is one of the best signs of this postseason — role players are stepping up. Rui Hachimura scoring 29 against the Grizzlies in Game 1, Austin Reaves having a couple of 23-point games against Memphis and becoming a reliable secondary shot creator (he had 21 in Game 4 against the Warriors), D’Angelo Russell goes off for 31, and now Walker.
On any team making a deep playoff or title run, there are games where an unexpected role player steps up and gets the job done. The Lakers are getting those performances, and it’s got them one win from the Western Conference Finals.
3) Warriors didn’t take advantage of Anthony Davis off defensive night, they will regret it
Steve Kerr made a brilliant adjustment to open the game, pulling JaMychal Green from the starting lineup and inserting Gary Payton II in his place. The idea was to go small and force the Lakers to put Davis on Draymond Green, then have Green set picks for Curry and the other ball handlers, forcing Davis up high to defend and getting him out of the paint.
It worked as backdoor cuts and drives had the Warriors with a layup line early — they were 15-of-18 on shots at the rim in the first half.
That led to Lakers’ coach Ham’s other smart in-game adjustment Monday, putting Davis on Andrew Wiggins in the second half, a guy the Warriors don’t use to screen much. The result worked. As former Mavericks executive (and bright NBA mind) Haralabos Voulgaris pointed out on Twitter, the Warriors ran 21 pick-and-rolls at Davis in the first half, just six in the second half. And when Davis did get switched out on Curry and others, he made the plays.
Davis still had a big game with 23 points and 15 rebounds, but he wasn’t the same defensive force he had been earlier in the series.
The Warriors couldn’t take advantage of that and get the win. That may be something they regret all summer.