The biggest fear with the Los Angeles Lakers falling to the play-in was the potential for a nightmare scenario: what if everything that could go wrong did? Well, it just about did, and they still won.
After trailing for three straight quarters, the Lakers made a spirited run in the fourth quarter — which was capped off by LeBron James hitting a shot from Stephen Curry range right in Stephen Curry’s face — to beat the Golden State Warriors 103-100 at Staples Center on Wednesday. The Lakers will now advance to the first round as the No. 7 seed and play the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns.
ALL-ANGLES of @KingJames' LONG DISTANCE GAME-WINNER! @Lakers will be the West #7 seed in the #NBAPlayoffs and face #2 PHX in the First Round (Game 1 Sunday, 3:30pm/et on ABC) pic.twitter.com/CpEtashUc2— NBA (@NBA) May 20, 2021
Before we get into anything the Lakers did well, we have to talk about the stellar play of the Warriors, particularly on the defensive end of the floor. The story of the first half was how the Warriors “locked down Anthony Davis,” and there’s no denying that statement holds some truth — Draymond Green and Juan Toscano-Anderson weren’t giving Davis anything easy, and Davis couldn’t make them pay by making the tough shots he usually makes.
However, it wasn’t just Davis that had a hard time getting to the rim — even LeBron James had issues getting to his usual spots. Whether that was indicative of where he’s at physically or the Warriors’ defensive scheme doesn’t matter because they had success in guarding him. Then, the fourth quarter happened.
The biggest adjustment that Frank Vogel made in the final frame was going away from a natural center entirely. Andre Drummond wasn’t giving the Lakers much on offense for the same reasons that Davis wasn’t, except he wasn’t providing much on defense either.
In moving Davis to center for an extended stretch, the Lakers were able to play three and sometimes four-guards lineup around James and Davis. Those lineups were their most successful of the night. Who could have guessed?
The real star of the night, though, was James. Even though he didn’t have his most efficient scoring night, he made the shot that mattered: a prayer from well behind the arc that gave the Lakers the lead in the dying seconds of the game. It was everything Adam Silver could have dreamed of.
The Lakers and Suns will play the first game of their first-round playoff series on Sunday.