In the Lakers’ opening night loss to the Warriors, they were unprepared for the unique style of play Golden State employs on the offensive end and compounded that by turning the ball over to let the Warriors get out in transition.
But one thing stood out to Lonnie Walker IV when he was asked postgame about his team’s effort (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“They had a lot of free throws in the first, think they had like 12-13 free throws in the first quarter, which kind of kept them in the game it was 24-23 and they already made those 12. So if we limit those, we’re up.”
Walker was a little off in his numbers — the Warriors led 25-22 and made eight of those 12 free throws — but the general tenor was correct. The Lakers limited Golden State to 7-of-24 shooting in the first quarter; the only reason the Warriors led was because the Lakers committed seven fouls in the period. Three of them were shooting fouls to start the game, and then three more after getting into the bonus, giving Golden State six separate trips to the line.
L.A.’s defense, admittedly, fell apart later in the game, but building an early lead might have helped change the momentum.
On Thursday against the Clippers, it was more of the same. In the first quarter, the Lakers fouled their opponents six times, and five of them were shooting fouls. The team’s backcourt was all complicit, as Austin Reaves, Kendrick Nunn, and Lonnie Walker IV each got caught fouling jump shooters, a cardinal sin.
It got so bad that when the TNT broadcast panned into the Lakers huddle during the second quarter, the shot of Darvin Ham’s whiteboard didn’t show a diagram of any play; rather, the message on the whiteboard was “CONTEST W/O FOULING”.
Un mensaje claro del entrenador Darvin Ham. "Contesten sin hacer falta". A partir de ahí, los Lakers cambiaron su imagen en defensapic.twitter.com/A6Eq3NV3fi— Isolation (@isolation_nba) October 21, 2022
“Key to the game thus far,” Ham said in the huddle. “We’re giving them too much. Gotta be disciplined, show our hands. Be disciplined, show your hands.”
The Lakers improved dramatically in the second quarter, committing only two shooting fouls out of three total (and one was somewhat suspect if Nicolas Batum was actually putting the ball up). The third quarter only saw three shooting fouls as well, but the Lakers had four fouls in the bonus that sent the Clippers to the line regardless. They cleaned things up in the fourth quarter, with only four fouls before garbage time, half of them on shots.
After the game, Ham doubled down on the need for his team to defend with discipline (at the 0:31 mark of the video):
“I thought we fouled way too much in the first and third quarters.... Remaining disciplined, 90-95 percent of the way, right before we get to 100 percent discipline, one of those hands comes down and guy’s in the act of shooting a tough shot. We got to force teams to make those tough shots and not bail them out with fouls.”
There were other issues that contributed to the Lakers’ defeat — rebounding and 3-point shooting immediately jump off of the box score — but this is an area the Lakers can control. Showing their hands and not letting the game get decided at the free-throw line is something the team can fix of its own accord, regardless of the opponent.
The Lakers looked much improved in many facets of the game from Tuesday to Thursday. This was one area of regression that they couldn’t afford, especially against a Clippers team that loves to take jump shots, and it’s part of why they’re still winless at this early juncture of the season.