Following his team’s loss in Game 4 to fall behind 3-1 in the series, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr pulled out a tactic certainly learned from one of his coaching mentors in Phil Jackson by calling out the officiating and noting that the Lakers flopped and embellished calls.
In certainly unrelated events, the Warriors came away with a 121-106 Game 5 victory in which the Lakers shot the second-fewest free throw attempts in a game all season. But in lieu of returning serve postgame, Darvin Ham and the Lakers were biting their tongue.
Asked about the free throw disparity, Ham initially stated the Lakers’ playstyle wasn’t any different tonight but that he also didn’t “know what’s a foul anymore.” Pressed on the question of Kerr saying the Lakers flop, Ham drew his line in the sand.
“We play a physical brand of basketball,” Ham said. “We don’t teach flopping. We don’t teach head snaps. You see Bron, he’s got a thousand scratches on his arm. Same with AD. Same with Austin Reaves. Same with Lonnie Walker. It’s unfortunate that it comes to that but we haven’t done it all year and we damn sure aren’t going to start now, looking for a third party to dive in and help us. We’re just going to coach our team, we’re just going to play the way we play — a physical, forceful brand of basketball — and just let the chips fall where they may.”
Honestly, this is a very good response and kind of a poke right back at Kerr. The line about not needing a third party to help them pretty much insinuates the Warriors do, which is a nice subtle dig.
It’s also the right response to have in this situation. A war of words in the media about officiating leaves nobody as the winner, but Ham’s comments set the tone for how the Lakers were going to handle the topic on the night.
Austin Reaves was asked about LAL's minimal free throw attempts (15) despite their typically frequent forays into the paint (45 FGA's in the lane), but said he isn't going to criticize officiating. Essentially said that it happens in sports.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) May 11, 2023
LeBron wants to make it clear they don't work on flopping, look for flopping opportunities, no team he's even been on does that pic.twitter.com/UhT5QFL91F— CJ Fogler account may or may not be notable (@cjzero) May 11, 2023
At the end of the day, the officiating was egregiously bad in this one. The 15 free throws the Lakers attempted were tied for their second-fewest of the season. Only the team’s home loss to the Sixers —another game remembered for a lack of a whistle — saw them shoot fewer at 13.
Since the trade deadline with the new-look roster, this would be the fewest free throws the team has shot. It’s also only the fourth time since the deadline that the team has shot less than 20 free throws.
Nothing about their approach changed, as Ham noted. According to Cleaning The Glass, 56% of the Lakers shots came from within 14 feet, classified as either short mid-range or rim attempts. For the playoffs, 55% of their attempts have come in that same range.
The most obvious example of the lack of a whistle was the injury to Anthony Davis. In the fourth quarter, Davis was clocked with an (albeit inadvertent) elbow from Kevon Looney. No foul was called on the play and Davis exited the game and did not return.
Interestingly, Draymond Green mentioned earlier in the series on his podcast that the free throw attempts from the Lakers also stop the flow of the game and with a Warriors team that looks to get into rhythms and flows, not getting to the line is helping them even more.
For now, the Lakers took the high ground and the right route. There will be plenty of discussion about the officiating in the media in the coming days and the Lakers should let that do the talking for them.
But there’s no way this Lakers team can shoot just 15 free throws in a game. Hopefully, the Lakers taking a stand with their message lends itself to a fairer whistle in Game 6.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.