After an impressive Game 1 win on the road, the Lakers got a bitter taste of what the Golden State Warriors feel and play like when their backs are against the wall, as they dropped Game 2, 127-100.
Prior to the contest, the Warriors made the first personnel adjustment of the series, swapping out an under the weather Kevon Looney for JaMychal Green. While not the buzziest move on paper, it in conjunction with other alterations created a ripple effect Thursday night.
From an emotional standpoint, the Warriors didn't exude desperation despite faced with the potential of falling down 0-2 in consecutive rounds. They instead absorbed an early right hook and countered with confident, efficient, jabs, and body punches.
It is now up to the Lakers to dust themselves off and do the same. The first step in doing so is to reassess what went wrong in Game 2 and conceive a plan to fix it.
Let’s take a look at three takeaways and potential learning lessons from the contest.
Decrypting Steph Curry’s pick-and-rolls
“What you think of as pain is only a shadow. Pain has a face. Allow me to show it to you. Gentlemen, I...Am...Pain” - Pinhead.
Steph Curry is a walking, dribbling, jump-shooting hell-raiser. Suffering, that’s what he serves up to opposing coaching staffs and players alike if they make a mistake. Those fancy schemes and defensive coverages? He’ll crumble them right up into paper balls and fling them around the court just for funsies.
Behind a dogged performance from Jarred Vanderbilt and the Lakers’ team as a whole however, Curry was subdued in Game 1.
The team accomplished this mainly with their work off the ball as he was consistently top-locked when attempting to slither off screens and deterred away from touches in the half court.
From the Warriors’ perspective, the natural counter to aggressive ball denial was to shift Curry onto the ball as opposed to off. After running just 22 pick-and-rolls in Game 1 (his 10th-lowest single-game output of the season), Curry bumped that number up to 24 in eight less minutes in Game 2.
Once again trying to force the rock out of Curry’s hands, the Lakers opted to hedge Anthony Davis near the level of the screen in these possessions and showed two whenever the guard turned the corner.
While this makes sense in theory given the threat of Curry’s individual scoring talents, this critically collapsed the Lakers’ backline.
With two Lakers attached up top, and one being their rim protector in Davis, Curry created multiple short-roll opportunities for Draymond Green — who methodically picked apart a compromised defense.
The result was a spread floor, open looks and free drives directly to the basket.
Curry did finish with just 20 points and only five attempts from behind the arc in Game 2, but his 12 assists (and a handful more coming via the hockey variety) carved up what has been a stingy Lakers’ defense. And perhaps worse, also allowed the Warriors’ role players to find their rhythm.
There is no easy or sole answer in how the Lakers can adjust in Game 3 when it comes to their on-ball coverage against Curry. However, they likely will need to play a bit more conventional in regards to the degree of attention they send his way.
This possibly means allowing Davis to slot back into a high-ish drop and trust his length is enough to alter the onslaught of pull-up attempts.
Or at the very least, the Lakers’ coaching staff need to search for a better balance and diversification of what looks they show Curry from a possession to possession basis instead of sticking a singular gameplan.
They’ve already learned firsthand what pain Curry can inflict if given the opportunity.
Stuck in the middle
After outscoring the Warriors 54-28 in points in the paint in Game 1, the Lakers saw these roles reversed on Thursday.
Not only did Golden State score more than them in the interior, but the Lakers were held to just 42 paint points in Game 2, as the team was unable to create consistent traction toward the cup.
Despite trotting out a smaller starting group with Looney on the bench, it was clear Steve Kerr’s emphasis was to push the Lakers away from the rim and off of the free-throw line. In order to accomplish this, the Warriors had to find a way to contain Davis specifically after his 30-point outburst.
Kerr turned to Green to tackle the Davis assignment, which he did effectively in his individual matchup and as the drop big against the Lakers’ pick-and-roll game.
The Warriors’ defenders “iced” the initial ball screen to send things toward the baseline where Green corralled the ball-handler and once they kicked it to Davis, he quickly recovered to contest.
With the basket sealed off, Davis and the rest of the team had to settle for looks in the short midrange/floater area of the floor against Golden State’s drop.
According to Cleaning the Glass, only 14% of the Lakers’ attempts came at the rim in Game 2. For context, the Lakers had the 2nd-highest rim frequency in the league during the regular season at 37.5%
Instead of their typical smash-mouth assault, the Lakers’ shot profile consisted of a whopping 52 midrange attempts, 37 of which came in that aforementioned floater area alone (4-14 feet).
“I took all the same shots I took in Game 1, I just missed them,” Davis said following the game. “Elbow jumpers, pocket passes to the floater...We’ll be better. I’ll be better at making those shots.”
Davis, who finished just 5-11 from the field for 11 points in Game 2, did in fact receive and make very similar shots as to the ones he had in Game 1.
Sometimes results do simply come down to makes and misses. But allowing a smaller Warriors’ team dictate the terms as to where and how Davis’ offense is derived feels like settling, or worse, being outmuscled both literally and strategically.
The coaching staff and Davis alike will need to do a better job in creating more action toward the rim in Game 3 to both exploit their smaller opposition and force more non-shooters like Looney onto the floor.
Austin Reaves’ legs, where art thou?
As any athlete can likely attest, there is a mental and physical toll that comes with playing in the postseason.
Those stressors are only compounded when you’re also participating in your first playoffs, matched-up against the defending champions and tasked with chasing Klay Thompson around the floor for 30-plus minutes a night. This is the ordeal Austin Reaves currently finds himself in.
The 24-year-old has impressively held up against the rigors that come with basketball at this time of the year, stepping up in big spots and delivering in his role as a starter. But there are beginning to be signs of wear and tear that are worth keeping an eye on.
Between darting around screens on defense like the team’s very own Frogger to creating offense in the half court, Reaves has logged the 7th most miles this postseason. And his legs are starting to resemble cement blocks because of it.
Although there have been indicators previously, Reaves’ fatigue may have been most noticeable in Game 2. Outside of Thompson catching fire from deep (multiple times coming at his expense), Reaves’ own jumper has begun to look noticeably short.
He made only one of his five attempts from behind the arc on Thursday and is now shooting just 7-20 (35%) from the field through the first two games.
While it’s understandable to be taxed at this point given the level of responsibility he’s been given, the Lakers simply will need Reaves’ productivity on both ends if they hope to win this series.
With a game slated every other day from here on out, there won't be many opportunities for Reaves to catch his breath. Yet in a strange way, maybe the blowout was his best chance to do so. A rare reprieve before he’s thrust into traffic once again.
You can follow Alex on Twitter at @AlexmRegla.