After shooting 26 more free throws than the Golden State Warriors in Game 1, the Los Angeles Lakers saw that disparity even out in Game 2, shooting just 17 free throws on the night to the Warriors’ 16 after a first half that saw them take just four trips to the charity stripe.
For a team that has relied on its free-throw-drawing ability to prop up its mostly 3-point-starved offense, that was a recipe for a blowout loss. Part of that defeat was self-inflicted wounds; the Lakers took 34 threes in Game 2 after only taking 25 in Game 1, and only scored 42 points in the paint vs. 52 in the previous win (not including fouls they drew at the basket, which would have increased those totals). It was clear even just by the eye test that with LeBron James getting hot from deep early and Draymond Green making things harder on a tired Anthony Davis, the team was just not going to the bucket as often, as physically or as effectively.
However, it was also evident that the team was not exactly thrilled with the whistle they got. Whether it was assistant coach Phil Handy drawing a technical foul from the bench in the first half, or LeBron James getting one for arguing a call for an extended period in the third quarter, the team was pretty obviously unhappy about the calls in Game 2.
After the game, starting point guard D’Angelo Russell made it even more obvious, albeit in a way that will allow him to avoid entering Game 3 with his pocketbook a little lighter (via Sam Amick of The Athletic):
When it came to the Lakers’ choice to take the politically-correct approach on this front, guard D’Angelo Russell was the unofficial spokesman.
“I’m not trying to go viral tonight,” Russell said when asked about the officiating.
Can the Lakers beat the Warriors if they don’t live at the free throw line? It didn’t look that way in Game 2. And yes, to no one’s surprise, they were quite frustrated with the latest whistle.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 5, 2023
More here, at @TheAthletic https://t.co/T0L2mMeuHe
On one hand, I appreciate the Lakers having the self-awareness to not pull a Monty Williams and publicly grouse to the league in an attempt to get more free throws. After all, they still shot one more free throw than the Warriors on the night. Even with as many threes as the Warriors take, you can’t expect to get nearly 30 more free throws than them per game for a whole series, no matter how aggressive you are in the paint. And as outlined above, the Lakers were visibly less aggressive with the sort of rim-attacking physicality that draws such a free-throw differential in the first place.
On the other hand, this team also needs to make sure that — even in their heads — they don’t let the idea that the referees cost them Game 2 fester in the locker room. That would massively ignore all kinds of real, structural, schematic and fatigue-based problems they had in Game 2.
If they felt they simply deserved a few more free throws, fine. Every team probably does, after every game, and especially so after a loss. The Lakers can’t control the whistle, though. What they can control are the habits that lead to that advantage. So hopefully with a day to regroup, tune up their defensive coverages and focus on how to get the ball going to the rim again more effectively against the Warriors’ adjustments, they can get back to the type of basket-seeking attack that makes this matchup such a compelling stylistic clash.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.