To beat the Warriors, win Game 3 and take a 2-1 lead in the second round of the NBA playoffs, the Lakers didn’t just have to overcome the defending champs, a passive start from LeBron James and two of the greatest shooters of all time.
They also had to overcome the worst free giveaway t-shirts I’ve ever seen:
I get what the vision was here: All four California teams made the playoffs, and the Lakers and Warriors are the last two still duking it out.
But how tone-deaf do you have to be to put these out for Game 3 of the SECOND ROUND in a series that is tied 1-1? Especially when your whole brand is about only celebrating the championships that matter (aka those banners hanging in the rafters)? Just a truly confusing decision by a normally very image-savvy organization that I cannot believe that...
a) no one stopped, and...
b) did not result in a karmic defeat.
However, not even those deeply, deeply cursed shirts could stop the Lakers from getting a 127-97 win on Saturday night. Let’s get into why.
LeBron and AD got a little help from their friends
And no, I’m not talking about the refs, Warriors fans. Yes, the Lakers had a 37-17 free-throw advantage, but it once again came from the team being aggressive and physical in the paint. Anthony Davis got 12, Austin Reaves was able to supplement his scoring by drawing seven freebies, and LeBron James had eight. No other Laker had more than four, and the Warriors didn’t help their case by taking 44 threes to the Lakers’ 31. And when Davis is defending the rim like he was from the second quarter on tonight, it’s not going to be easy to draw fouls when you’re more likely to just get your shot swatted.
But as for the rest of the role players, D’Angelo Russell came up biggest, scoring 21 points and hitting five threes, most of which came in the first half when he was the only Laker to have anything going, beginning the game on a 9-2 run vs. the Warriors by himself. As we said here after Game 6 vs. the Grizzlies, when DLo is binging on buckets, the Lakers are nearly impossible to stop.
Reaves had another bad shooting night (2-8) but augmented it with the aforementioned free throws and some gutty defense on Stephen Curry despite his seemingly tired legs, finishing a team-high +31 in plus-minus despite looking like his lower body is cooked for much of the first half. He was also one of several Lakers to try and exhaust Curry by making him work on defense, targeting him in the second half.
Dennis Schröder had 12 points off the bench — hitting three triples himself — and the Lakers as a whole went 15-31 (48.4%) from deep to the Warriors’ own 13-44 (29.5%). Few things are guaranteed in life, but I’m willing to bet that the Lakers will win every game in this series where they make more threes than the Warriors.
BONUS TAKEAWAY 1.5 — LONNIE WALKER!!!
Lonnie Walker hadn’t played any significant playoff minutes in his career before coming to the Lakers, and that looked unlikely to change during this run barring any unforeseen circumstances. Walker had played just 15 minutes of garbage time total for the Lakers so far during the postseason, but Darvin Ham dusted him off to see if he could give the team a boost on Saturday, and he nearly equaled that previous total with 12 minutes of meaningful burn tonight.
Walker equaled Schröder with 12 points off the pine, and chipped in two 3-pointers of his own. He still leaves something to be desired as a defender and the Warriors will surely be more ready to hunt him in Game 4, but he answered the call on Saturday and was clearly grateful for the opportunity:
"It felt like a dream. I've been talking about being able to play in the playoffs and play in some type of atmosphere like that, I had the time of my life." @lonniewalker_4 with @RealAClifton on how it was like being out on the court and how he stayed ready. pic.twitter.com/70MYqhCu2M— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) May 7, 2023
Speaking of adjustments, though...
Darvin Ham is coaching his ass off
The Lakers’ rookie head coach has been a frequent target of criticism, critique, feedback, and sometimes straight-up fan ire from many during his debut season in Los Angeles, including sometimes from this writer and others on this very website.
However, Ham deserves a ton of credit for not only getting this team to respond to adversity nearly every time it hits them, and a reminder that even if one doesn’t agree with or understand his every decision, he has forgotten more about basketball than all of us will ever know.
Including this dumbass:
If Austin is gonna guard Curry I'm not really sure why Vando is starting.— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) May 7, 2023
Well, idiot, it turns out that the plan was for Jarred Vanderbilt to guard Draymond Green, not because Green is some dynamic offensive threat — he finished with more fouls (5) than points (2) in Game 3 — but because it completely neutralized Green’s screen game with Curry. No point in seeking a switch when it will result in a just-as-good-or-better defender coming Curry’s way.
That adjustment by Ham to put Vando on Green, AD on JMG & Austin on Curry was huge. Allowed them to switch any D Green/Steph screen and force them to involve JMG if they want to put AD in the action. Mucked up their offense for us to go on huge scoring bursts.— Raj C. (@RajChipalu) May 7, 2023
Ham also used his challenge early in the game on a block-charge call with Davis and Green at the rim, where The Crypt’s vaunted robocams allowed officials to correct themselves and give Green his third foul instead of assigning one to AD. Combine it with dusting off Walker, taking quick timeouts to give his team a rest and re-lock-in after even the slightest hint of a Golden State run, and Ham deserves his flowers tonight.
Darvin Ham adjustments in the regular season vs. the playoffs: pic.twitter.com/5s7fvDXgh9— Moh (@LessIsMoh) May 7, 2023
Anthony Davis is the best player in the world every other game
The above probably sounds like an insult, but it’s intended (mostly) as a compliment. Obviously it would be nice for the Lakers to get the version of AD that puts up 25 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 blocks every night, but given how much the team is asking of him defensively, that may just not be realistic. Or at the very least, it’s not what’s happened so far this postseason.
But while Davis’ game logs can look like a statistical yo-yo, on the nights he’s on, he’s ON, as he showed in Los Angeles in another pivotal Game 3 for these playoffs. Davis was everywhere defensively from the second quarter on, when being asked to get up higher in pick-and-roll coverage engaged his motor. He also made a key adjustment offensively after a rough Game 2 that our old graphics guru Grant Goldberg explained well below:
LeBron showing AD that he’s half a foot taller and 25 lbs bigger than Draymond pic.twitter.com/174eSE86XI— Grant Goldberg (@GrantGoldberg) May 7, 2023
Overall, Davis was a monster again on both ends. The Lakers could certainly use that guy in every single game, but if they’re not going to get it, Odd Game AD being someone they can count on is still better than not being there at all.
Rank these players:— The Refrigerator (@RefrigeratorLAL) May 7, 2023
Jersey Bite Kobe
Odd Game AD pic.twitter.com/opjHSmaP6N
And even his “every other game” is also still more productive than 99% of guys in the playoffs:
Most stocks this playoffs:— StatMuse (@statmuse) May 7, 2023
49 — Anthony Davis
28 — Al Horford pic.twitter.com/XpOYuIMUSR
Anyway, enjoy that win, Lakers fans. See you back for a huge Game 4 at The Crypt on Monday.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.