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Film Room: Darvin Ham’s defensive adjustment gave Lakers edge over Warriors in Game 3

Coming off a blowout in Game 2, Darvin Ham and the Lakers made some wholesale changes defensively against the Warriors that paid off big in Game 3.

Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors 127-97 to win game 3 of a Western Conference Semifinals NBA playoff basketball game. Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images

Playoff games and series are dictated by matchups and adjustments on a night-to-night basis. After a strong Game 1 showing from Anthony Davis and the Lakers, the Warriors adjusted, partially by necessity, to JaMychal Green starting in place of Kevon Looney.

Coming out of Game 2, a number of issues defensively were starting to show through. Austin Reaves was looking worn down defensively chasing Klay Thompson around the court, Jarred Vanderbilt was starting to show cracks in his defense of Steph Curry and the requirements of Anthony Davis to bounce from the paint to the 3-point line to contest Thompson and Curry was a tall ask.

So, in Saturday’s Game 3 win, Darvin Ham adjusted in a wholesale way, changing all five defensive assignments. D’Angelo Russell, who has held up surprisingly well defensively, moved off Andrew Wiggins to Thompson, shifting Reaves onto Curry. The big change was shifting Vanderbilt onto Draymond Green and AD onto JaMychal Green.

This allowed the Lakers to approach the Draymond-Steph pick and rolls entirely differently. Instead of asking Davis to contest the 3-point line and retreat or even hedge, the Lakers would simply switch those screens, putting Vanderbilt back onto Curry and Reaves onto Draymond.

It was an adjustment that stunted a lot of the Warriors offense on the day and didn’t allow them to manipulate the Lakers defense nearly as much, forcing them to beat them one-on-one. This clip comes just after the ball screens and the switch by the Lakers but shows some of the problems the Warriors offense had with Draymond and Steph unable to have an effective two-man game.

This switch negated Vanderbilt’s struggles navigating screens, while still allowing him to use his athleticism and defensive ability to help defend Curry. Off the ball, Anthony Davis can still hang around the paint with the Lakers fully content with leaving JaMychal Green open on the perimeter.

In this clip, which again begins just after the switch, Davis is able to stand in the paint to deter Green from any sort of slipping the screen, again gunking up the Warriors offense.

It was a surprising change from Ham and one the Warriors clearly weren’t prepared for. The Warriors create chaos with their screening action and the simplest way to take that away is switching those screens. By starting JaMychal Green, the Lakers can shift around their personnel to take advantage of that.

The Lakers also looked willing to switch any Draymond-Klay on-ball screens as well, though that’s not something that was run quite as often on Saturday.

It was a great move by the Lakers and Darvin Ham, but it’s one the Warriors and Steve Kerr will likely try to counter in Game 4. There are a number of ways they could try to do that with removing JaMychal Green from the starting lineup as one change.

The problem is the Warriors don’t have a forward to slot into that position. If they want to start Jordan Poole or Donte DiVincenzo and go small, it would force Davis out of the paint. However, it would also replace a forward with a guard for a Warriors team struggling to contain Davis on the other end of the floor. That seems like more desperate move that has a high ceiling and a really low floor.

The team could attempt to involve JaMychal Green in more situations in the role Draymond typically plays. The Warriors tried that some in Game 3, but it’s a situation neither Golden State’s guards nor JaMychal is familiar with and is quite the ask in effectively a must-win game.

Going back to Looney in the starting lineup is an option, but it doesn’t move Davis out of the paint and we saw how Davis can cook with Looney on him on the other end of the floor in Game 1.

The Warriors are going to try to do something to get Davis out of the lane in Game 4, that is almost a certainty. Perhaps there’s an option not mentioned that’s more creative than anything mentioned, for it was a particularly creative route that Ham went down defensively for Game 3 that swung the series back in LA’s favor.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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