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The Lakers relentlessly hunted Stephen Curry on defense in Game 4

With the game on the line in Game 4, the Lakers repeatedly targeted Steph Curry to great success to take a 3-1 series lead against the Warriors.

NBA: Playoffs-Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For most of Monday’s Game 4, Steph Curry tore through the Lakers defense with a barrage of pick and rolls. His triple-double was emblematic of the responsibility the Warriors placed on him offensively.

But one of the beauties of basketball is that it’s a game that requires all players to play both offense and defense. And the Lakers really made Steph Curry play defense in the fourth quarter.

LeBron James has lots and lots of experience playing against the Warriors in the playoffs. His bread and butter when everything was on the line was targeting Curry defensively. For all the brilliance of the two players in their respective games, one of them is 6’2” and 185 pounds and one of them is 6’9” and 250 pounds.

The Lakers and LeBron had not gone to this well much at all up to the fourth quarter, largely out of a lack of necessity. In the only other close game between the two sides, Anthony Davis was utterly dominant in Game 1 and the Lakers focused on going to that well.

But with the Lakers struggling offensively in Game 4, LeBron and the Lakers had a pretty one-track mind. Bring Steph into ball screen actions with LeBron and make plays from there.

The result wasn’t always getting Steph switched onto LeBron, nor did it always necessarily end with LeBron making the decisive play whether in the form of an assist or basket. This also was not a foreign concept to the Warriors of teams targeting Steph, and players like Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins — who have been around a while and knew how to react — did enough pre-switching before Curry could get to LeBron.

But the gameplan boiled down to bringing the player Steph was guarding to LeBron, setting a screen and going from there. The few deviations featured Lonnie Walker taking Steph on himself at times, but with the same premise of going after Golden State’s weakest and smallest defender, who also happens to be their best offensive player, and making him work relentlessly on the defensive end.

By my calculations, the Lakers had 20 possessions in the fourth quarter, not counting the final possession when the ball was simply in-bounded to Austin Reaves and the clock ran out. In nine of those possessions, Curry was the defender on the shooter. The Lakers went 4-5 from the field in those possessions and 4-4 from the free throw line for a total of 15 points, or 1.67 points per possession.

It started from the Lakers' opening possession of the quarter when Walker sets a screen, starts to roll then flares out to the 3-point line to hit the jumper.

There were plenty of more traditional approaches to getting the switch with LeBron backing down Curry and making a play.

The Lakers also benefitted from not just Walker being red hot, but also that the Warriors chose to put Curry on him and not, say, Dennis Schröder. Again, it’s a matter of size. Curry contests this as well as he conceivably can, but Walker is taller than him and can just shoot over him.

The Lakers also threw in a variation of having Walker handle the ball and bringing LeBron up for a screen. Curry doesn’t want to switch which forces Wiggins into a decision of a driving Walker or a rolling LeBron. He chooses the latter, and the Lakers benefit.

The final field goal of the game for the Lakers showed both how much faith they had in Lonnie at that moment and what a mismatch they felt they had against Curry. Walker is obviously red hot at this point to the point that LeBron turns down a pick and roll with AD to fire a pass over to Walker, who buries another pull-up directly in front of Curry.

The extra bonus of this is that it wears Curry down, so he isn’t as impactful on the other end. With Jarred Vanderbilt or a lesser offensive weapon on the floor, Curry can hide defensively and rest. The entirety of the fourth quarter featured him involved defensively, and that very well could have taken enough of a toll on him that helped lead to him missing a number of shots down the stretch.

Regardless of the effect it had on that end, it directly led to the Lakers finding success offensively. It’s not a strategy you can realistically run for 48 minutes but it’s one you can turn to when the rubber meets the road as the Lakers did.

Don’t be surprised if they break it out again late if Game 5 is close, and if both teams have some more wrinkles to offer. It worked when the Lakers needed it to and, as a result, they lead the series 3-1.

You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.

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