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Saturday, May 13, 2023

Forceful Lakers Overwhelm Warriors to Advance to the Western Conference Finals

LeBron James and Anthony Davis dominated the paint at both ends of the court as the L.A. Lakers bludgeoned the Golden State Warriors 122-101 to win game six of their second round series and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since the Lakers won a championship in the Orlando "bubble" in 2020. James conducted a master class in controlling a game, scoring a game-high 30 points on 10-14 field goal shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and passing for a game-high nine assists. This was LeBron James' 18th 30 point game in a series clincher, one behind Michael Jordan's all-time record and five ahead of both Kobe Bryant and Stephen Curry. James was economical and efficient from beyond the arc (2-3) but--much more significantly--he relentlessly attacked the paint, which was the key factor in this series and has always been the key factor for this team since James and Davis joined forces.

Davis had a game-best +31 plus/minus number, a greater testament to his impact than his boxscore numbers, which were nevertheless quite good: 17 points on 5-9 field goal shooting, a game-high 20 rebounds, two blocked shots, and two steals. The defensive numbers do not capture the reality that every time a Warrior drove to the hoop Davis was a powerful presence in the paint deterring any shot attempts. The rebounding numbers--including 17 defensive rebounds--reflect the reality that after Davis and his teammates forced a miss he completed those possessions by controlling the ball. The great Bill Russell used to say that there is one ball, and that he and his teammates decided what would happen with that ball during the game.  Davis is not close to being as great as Russell was, but when Davis plays with that mindset the Lakers are tough to beat.

Early in the game, ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy declared, "It's all about the paint for James." After describing how attacking the paint puts the defense on their heels, draws fouls, and creates scoring opportunities for the rest of the team, Van Gundy added, "And the same thing for Anthony Davis." It really is that simple; this is not about trades or roster construction or "lasers" or making one player a scapegoat for the extended periods when the team's two biggest stars either did not play or did not attack the paint when they played.

This is about two great players playing up to their potential and attacking the paint.

The Warriors struggled to win road games all season long and it was that Warriors team--not the Warriors team that won the 2022 championship--that showed up in L.A. for game six. Their defense--the real key for their four championship teams, despite the media's incessant focus on three point shooting--fell apart, allowing the Lakers to shoot .520 from the field. Meanwhile, with Davis shutting down the paint the Warriors relied on jacking up three pointers, but any offensive team that cannot threaten the paint is not going to get enough good looks to shoot well from beyond the arc; the Warriors shot 13-48 (.271) from three point range. Stephen Curry labored to score a game-high 32 points: he shot just 11-28 from the field, including 4-14 on three pointers. Klay Thompson scored eight points on 3-19 field goal shooting, including 2-12 from beyond the arc. Donte DiVincenzo (16 points) was the only Warrior other than Curry to score in double figures. 

It should be noted that without dominant play from Curry and Thompson, Draymond Green's much-lauded impact on the game is undetectable, and you would not even notice him in the game other than when he runs his mouth and gets a technical foul. Green should thank heaven every day that he was blessed with the opportunity to play alongside Curry and Thompson (and Kevin Durant). If Green had spent his career on a less talented team, he would not have been able to lift that team up, and he would likely have few playoff appearances, no All-Star selections, and no All-Defensive Team selections. Green is a very, very good role player who carries himself like he is a big-time star. To be clear, I don't deny that his defense and passing have been important for the Warriors as part of a much larger, well-oiled machine--but my point is that the truly great players can elevate any roster (think of Kobe Bryant making the playoffs twice with Kwame Brown as his center and Smush Parker as his point guard), while the impact of role players is very situational dependent: even in a "bad" game (by his lofty standards), Curry can score over 30 points, make an impact, and force the defense to deal with him, while a player like Green authors the proverbial "triple single" and is just another face in the crowd.

Throughout the playoffs, I have provided updates about the "tremendous trio" that the Lakers acquired in exchange for future Hall of Famer Russell Westbrook. I do this to refute false media narratives about why the Lakers struggled early in this season and about why the Lakers are playing better now. Even though the Lakers entered game six with a 3-2 lead and a chance to close out the series at home, Lakers Coach Darvin Ham inserted Dennis Schroder in the starting lineup in place of Jarred Vanderbilt; typically, the team that is behind makes lineup changes, but Ham understands what I have been saying for a while: Vanderbilt is a "3 and D" player who cannot make three pointers. Vanderbilt played slightly less than four minutes in a game that the Lakers won by 21 points, and Malik Beasley also played slightly less than four minutes; this means that two of the three players who the Lakers acquired in the much discussed and much praised Westbrook trade have now played themselves out of the rotation. The third player acquired in that deal, D'Angelo Russell, scored 19 points on 7-15 field goal shooting; he averaged 14.7 ppg on .456 field goal shooting (including .310 from three point range) during the series, numbers that are in line with his overall 2023 playoff averages. During this year's playoffs, Westbrook--at times the number one option for the L.A. Clippers after both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George suffered injuries that knocked them out of action--averaged 23.6 ppg on .410 field goal shooting (including .357 from three point range) while averaging 7.6 rpg and 7.4 apg (Russell has never had more than seven rebounds in a playoff game, and he has had more than seven assists just five times in 23 career playoff games).

Also, let's not pretend that the Lakers became a juggernaut right after the Westbrook trade; a little over a month ago, the Lakers needed overtime to beat a shorthanded Minnesota team in the Play-In Tournament

What has changed in the past month? The biggest change is that Davis and James are now playing in every game after missing 26 and 27 regular season games respectively. The second biggest change is that Davis and James are now consistently playing in the paint with force, something that was true sporadically during the regular season (and this was also an issue last season, when Davis and James combined to lead the Lakers straight to the Draft Lottery). The third biggest change is that Austin Reaves and Lonnie Walker IV--both of whom have been with the team all season--have developed into very good rotation players. Reaves is better than any of the players who the Lakers acquired in exchange for Westbrook, while Walker IV saved the day for the Lakers in game four and scored 13 points in 14 minutes in game six.

After watching the Lakers fumble and stumble for the past three years, I was skeptical that Davis and James would ever again consistently play the way that they did during their 2020 championship run in the Orlando "bubble," when they dominated the paint at both ends of the court. Facing an injury-decimated Memphis team and a Golden State team that no longer looks like a powerhouse has benefited the Lakers--but I did not think that the Lakers would win a series against either team, and I was wrong about that.

However, I am not wrong when I analyzed what the Lakers need to do to be successful: the Lakers followed that paint domination blueprint all the way to the Western Conference Finals. It will be very interesting to watch the Lakers battle a Denver Nuggets team that consistently stayed atop the Western Conference all season long.

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posted by David Friedman @ 9:31 AM



At Saturday, May 13, 2023 9:53:00 AM, Anonymous Eric said...


Though you were off in your prediction this series (as was I), you did state the reasons for how the Lakers could defeat the Warriors -- attack and control the paint. LeBron from the start of this game was aggressive and looking for his shot early, which set the tone. Echoing what you have stated for years, it truly is baffling to capture and analyze someone of LeBron's body of work. He is without question a Pantheon level player in any fan's eyes, but his occasional passive play (which gets lauded as getting teammates involved aka not shooting at all in the first quarter like he did early in the series) is so frustrating to observe. This Lakers team is running on all cylinders and has increasingly gotten more confident as the playoffs have progressed.

This 2023 WCF will be a great series to watch with the Nuggets and Lakers both at full strength. I will be fascinated by how much Davis matches up with Jokic and how each team game-plans for each other's star big man. This Nuggets team has more depth than the Lakers and more collective playoff experience from top to bottom. I'm looking forward to your series preview, and I am expecting Denver to advance in six games.

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

I think that trading Westbrook was the right move for the Lakers and Westbrook. For Westbrook, he was removed from a beyond toxic situation where the Laker organization and fan base viciously turned on him. For the Lakers, they were no longer able to blame Westbrook for anything that went wrong since he wasn’t even on the team anymore and I think they started to hold themselves accountable knowing they couldn’t point the finger at Westbrook anymore. Westbrook is now with an organization that actively supports him and the Lakers are in the WCFs because they have increased their level of play while minimizing their blame deflecting.

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 11:58:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


James has baffled me for most of his outstanding 20 year career. He is without question one of the greatest players of all-time. He has led his teams to four championships. He has also quit in multiple playoff games, and he has at times focused more on stat-padding than winning. Those two sides of the coin make it difficult to predict the outcomes of playoff series involving his teams. I know how James should play, and I know what will likely happen if he plays that way--but I don't know from year to year and series to series how he will play. James has been with the Lakers since 2019. During that time, they won one "bubble" title, missed the playoffs twice, lost in the first round once, and are now in the Western Conference Finals. Another factor added to the equation now is that at age 38 it is probably not possible for him to play hard all of the time even if he wants to do so; there are times when he looks physically gassed in a way that rarely happened during his prime years.

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 12:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that maximizing Westbrook's talents as a player who can rebound, push the ball in transition, and be a playmaker would have been the best move for the Lakers.

Perhaps Lakers' management engaged in some subtle psychology here with James. James obviously gave up on trying to play with Westbrook, so rather than pushing back against James--something that only Pat Riley has done during James' career--the Lakers traded the scapegoat and essentially said to James, "What's your excuse now?" If the Lakers did poorly after the highly praised trades, it may have been difficult for James to avoid criticism.

Anyone who has watched the Lakers understands that James and Davis are completely different players now in terms of availability and effort level than they were for the past two seasons.

There is little doubt that the trade helped Westbrook, because if he had stayed with the Lakers much longer then LeBron and his media friends may have trashed Westbrook's reputation beyond repair. Now, Westbrook has the opportunity to prove that he can still play at a high level, which he did during his stint with the Clippers. A player who averages 24-7-7 in the playoffs when the top two options on his team are out of the lineup is clearly not washed up--and, no matter what revisionist history people try to engage in regarding Westbrook and his role with the Lakers, the narrative right after the trade was that Westbrook was washed up and could not help any winning program in any role. That was clearly false. I read comments from people who disagree with my take on this (not your comment per se, but others who suggest that I am biased in favor of Westbrook), and I think that such people who are so displeased with reading the truth should just stop reading my articles and take comfort in consuming the garbage spewed out by many of the larger media outlets.

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 1:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you said a while back that “truly great players can elevate any roster” (I forget when) — weird how Westbrook failed to elevate this roster in his time with it and then the roster coincidentally elevated himself after he was traded.

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 1:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Do you believe that the Lakers used Westbrook correctly? Do you believe that a player who thrives with the ball in transition can elevate a team by being relegated off of the ball?

Speaking of former teams, how did OKC, Houston, and Washington do after Westbrook left?

Let’s consider a large sample size, not a sample size of a few late season games and two playoff series.

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 3:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I predicted Lakers in 5 or 6

2019 klay not walking through that door

KD not walking through that door

2022 Wiggins and Poole not walking through that door

And they made the great great Steph curry a volume shooter

Ad actually played well 5 out of 6 games

Dominant player who controlled the paint on defense and offense

LeBron only had 1 30 points game all postseason

That shows the balance on team post trade getting rui and Russel etc


First 3 games avg 9 ppg

Last 3 avg 20ppg

He out played klay in this series

Dlo was solid 14.7 ppg 46 percent

He played well 4 of 6 games

He gives the Lakers a player who can catch and shoot and create his own shot as well

Schroeder d on curry was good , the tech on him was ridiculous


Curry was solid, he top 20 all time but not top 10

KD got him those other 2 rings, he literally got into a car to go get KD cause he couldn't beat Bron.

Klay Thompson

One of the all time great shooters maybe number 2 all time

But the 37 in a quarter, 60 points on 10 dribbles klay done with

Last year Poole and Wiggins was 2 or 3 option

Klay good but he no longer shoots with same frequency as he did 2012-2019

Draymond green

Is a good player, people think he better than rodman

The thing about Dennis rodman he was a 2 time dpoy, all star all NBA player with pistons

He went to San Antonio

Led NBA and rebounds, and was all NBA defender

He was a all NBA defender and led league in rebounds with bulls as well

3 different systems, 3 different teams, but he was the same player no matter where

He also lifted all 3 of those teams as well, teams got better with him

Idk if Draymond does that david

At Saturday, May 13, 2023 11:27:00 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

Steph is a great player, top 20 all time, but his flaws on both ends were apparent in this series and those flaws were there even at his peak. It’s always made me reluctant to group him with the pantheon and with his age in mind and this current generation taking off it will probably stay that way

Never understood the LeBron comparisons besides the ring count (same as Klay, Iggy, Green…) because among post MJ players LeBron is in a class with Kobe, Duncan, and Shaq, Steph isn’t anywhere near any of those guys nor has he distanced himself from other contemporaries such as Durant like a lot of people with pre2015 and 2017-2019 amnesia seem to believe

Regardless, this series should hopefully shut down that forced LeBron vs Steph debate we’ve seen lately, it’s about as forced as the Jordan vs LeBron debate


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