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Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Lonnie Walker IV Saves the Day for Lakers

In a game filled with future Hall of Famers on both teams, seldom-used reserve Lonnie Walker IV scored 15 fourth quarter points as the L.A. Lakers overcame a 12 point third quarter deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors 104-101 and take a 3-1 series lead. Walker IV had scored 29 points in six playoff games prior to game four, he ranked 11th on the Lakers in playoff minutes played per game, and he scored zero points in 15 minutes of action during the first three quarters of game four--but in the final stanza he shot 6-9 from the field while the Warriors managed just 17 points on 6-17 field goal shooting. It is difficult to think of a more unlikely hero or a more improbable finish, but full credit to Walker IV for staying ready and to the Lakers for having the foresight (or the desperation) to put him on the court in the fourth quarter.

LeBron James scored a team-high 27 points, but he shot just 10-25 from the field, including 2-9 from three point range. He had nine rebounds and six assists. The Lakers would benefit if James would attack the hoop instead of shooting so many three pointers, but he played 43 minutes and it is evident that fatigue is increasingly becoming a factor for him. No other player in pro basketball history has played at James' level in his 20th season, so any criticism of his play should take that into consideration, but the reality is that if the Lakers had not received an improbable scoring burst from an unlikely hero then all of the empty possessions when James fired up long jumpers instead of attacking the hoop would have been a major factor in the loss--but the Lakers won, and if they win one more game in this series to advance to the Western Conference Finals then few people are going to remember or care about James settling for jump shots.

Anthony Davis had 23 points plus a game-high 15 rebounds. He was not credited with a blocked shot, but his defense--both on the ball and as a help defender--played a significant role in this win. Davis was very active offensively in the first half with 19 points on 8-12 field goal shooting but he disappeared on that end of the court in the second half, producing four points on 2-4 field goal shooting. One would not expect that James heaving up errant jump shots and Davis not being involved in the offense would be a recipe for playoff success, but Lonnie Walker IV erased all of the Lakers' basketball sins.

Austin Reaves made an important contribution with 21 points and four assists.

If the Lakers win this series, epic poems and paeans will be written about the triumphant trio who the Lakers acquired in exchange for Russell Westbrook, so it is worth noting the performances of those three players in arguably the biggest game of the season:

D'Angelo Russell scored four points on 1-10 field goal shooting. Jarred Vanderbilt scored two points on 0-1 field goal shooting, and his much-vaunted defense is such an essential part of the new-look Lakers that he played 11 minutes. Malik Beasley did not play a single minute.

Call me crazy, but Davis dominating the paint, James being productive if not efficient, and a bench player who is probably not even on the Warriors' scouting report going nuts in the fourth quarter had more to do with the outcome than a "laser" who made one shot, a 3 and D guy who can't shoot and played less than the equivalent of one quarter, and another "laser" who saw no action.

Stephen Curry's fingerprints were all over this game and his performance included the good (31 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds), the bad (12-30 field goal shooting, including 3-14 from three point range), and the ugly (two missed shots and a turnover in the final 26.4 seconds of regulation). Logo three pointers become cute memes when they go in, but they are not so cute when they clang off of the rim, and the same is true of step back fadeaways over the outstretched arms of Davis. After Curry missed two low percentage shots in a one possession game, the Warriors' last chance in this game--and, most likely, their season--rolled away when Curry caught the ball after a jump ball but threw it away instead of calling a timeout with less than two seconds remaining. The championship Warriors relied on their defense to the extent that they could survive the occasional wild shot and sloppy turnover (having Kevin Durant in the fold for two of the four championships also helped a lot); these Warriors are inconsistent defensively but still jack up wild shots and still make too many turnovers.

The other Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, scored nine points on 3-11 field goal shooting. Splash Brother apprentice Jordan Poole, who has recently griped about his playing time, was scoreless on 0-4 field goal shooting in 10 minutes. 

The Warriors went with a small lineup for most of this game, starting Gary Payton III instead of Kevon Looney or JaMychal Green. Looney played 11 minutes, and Green played three minutes. In general, I am not a fan of going small against a big team like the Lakers, but in this game the results were mixed: the Warriors outscored the Lakers in the paint 52-46, and were only outrebounded by 42-40. However, the main advantage of playing small would be to increase the pace, which would serve to tire out the bigger, slower Lakers while also attempting to make up in volume what the Warriors might lose in efficiency by trading three pointers for layups. Instead, the Warriors did not push the pace enough, did not play defense well enough, and unraveled in the final minutes of a winnable game. 

If Golden State's idea by going small was that the Lakers would be foolish enough to follow suit, it didn't work; the Lakers did not cut the minutes of Davis or James, and the Lakers proved once again that they can win without shooting well beyond the arc. Everyone who insists that the best way to build a team around LeBron James is to surround him with three point shooters should note that the Lakers shot 6-25 (.240) from beyond the arc.

If any team can come back from a 3-1 deficit it would be the Golden State Warriors--but I would trust previous versions of the Warriors more than I trust this version. In my series preview, I stated that the Lakers could win if Davis and James "consistently make their presence felt in the paint at both ends of the court." Davis has been less consistent than Lakers' fans might hope or want, but he and James have done what they do well better than the Warriors have done what they do well, and that is why the Lakers have an opportunity to end this series in game five at Golden State.

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:36 AM



At Tuesday, May 09, 2023 4:00:00 PM, Blogger Awet M said...

Pundits in the media are blaming Coach Kerr for losing to the Lakers cuz he stubbornly refuses to run the pick and roll with the greatest pick and roll player in history in Curry.

They refused to run that play until Game 7 vs the Kings, and Curry ended with 50 points. But in Game 1 vs the Lakers, Curry is back off the ball. They are committed to the off the ball movement, to their diverse and inclusive offense to a fault. So, Kerr runs the pick and roll only in emergencies.

I myself suspect it is to preserve and extend Steph Curry’s career. That is why LBJ went matchup hunting on Curry on every clutch possession. To sap his energy level so he can’t have the legs to hit those 35 foot bombs.


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