The Los Angeles Lakers may have the NBA’s best record at 11-4, but the defending champions are far from perfect. After opening up an enormous lead against the Golden State Warriors at home on Monday night, the Lakers ultimately fell 115-113. Despite a perfect 7-0 road record, the Lakers are now only .500 at home with a 4-4 mark.
It was a forgettable performance from virtually the entire team. LeBron James and Anthony Davis posted identical 6-of-16 shooting lines, while the team as a whole committed 16 turnovers. The Warriors were far from perfect, but they managed to capitalize on the Lakers’ mistakes to pick up a victory that took them beyond .500 after a recent skid knocked them back down to 6-6. Here are four major takeaways from the Monday night thriller.
1. Never take your foot off of the gas pedal
If you’re looking for one play that encapsulated the Lakers‘ loss, it was this moment with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. The Lakers forced a turnover, giving LeBron a 4-on-1 opportunity in transition. Rather than attack the basket, he kicks it to Dennis Schroder in the corner for a 3-pointer.
The result was innocuous enough. Schroder missed, but Davis grabbed the rebound and made two free throws after getting fouled. It’s the Lakers season in a nutshell. They are so talented that the wrong process can lead to the right result. The Lakers should have come out of that fast break with a layup. They got lazy and came out of the play with two points anyway.
But that approach didn’t last. The Lakers led this game by as many as 19 points in the first quarter alone. They led by eight with under four minutes to play. But they lost in large part due to their own laissez-faire approach to protecting leads. The Lakers took their foot off of the gas pedal. Their opponents haven’t been good enough to punish them for it so far. The Warriors were, and hopefully, it reminds the Lakers that games are 48 minutes long.
2. Old reliable
The faces around the two of them may have changed, but Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are still running the exact same late-game dagger play they’ve abused since 2015. The Curry-Green pick-and-roll is virtually unstoppable, and as Monday proved, that remains true even without Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson spacing the floor for it.
The logic is simple. There are only so many ways you can defend a pick-and-roll. Double Curry off of the screen and Green gets a 4-on-3. He’ll either make the right pass out of it or score an easy layup, as he did here.
Switch the action and Curry gets a mismatch against a big man. Yes, even Anthony Davis qualifies on this handoff, a cousin of the traditional pick-and-roll.
There’s no answer here. Defend it traditionally and Curry walks into a pull-up 3. You can’t blitz and you can’t switch. Most of the time, this play is going to yield a clean shot. All you can do defensively is hope they miss. The Warriors didn’t on Monday. Even without Durant and Thompson, the Warriors have the same finishing move as always.
3. The clock is running out on the Lakers’ positive variance
The Lakers are an excellent defensive team, but one that has benefitted from some very good luck early in the season. Opponents were shooting only 35 percent on wide-open 3-pointers entering Monday the fifth-lowest mark in the league, and only 33.9 percent on 3s overall, the fourth-lowest figure in the NBA. Generally speaking, defenses don’t have much control over whether or not opponents make their 3-pointers, especially, the open ones, but so far this season, the Lakers were benefitting from the fact that they weren’t.
That hasn’t totally flipped yet. The Warriors shot only 12-of-37 from deep overall. But eight of those bombs came in the second half, which the Lakers lost by 18 points. Factor in their own 9-of-29 performance from behind the arc, and the Lakers’ loss looks fairly simple. The Warriors made their shots in the second half and the Lakers didn’t. Had the Lakers played full throttle, they might have been able to muster the necessary three points to win the game in regulation. The Lakers have beaten the odds so far this season, but they can’t do so when they’re also beating themselves.
4. Golden State’s starters falter again
The Warriors falling behind by 19 was yet another page in a story that Steve Kerr refuses to rewrite. Golden State’s starting five of Curry, Green, Andrew Wiggins, James Wiseman and Kelly Oubre Jr. had been outscored by 45 points through 126 minutes entering Monday’s game. Suffice to say those numbers don’t look any better now. Meanwhile, all six Warriors reserves that took the floor had a positive point-differential. In essence, every lineup except the starting five is working for the Warriors right now.
There’s a simple fix here. Just replace Oubre with Damion Lee in the starting lineup, giving the first five the spacing it needs to score and the bench a bit more athletic juice. Yes, it might cut into the tremendous work those backups are doing, but Golden State can’t expect to overcome 19-point deficits every night. The best teams don’t rely on enormous comebacks, they avoid needing them in the first place. So far, Kerr seems to disagree, and Monday likely reinforced his decision to stick with the same opening group.