LeBron daggers Warriors as Lakers survive and take 7th seed

Golden State's turnover problems reared their ugly head again; but what the heck was up with those refs?

Have you ever seen the movie “300”? Ya know, the “THIS IS SPARTA!” movie? This epic historical fantasy was a groundbreaking visual masterpiece about brave King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans who valiantly battled against the massive army of alleged god-king Xerxes.

There’s a climactic scene towards the end where a wearied and beaten down Leonidas surprises Xerxes with a daring but errant spear throw, stunning the arrogant antagonist but ultimately leading to the demise of the hero’s undersized army.

Wow, what a war. I can only imagine being on the scene as some sort of ancient scribe or orator, watching from a safe distance in humbled awe by the dramatic stakes and emotional outpouring of the battle. How would I focus the narrative? Would I tell a story that future generations would harken to about a courageous underdog coming up just short against a seemingly invincible foe?

Or would I be like, “I don’t know why Leonidas didn’t set his feet better before he threw that thang. He was wide open! If he makes that it’s game over. And why did he throw it so hard? He shoulda just went for accuracy over power because if that spear hit Xerxes in the chest it woulda been a wrap. And how come the rest of his dudes didn’t throw spears at the same time? That’s bad coaching and that’s why they gotta Fire Kerr.”

That’s the dueling headspace I’d bet Dub Nation is in the aftermath of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers surviving a valiant but reckless effort from the smaller, injury-depleted Golden State Warriors. L.A. won 103-100 in what was the most entertaining game of this crazy NBA season.

There were plenty of admirable moments from our Dubs, along with a few too many cringeworthy mistakes. Let’s get into ‘em because THIS…IS…THE 2021 PLAY-IN TOURNAMENT!

Eyes on the stars

The Lakers boast a tag team duo of epic proportions in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, which is why despite injuries knocking them down into the 7th seed, nobody wants to play them in the postseason. Well, maybe nobody but these psychopathically competitive Warriors who don’t seem to know that their season was supposed to die when they lost Klay Thompson and several others to injuries.

The undersized Dubs put up the defensive performance of a lifetime against those two superstars, spearheaded by Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Davis was 4-of-13 (30%) from the field when guarded by Green; James was 3-of-11 (27%) when guarded by Wiggins. Can you honestly ask for better defense from your two best (healthy) defenders on two Hall-of-Famers?

Henceforth, I humbly recommend that anybody who declares Green is overrated or that Wiggins isn’t worth the max must be excommunicated from the tribe and banished into the badlands. Kidding! You can say what you want, just know I’m silently judging you. Green finished with 9 rebounds, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks in 41 grueling minutes against that frontline.

You know what’s really crazy? King James still had a triple-double, hitting the Warriors up for 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. AD had a double-double with 25 points and 12 rebounds on 10-of 24 shooting. Here’s the shot chart for those two guys against that undersized but stifling Warriors defense. Notice the excellent job the Dubs did pushing these two behemoths away from the paint on a lot of these shots.

Of course if we’re talking about stars we gotta talk about the brightest one in the NBA: Stephen Curry. The things he did to the best defense in the league were equal parts dazzling and macabre. 37 points on 12-of-23 shooting (6-of-9 from 3PT range) with 7 rebounds against a team of giants and pesky goons that were swarming him at half court. The Lakers did NOT want him to get going and he responded by going dumb on ‘em like he was at an East Oakland sideshow back in 2006.

I know this was a relatively low stakes game compared to the fiery cauldrons Curry and his Warriors have been through over the last 8 years, but to me this performance ranks high because the degree of difficulty was off the charts. He did this on the road against the #1 defense without his Splash Bro in an arena he usually plays terribly in!

Sadly for Curry, he suffered the embarrassment of an allegedly partially blind James hitting an improbable dagger over him. Is it me or did Curry say something to him mid-shot like “hey I thought you couldn’t see?”.

I guess that’s a Hollywood ending for you, complete with a heroic moment through BLINDING ODDS. Smh.

Strength in (fewer) Numbers almost worked

Klay Thompson and Kelly Oubre Jr. must have been sick to their stomachs watching from the sidelines, unable to help their teammates due to daunting injuries. But their guys stepped up in gutsy performances that remind us how far the Warriors development process has come.

Defensively their effort was on point. They held L.A. to 40% shooting (32% from beyond the arc). Kent Bazemore had 5 steals in 25 minutes of play!

They also kept the battle for the boards respectable despite the being severely undersized. Golden State’s tallest available player Kevon Looney (who at 6-foot-9 is James’ size) valiantly battled the 7-foot monsters Davis and Andre Drummond for 13 rebounds. The Lakers edged them 49-46 on the glass, but going in I assumed that disparity would be much larger.

L.A.’s defensive strategy was to force the ball out of the nuclear weapon Curry’s hands and make Green or anybody else start tic-tac-toe passing. If that meant trapping him at half-court and then scrambling like mad to shut down the Dubs role players, so be it. The Warriors have been seeing that strategy a lot recently with Curry’s supernova performances, but the Lakers length, IQ, and athleticism cranked the difficulty level up to max.

Wiggins, in addition to stellar defense, relished taking some pressure off Curry. His 21 points on 10-of-18 shooting in a big game is what GSW was hoping for when they traded for him.

Jordan Poole looked like he belonged on the court, leading the bench with 10 points and 3 assists in 26 minutes on 4-of-9 shooting. He was unafraid of the moment, even nearly being decapitated by James on a poster dunk attempt (we’ll get to that later). He missed his biggest shot of the night unfortunately…

…but I believe Dub Nation expected it to go in which is a testament to how much newfound respect we have for his game. This guy is a keeper and I’ll live with that shot 10 times outta 10.

Juan Toscano-Anderson’s 9 points and 6 rebounds in 26 minutes were crucial to the effort. My favorite JTA moments on the night were him shushing a heckler after drilling a big trey, and the funny interaction he had with James in the second half. James was activating his ball-pounding dribble package and JTA started smiling and saying something that seemed competitively appreciative like “Oh wow you’re really trying to sauce me up”. JTA seemed fully aware of the moment: a kid from Oakland finally making his dreams come true on the big stage. His reward? Trying to stop a legend on the warpath.

THINGS I DID NOT LIKE

And what about the moving screen calls the Warriors received from Lakers players slamming into them and flailing to the ground?

And going back to that Bron dagger; didn’t Kentavious Caldwell-Pope TRAVEL before the shot?

And what about the final possession where AD commits pass interference on Curry before the ball is even inbounded?

Wowzers. I rarely blame the refs for a loss, but I’m very confused by how they called that game. Oh well, the Dubs can’t leave it up to the refs to decide, hence why the turnovers are so poisonous.

Moving On

Sigh. Great effort, tough loss. At least the Warriors have the champ’s respect and the admiration from the world.

They also have a true do-or-die game Friday against Memphis for the 8th seed. Winner faces the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the first round, while the loser goes home. I’m grateful that the play-in tournament has brought back a playoff atmosphere in the Bay Area; my phone was blowing up all night because of the Dubs-Lakers tilt.

But it’s all for naught if the Warriors don’t summon up their remaining grit to knock off a Memphis team that is seeking revenge after losing to Golden State earlier this week.

Last but not least, I wanna give a big shout out to this community for coming together behind this team. For the first time in our short time as a blog we cleared 1000 comments on a watch party/game thread! The energy and attention to detail you folks bring to our corner of the internet is inspirational and entertaining. Thank you for helping create a place where we can all synergize and hate the Lakers together hahah.