Preview: Warriors can be too much, Lakers beg for referee intervention
Curry and the Warriors just disassembled the Los Angeles defense, now to make a habit out of it
After dropping the opening game of the series, the Golden State Warriors put the Los Angeles Lakers on notice with a blowout. Sure, the Lakers come into San Francisco and got their split, but Golden State found a whole lot of cracks to exploit in that last game. Now the series swings into Los Angeles, where we will all get to see if game two was a fluke, or a portent.
No major injury updates ahead of today’s game, but be advised that the playoffs bring unusual start times with them. Today’s tip off will happen around 5:30 for some reason.
Series is tied: 1-1
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Lakers
WHEN: Saturday, May 6th, 2023 // 5:30pm PDT
Too small = too fast
There’s something beautiful about the Warriors brand of basketball that evokes memories of the San Francisco 49ers offenses under Joe Montana and Steve Young. Maybe that’s why so many talking heads end up talking about being physical against these teams, because when you let the machine get humming, uninterrupted? It’s all over but the crying.
And yes, there was some crying. Like LeBron James weirdly challenging an obvious foul while in the final frame of a 30-point loss, and Sam Amick dutifully trotting out some words on “why the Lakers’ best chance vs. Warriors might be at the free-throw line.” It would be astonishing if this were new, but let’s honor the effort and take a moment to unpack the propaganda:
If Game 2 officials Tony Brothers, Eric Lewis and Pat Fraher are reading this, let the record show that there were no forceful rebukes of their work. But…the Lakers’ best and possibly only chance of keeping up with the Warriors’ incredible shooting is to get the kinds of calls that they’ve grown accustomed to all season long.
The free throw disparity change was a huge reason why game two swung so strongly in favor of the Warriors breezy basketball style. Some will of course say that there will be a disparity because of the differing play styles of the two teams. The Warriors are just prancing around like gazelle on the perimeter, chucking up threes - right?
In game one, the Lakers won the free throw attempt battle by a whopping margin of 29-6. In game two the teams both took the exact same number of free throw attempts (17). And yet, the Warriors actually took more than double the number of attempts at the rim as Los Angeles. The Warriors were 9 of 15 at the rim (fouled on three of those), and the Lakers were just 5 of 6 at the rim (getting fouled on two of those attempts), per Cleaning the Glass.
Why do the Lakers and their acolytes find that their “best and possibly only chance of keeping up with the Warriors” is from the charity stripe?
For one, the Warriors outrebounded the Lakers 55-40, which is pretty impressive for a team that is too small. But those rebounds, and the lack of a free throw disparity point towards a deeper concern for the Lakers. The Warriors are too fast - even as old as their core is. The late scratch of Kevon Looney from the starting lineup allowed the Warriors to lean into their “pace and space” identity just like those Niners teams I grew up watching.
Like Montana/Young and Rice, this entire team identity is driven by the simple fact that the Warriors have the best player in the world on their team. So much of basketball can be boiled down to a simple question of which team has the best player. For Curry and the Warriors, his rise to prominence has coincided with the team’s success to the point where the two are inseparable. This is inherently Curry’s team - and everyone knows it.
But knowing something is coming doesn’t mean you can stop it. The Lakers are making a series of compromises. Guesses and second guesses designed to make life as tough as possible for Curry. However, when you make life difficult for Curry, it takes extra people, leaving the court wide open for a Warriors dynasty that has spent the past decade learning how to exploit the overloaded defense.
We’ve made this point in here throughout the year: if the Warriors succeed this season, it will because of leaning into who they are. That’s why James Wiseman was jettisoned, and why no other big man was brought in. It’s just not who the Warriors are.
If you’re reading this, you know who the Warriors are. These are the small ball Nellie team dream realized fully. Lethal shooters around the perimeter that can also attack the rim off the dribble, role players that are well suited to cutting through the spaced out floor, and a defensive ace that can run small ball center like no one one before.
What will happen tonight is going to go a long way towards determining how the series will swing. Though LeBron might never give up, there’s a psychological warfare element to these Warriors. A relentless assault of threes and quick cuts combined with a depressingly stout defense.
If the Warriors can keep winning the little battles, the Lakers could quickly descend into a chaos that is all too familiar to anyone that has been watching these Warriors.
This one might be a bit closer, but the Warriors have the combination down. It’s time to win.