SAN FRANCISCO — This series is ready to shift to Los Angeles and both teams left San Francisco somewhat satisfied. The Lakers snatched a game on the road. The Warriors avoided losing two at home.
Which is to say: This Western Conference semifinal is going to L.A., but nobody really knows for sure where it’s headed.
The Lakers and Warriors are flawed yet have obvious strengths, and narratives about the series are being rewritten every day, and whomever wins or loses won’t really register much of a surprise.
For one night, though, all was right with the Warriors in a romp. They broke to an 11-point halftime lead and kept the boot on the throat in their easiest victory of these playoffs. Anthony Davis went from a series-opening high to a crash-landing thud, as he has on occasion this postseason.
Klay Thompson, who had a bunch of clean looks at the hoop (8-11 3PM), took up the slack for his foul-plagued Splash Brother, Stephen Curry, and dropped 30. And while everyone wondered if the Warriors would make drastic adjustments after their Game 1 loss, sometimes the best adjustment … is playing better.
It’s now 16 straight wins for teams that lose the first home game of a playoff series, and the Lakers have now lost for just the 10th time (against 23 wins) — including the Play-In Tournament and playoffs — since all those mid-February personnel changes reversed their fortunes.
With the series even after Golden State’s 127-100 victory, here are five takeaways from Game 2 and maybe some clues about what’s in store for the next two games in LA.
1. AD’s disappearance redux
If Anthony Davis indeed will have his jersey number retired by the Lakers, as LeBron suggested the other day, it won’t be off his latest performance. He had no juice or impact at either basket and didn’t rattle the Warriors two nights after spooking them in the series opener. It was only 11 points and seven rebounds Thursday and the Warriors breathed easy.
Look, AD made the 75th anniversary team, won a championship in 2020 and delivered many superb efforts over the years — few, if any, more grandiose than his 30-20 in Game 1. Still, his basketball reputation wears ketchup stains for two reasons: His thick injury history and his tendency to lapse into inconsistency. That Game 1 performance, which sent basketball fans gushing and thumbing through the history books to see how he compared, masked this.
Keep in mind that in the Lakers’ six-game first-round victory over the higher-seeded Grizzlies, Davis laid a pair of eggs; he went 4-for-13 shooting in one game and 4-for-14 in another. He was virtually invisible (except on defense) and left the load to LeBron James. Those sandwiched two games of 31-19 and 31-17 against Memphis. So, to summarize: Davis is a great player prone to ordinary-ness. The good news for the Lakers? At this rate he’ll dominate Game 3.
2. Draymond dictates the defense (again)
A fair amount of Davis’ problems were caused by Draymond Green. After sleep-walking through much of Game 1, Green raised his energy, awareness and intensity on defense and, as he often does, set the pace and spirit for the Warriors. He said he was “disgusted” by his Game 1 effort and “knew I had to come out and have a good game in order for us to win; I had to come out and be aggressive and decisive on both ends.”
In hindsight, it seems weird that the Warriors didn’t assign Draymond to Davis in Game 1. That honor went to Kevon Looney, who did earn that assignment based on his first-round work against Domantas Sabonis. But Davis presents multiple challenges for Looney, whose defense slips a bit the further he’s away from the paint. Draymond embraced the opportunity and was active on AD right from the jump.
The idea and hope for the Warriors was for Draymond to make it tough for AD and prevent him from getting into a quick rhythm. Well, it worked; Davis didn’t get the touches and therefore didn’t cause damage. He shot 2-for-7 in the first half and never recovered. As for whether Draymond influenced that, AD said: “I don’t think so. I took all the same shots I took in Game 1. I just missed them.” Okay, then. As a bonus, Draymond took advantage of being left open by the Lakers defense and took 10 shots — steep for him — good for 11 points.
3. Managed load for two Laker stars
At least this blowout loss by the Lakers did come with an unexpected benefit: They rested LeBron (29 minutes) and AD (32), who didn’t touch the floor at all in the fourth quarter with the Lakers down 30 points at the start. Here’s why this helps: These teams are playing every other night for the duration of the series, which could last six or seven games. And Davis and LeBron burned 44 and 40 minutes two nights earlier in Game 1.
It’ll be interesting how Lakers coach Darvin Ham handles this going forward. How much does he keep them from getting too much grind, while also keeping them on the floor and taking care of the game at hand? The rapid pace of this series favors the Warriors a bit more, in that sense. LeBron is in his 20th season and his 38-year-old body has tread wear from decades of deep playoff runs. Davis is injury-prone. It presents an interesting strategy and decisions for the coach along with the two stars.
4. Will Jordan get a Poole Pardon?
The most perplexing issue with the Warriors in these playoffs, and actually most of the season, is the regression of Jordan Poole. He was a discovery last season when he generated points and energy and at one point saw more minutes than a recovering Klay Thompson.
That now seems like a mirage. Thompson is free of injury and almost back to where he was before the surgeries; he was very efficient (11-18 FGs) Thursday. Meanwhile, Poole’s plummet is head-scratching. He missed his first three shots, committed a pair of silly fouls and was eventually benched in favor of Donte DiVincenzo, who saw more minutes (28 to 15, though some of that was fourth-quarter garbage time).
Poole, for much of the season has been victimized by questionable basketball decisions, including shot selection and poor defense. He came into Game 2 on the heels of a missed game-tying 3 attempt — from 30 feet — near the Game 1 buzzer. None of his teammates or coaches faulted him for that, but those are the opportunities Poole is botching.
On Thursday, he had five fouls and three made shots and never got into a flow. The Chase Center crowd isn’t booing him, but there’s the clear sound of restlessness whenever he makes mistakes. Will coach Steve Kerr lean more on Donte DiVincenzo and Gary Payton II, or keep Poole in the mix to keep his confidence up, if for no other reason?
5. J-Myke Is All Right
Any basketball fan regardless of allegiance should have an appreciation of JaMychal Green. His many coaches and teammates — J-Myke has played on five teams — all keep a healthy amount of respect for all he brought to them, and same for the Warriors so far this series. Draymond Green said, affectionately: “He a dog, always been a dog. We knew we needed some dog out there.”
J-Myke wasn’t ticketed for a career that’s now in its eighth season. He went undrafted and did time in the G-League. He isn’t blessed with worldly skills and started only 166 of his 544 NBA games. But Green is pure — as in: his work ethic, leadership, coachability and readiness. So the Warriors benefitted from having this second Green get a surplus of minutes Thursday when JaMychal was elevated to start for Looney (who developed an illness before game-time and was rationed minutes). Green said: “They always tell me to stay ready. Been waiting on this moment.”
Not too surprisingly, the Lakers didn’t respect him offensively; they gave him plenty of room for short jumpers and corner 3s, of which he took full advantage, shooting 6-for-9 (3-6 3PM) for 16 points. Now that he has won the confidence of coach Steve Kerr, who didn’t play him much during the season, expect Green to remain a top-end rotational staple, at least this round, and if only by default; the Warriors are clearly lacking in height (Green is 6-foot-9, but plays bigger). This is a golden chance for Green; he’s looking for a ring after coming up short in his previous stops with the Grizzlies, Nuggets, Clippers and Spurs.
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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