April 12, 2024

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Five notes: Warriors pull off big win over Lakers as Steve Kerr tightens rotation

Five notes: Warriors pull off big win over Lakers as Steve Kerr tightens rotation

LOS ANGELES — Here are five takeaways from the Golden State Warriors' seismic 128-121 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night.

1. How did it happen and what does it mean?

Jonathan Kuminga opened the game with four men. The Lakers beat Kuminga more than any other opponent and always challenged him to make shots. It's part of what kept Kuminga out of coach Steve Kerr's rotation in the second round last May (Jamychal Green played over him).

Kuminga, a more established and confident scorer in his third season, punished that strategy early. He made two 3-pointers and two turnovers, along with an aggressive Andrew Wiggins (17 shot attempts) to score the Warriors' first 17 points, buoying them while Steph Curry remained quiet. Curry did not score a point in the first quarter.

Klay Thompson came on midway through the quarter and got hot. He scored 18 points in his first eight minutes, keeping the Warriors within reach when the physical Lakers seemed ready to run away with him, in part because of Anthony Davis' activity.

But late in the first quarter, Trayce Jackson-Davis accidentally poked Davis in the eye while defending him. It turned out to be the most important moment of the night. Davis left for the locker room between quarters. no longer. The Lakers were plus-6 in 12 minutes and minus-13 after he left. The Warriors outscored the Lakers 62-54 in the paint, and the Lakers only made 18 free throws, the direct effects of Davis' departure.

Facing less threatening competition, Curry took the lead in the second quarter and finished with 31 points despite the empty start. He hit just three of 10 3s, but he made nine shots inside the arc, weaving and cutting back to the rim without fear of having his shot blocked.

The Warriors had 38 assists. Draymond Green had 13 of them, connecting on two big balls to Kuminga to close out the second quarter and a few high layups in the second half for both Kuminga and Wiggins to maintain separation from the Lakers. Kuminga finished with 23 points. Thompson was 26.

The Warriors didn't defend well. They were unable to contain LeBron James, who worked his way to 40 points. But they won because their offense generated great looks for most of the game and the extra scorers hit jumpers past the Lakers' defense in the absence of its point guard.

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There were frequent shot clock malfunctions down the stretch that delayed the end and sabotaged the Lakers' possession. James' huge layup 3 was also cleared after a timeout review deemed it out of bounds. Kerr and Curry said it's a rule neither of them favors, despite being the beneficiaries.

But besides stopping the game and ruining the TV product, it very likely didn't change the final outcome, a Warriors road win that upended the front-runner for the No. 9 seed in the West. With this win, the Warriors are one point ahead of the Lakers on the losing streak. The two will play again in early April in Los Angeles and a tiebreaker will likely be on the line.

It's still a tough road for the Warriors to escape the nine-for-10 bracket in the Play-In bracket, but they've received some help in the last few days. The Mavericks lost in Oklahoma City and the Kings lost at home to the Knicks. They are two and a half games behind Dallas and three behind Sacramento but do not hold a tiebreaker against either of them.

2. Tighten the rotation

Musa Modi joins Kevon Looney and Dario Saric outside the current rotation. Kerr played just nine players against the Lakers, and the ninth, Gary Payton II, got six total minutes, fouling some defensive coverages in his first period which limited his time on the court. So it was basically an eight-man rotation.

“It was more about the game,” Kerr said. “It's difficult to get 10 men in there. We're not afraid to do it. I don't really want to stay at eight. I think it was going to depend on the games.”

Conformities and the urgency of the moment. Green and Curry, both of whom have had recent health issues, played 34 minutes, their most since before the All-Star break. So, Kerr has been giving hints about how he leans into higher-stakes games, and several others in the organization have said to expect a slightly tighter rotation during the stretch run.

Assuming health, that means a starting lineup of Curry, Brandin Podzemski, Wiggins, Kuminga, Green, and a highly-utilized three-man bench of Thompson, Chris Paul, and Trace Jackson-Davis. Payton will be in the mix. Modi remains an option but is being ruled out again. Looney sits out unless a serious problem or injury dictates his inclusion.

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“It's tough,” Curry said. “Lon, Moses, Dario, maybe in that order – especially Lon and Moses – maybe there will be times when they will be needed. They will be ready. That is their challenge. But at this time of year, building an identity in the way we want to play, is This (tight rotation) is huge.

3. Clay as the Sixth Man

Thompson played in 63 games this season. In his 53 starts, he averaged just 16.6 points on 41 percent shooting and 37 percent from 3. But in his 10 games off the bench, despite a four-minute decrease in minutes per game (from 30.2 to 26.6), Thompson averaged 20.3. Point out of 48 points. Shooting percent and 45 percent from 3.

It's too small a sample to announce anything too definitive. But this difference in efficiency and production is too great to ignore. Thompson has been a much better scorer and, overall, player for the Warriors as a bench scorer. His 18 points in his first eight minutes against the Lakers were huge. His 26 points off the bench were more than the Lakers' bench total combined (25 points).

“We're leaning toward that,” Kerr said of Thompson. “I can really feel his strength off the bench. We're going at him right away. We're calling plays for him. It's a different atmosphere when he comes off the bench. I just like that Klay has taken on that role so well.”

Green said Thompson once came up to him and said of his role on the bench: “Dray, that's nice! That's great!”

“It shows his maturity,” Green said. “He's been starting since the middle of his first season. To have the resume that he has, you build an organization, and then you're asked to step into a bench role. There's not a lot of people who know what that feels like, but there's a group of people who want to judge him. At the time “Early on, he was very concerned about how people would judge him. Now he doesn't care.”

4. Draymond update

Green missed the previous game in Dallas with lower back pain, then made a somewhat alarming statement on his podcast, saying that it had been bothering him for two weeks and that he wanted to get out ahead of the injury before it got any worse. Something worse, like an injury that forces him to miss half the season in 2022.

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“Not playing in Dallas, as bad as it was, was the right thing to do,” Green said. “Leading up to that, I was getting to the point where I could play, and then the next day… I was overcompensating, trying to come back feeling good. Then we would have a game. So it was good for me to get “It gave me extra comfort and allowed me to turn. Today I didn't feel any pain.”

Rick Celebrini and Kerr clearly plan to monitor Green during the final month of the season, a tug of war made more difficult by the Warriors' standing in the standings. They need him every night, and in close games, they will need big minutes. But they are also gaining increased confidence in Jackson Davis, their promoted backup rookie center, who performed well again Saturday night.

“Trace looks a lot like me,” Green said. “He's 23 in his first year. He's played in big games. For Trayce, I've played in big games where you have to be the guy, carry the load – score goals, rebound the ball, carry the team. I have no doubt that he “Ready for the stage. He's not your average rookie. I have a lot of confidence in Trice, and it's good that he can reduce the number of minutes I play.”

5. Home

The Warriors have three home games this week — against the Knicks on Monday, the Grizzlies on Wednesday, and the Pacers on Friday. They are 17-17 in the Chase Center this season.

Next, they go on a long road trip starting in Minnesota, Miami and Orlando against three playoff teams. These next six games will determine whether an improbable rise to eighth or seventh is possible or whether life in the nine-for-10 range is a formality.

(Photo of Draymond Green battling Austin Reeves for a loose ball: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)