In a series in which great players on both teams showed over and over again the level they could access to control a basketball game, it was LeBron James and Anthony Davis who were able to take it up another notch to carry the Lakers to a 122-101 victory over the Warriors in Game 6 and advance to the Western Conference Finals.
You do not beat the defending champions this convincingly without high-level play on both sides of the ball, and the Lakers delivered just that. Coach Ham deployed a new starting lineup, inserting Dennis Schröder for Jarred Vanderbilt, and that change created a change pace on both ends, with increased ball pressure at the point of attack by Schröder against Steph Curry and an additional ball handler and shot creator on the other end offensively.
With a speedier and skill-heavy group on the floor, the Lakers ramped up their pace on both ends and it paid great dividends. Defensively, the Lakers were able to stay better connected with the Warriors’ shooters, strategically contesting the appropriate shots while letting their lesser threats roam free. The Warriors responded with a 13-48 from behind the arc (27.1%) and 39-103 overall (37.9%) in the type of shooting performance that belies their reputations as marksmen.
Offensively, the Lakers benefitted from this same personnel, and when you combine that with the Warriors missing shots at the rate they were, the Lakers were able to race up the floor and generate shots in transition or simply get into their sets earlier and with better tempo.
The biggest driver of this approach was LeBron James, who leveraged this sort of free-flowing style offensively to relentlessly hunt the paint to score inside. LeBron scored 30 points on 10-14 shooting, and all but two of those makes came within the paint where he shot 8-9 on the night. LeBron darted up court and when he wasn’t scoring directly at the rim, he was getting into post ups early where he could either score on interior shots or draw extra attention and then kick the ball out to open teammates.
To go along with his 30 points, LeBron would add nine rebounds and nine assists barely missing a triple-double in the process. Possession after possession, LeBron exerted just the right amount of control and command on how to tilt the action in the Lakers favor and he did whatever was needed — whether as a scorer, passer, or rebounder — to ensure his team would maintain its edge.
Standing right next to LeBron as one of Game 6’s titans was Anthony Davis. AD was once again the best two-way player on the floor, combining a level of defensive awareness and fortitude to control entire possessions on one end and then still have the energy, force, and skill to impact the game on the other end.
Davis finished the night with 17 points, 20 rebounds, three assists, two steals, two blocks, and had countless other offensive and defensive possessions where he leveraged his size and smarts to give the Lakers an edge where seemingly one did not exist. Whether he was forcing misses around the basket defensively, towering over everyone to snare a contested rebound, or occupying defenders in the paint offensively to open up opportunities for teammates to score easier, the Warriors had no real answers for Davis all night.
Balancing against LeBron and AD’s paint-hungry attacks was Austin Reaves from the perimeter. Reaves was tremendous all game, but his offensive production was particularly needed from the wing. Mixing in drives and mid-range shots with three-pointers from all over the floor, Austin scored 23 points on 7-12 shooting, including hitting four of his five attempts from distance, to go along with five rebounds and six assists.
Austin also had what was one of the bigger shots of the night, nailing a 50+ footer before the 1st half buzzer to push the Lakers lead to 10 points heading into halftime. To that point in the game the Lakers had mostly controlled the contest, but the scoreboard did not quite reflect the level to which both teams had played with Lakers only up by seven. But after a basket-saving block from AD, Austin got the loose ball, dribbled into a shot from beyond half court, and buried it to both the crowd’s and his teammates’ delight.
With all of these great performances, however, we simply cannot forget all the other contributions that helped the Lakers get this win.
Schröder’s insertion into the starting lineup and the subsequent defense he played were huge in this game. His ability to get over screens allowed AD to stay closer to the paint defensively, which aided in his disruptive play. Dennis also played with great spirit, which, unfortunately, led to a couple of confrontations with Draymond Green and two technical fouls that ultimately got Schröder ejected early in the 3rd quarter.
With Dennis no longer available, Lonnie Walker IV, D’Angelo Russell, and Rui Hachimura were all called on in different ways to fill in on both sides of the ball and all of them answered the call.
Lonnie not only took on some ball handling and shot creation duties, but he again hit shots (13 points, 4-8 shooting) to boost the offense. Similarly, D-Lo found his offense in the 2nd half, flashing his skill as a shot maker (19 points, 7-15 shooting) to get some buckets and keep the offense humming when needed. Rui did not have his most productive offensive night (9 points, 2-5 shooting), but he played good defense in the 2nd half to defend Andrew Wiggins which allowed the Lakers to play bigger and attack the paint against a downsized Warriors group.
And, ultimately, it was that Lakers size that proved to be the difference. Led by LeBron and AD, the Lakers controlled the painted area on both sides of the ball and again showed that when those two suit up and are healthy, they’re able to win high-stakes playoff games. With this win, the Lakers moved to 26-11 in playoff games both LeBron and Davis play in and are 6-1 in series overall with a 6-3 record in closeout games.
The Lakers will now get a few days off and will prep for their matchup with the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals that will begin on Tuesday.