You might have tried to, but you haven’t been able to forget what happened on Tuesday night: the Golden State Warriors, gifted home-court advantage, blew it in the first game, losing 117-112 to the Los Angeles Lakers.
It’s a long series. A long, long, long, long series. Losing the first game is by no stretch of the imagination a death sentence. In fact, the Warriors lost Game 1 in their last two series, and we all know how those went.
But it’s safe to say that Golden State’s backs are against the wall. If the Dubs lose Game 2, they’ll fall behind 2-0, with three of the five remaining games on the road ... and in case you forgot, even after their late-series heroics against the Sacramento Kings, they’re just 13-32 on the road this year.
So while Game 2 isn’t a must-win in the strict sense of the word, it sure feels like it. Here are six things the Dubs can do to make sure they head to LA tied up, instead of in a massive hole.
1. Be more aggressive on offense
The figure floating around in the aftermath of Game 1 was 29-6. That was the free throw disparity on Tuesday. The Lakers shot 29 free throws; the Warriors shot six. LA’s backup point guard shot 167% as many free throws as Golden State’s entire team.
Some people see this as a failure of officiating, but I don’t buy it. The Lakers played larger and more aggressively on offense. They attacked the rim, and forced the issue.
The Warriors did not. They attempted more than twice as many threes as the Lakers, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but is a sign that they — not the zebras — were responsible for the lack of free throws. I’m plenty fine with them shooting 53 triples again ... especially if they make 39.6% of them again.
But they need to be more aggressive. They need to get looks at the rim, and earn trips to the free throw line. They need to get in the bonus early in quarters. They need to put some LA players in foul trouble.
If they do that, everything else will open up further.
2. Come out of the gates firing
The Warriors proved in the fourth quarter, when they fired off a 14-0 run in the blink of an eye, just how good they can be, even against the Lakers. But they need to bring that version of themselves to the arena earlier.
If you want to point fingers for why the Dubs lost Game 1, don’t point them at the refs, or Anthony Davis, or Jordan Poole, or Steve Kerr. Point them at Friday. The Warriors had a chance to close out the Kings at home, and got blown out instead. Just a few hours later, the Lakers took care of the Memphis Grizzlies to win their series.
As a result, LA had three days of rest to the Warriors’ one. Their stars had to play only six games to the Warriors’ seven. And it showed in the first half on Tuesday.
Golden State has to dig deep to find the energy to start the game strong, and punch the Lakers in the mouth (figuratively, not literally — no violence or suspensions, please!!!).
3. Adjust Kevon Looney’s minutes
Looney has arguably been the Warriors second-best player in the playoffs, but I’d be interested to see the Warriors switch up his minutes.
The Warriors have some interesting things they can do against Anthony Davis ... namely play small, with Draymond Green defending AD. This has worked fairly well in the past.
Looney plays Davis fairly well, even though there’s no slowing LA’s superstar center. But Looney would thoroughly dominate Wenyen Gabriel or, if the Lakers go in this direction, Mo Bamba.
At some point those players will have to play. AD played 44 minutes on Tuesday, and there’s no way he’ll average that all series. The Warriors should still have Looney on the court with Davis a fair amount, but they can really run away with the minutes where AD sits if Looney is on the court to gobble up every single rebound.
4. Play Jonathan Kuminga
I not surprised that Kuminga basically didn’t play in the first-round series. But I was pretty surprised that he didn’t play in the first game of this series.
Kuminga is a good matchup in this series, in my eyes, and that’s doubly true if the Dubs play small at any point. They need a jolt of athleticism and aggression, and Kuminga is a player who can provide it.
It seems like Kerr is prepping Kuminga to play:
Steve Kerr says Kuminga has to stay ready despite being out of the playoff rotation pic.twitter.com/fSjrCAN0hC— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 3, 2023
Kuminga won’t have a long leash if Kerr turns to him. But if he plays his A-game, he could sway a game ... or the series. And I think it’s time to see if that happens.
5. Get Steph cooking
Make no mistake: Steph Curry is still the first, second, and third-biggest advantage that the Warriors have in this series. But they have to get him established as a weapon early.
I don’t call for Kerr to run the sheer number of pick-and-rolls and isolations that many on Warriors twitter do, but I think it would behoove the Dubs to start the game that way. Establish a presence with Curry early. Force the Lakers to make defensive adjustments. Perhaps get someone in foul trouble.
Let Curry win the first quarter, and the rest of the game will fall into place.
6. Play big minutes ... if necessary
Hopefully the Warriors stars can play a low number of minutes on Thursday as they coast to a big win. But if they don’t, then Kerr needs to prepared to log heavy minutes for his players.
On Tuesday, Curry played 38 minutes, Klay Thompson played 37, and Green and Andrew Wiggins played 34. Compare that to Davis (44 minutes) and LeBron James (40), and the Lakers narrow win is easily explained.
That’s not a critique of Kerr. As I mentioned, the Lakers were much better rested. Trying to play Curry 44 minutes would have backfired, either on Tuesday or further down the road.
But Thursday is a more important game. And the Warriors may need to lean on their stars a little bit more.