The obvious adjustment the Golden State Warriors had to make after losing Game 1 was finding a lineup — or lineups — that maximized spacing, gave their primary offensive scorers more room to operate, and found ways to create advantages against a Los Angeles Lakers defense that was hellbent on not giving them any.
A huge story from last game was the viability of the Warriors’ two-non-shooting-big lineup. Having Kevon Looney and Draymond Green on the floor brought the team plenty of defense, rebounding, and stability — but few opponents over the years have taken advantage of its one natural weakness: spacing, or lack thereof.
In Game 1, the Lakers freely denied and top-locked the Warriors’ main offensive threats, all while Looney and Green saw no-man’s land in front of them for virtually the entire game. Anthony Davis parked himself comfortably in the paint without any worry of his assignment burning him with a jump shot or aggressive drive to the rim.
Yet, the Warriors still got some semblance of offense going. They drilled 15 more threes than the Lakers, tallied 30 assists, and kept their turnovers to eight — well below their season average.
That was a math problem they should’ve handily won, but the Lakers responded with a math problem of their own: 25-of-29 from the free throw line — a plus-23 in attempts and a plus-20 in makes. Add to that the fact that the Warriors mustered a pedestrian 22-of-53 clip (41.5%) on twos — a statistic Davis certainly had a huge part in — and the Lakers came away with homecourt advantage.
Adjustments had to be made to avoid falling into an 0-2 hole. If precedent is to be believed, an 0-2 hole isn’t an insurmountable one for the Warriors — but the Lakers aren’t exactly the Sacramento Kings.
The first adjustment that was made was a lineup decision pre-game that placed JaMychal Green in place of Kevon Looney. Initially, it was thought to be a pure tactical decision — JaMychal is a career 36.8% three-point shooter and shot 37.8% this season, albeit on low volume.
But it was clarified that the decision to start him was due to Looney not feeling well, and although Looney would play, it would not be as a starter. This gave Kerr the window — intended or not — to try out a lineup that provided more spacing courtesy of a floor-stretching big.
That was the first button Kerr pushed — and it immediately paid dividends:
JaMychal sets the drag screen for Steph Curry, luring Austin Reaves over to double. Curry passes to JaMychal, who keeps Davis occupied on the slot, wary of a possible pull-up. This allows Draymond to 45-cut to the rim with Reaves late on the recovery.
Not only did they manage to use JaMychal’s shooting ability to freeze Davis momentarily — they managed to draw Davis out of the paint, which allowed Draymond to dive to the rim without a worry. With no low-man help from LeBron James, Draymond easily scores.
Having JaMychal on the floor also allows the Warriors to run bona-fide spread pick-and-roll possessions — what the Warriors term as ‘Angle’ since the ballscreens are set an angle instead of at the top of the arc — which accomplishes two things:
- Forces Davis to step up higher on his drop, especially if the ballscreen catches Jarred Vanderbilt — known for his difficulty in screen navigation — clean.
- Forces the Lakers’ backline defense to make a choice: Do we stay home and eliminate the threat of a kickout to shooters or cutters? Or do we rotate to stop the ball and live with a shot from the outside?
On this possession, James chooses the former option and allows Draymond a free lane to the rim:
On another possession, James chooses to stop the Draymond roll by rotating into the paint and discouraging a layup. But it opens up the corner pass to JaMychal, an easy read for Draymond once James committed to the rotation:
It seemed as if almost every instance of the Lakers committing to an aggressive coverage on Curry generated backline advantages. On this possession, it’s Davis who commits to stopping the Draymond roll after two bodies attach themselves to Curry around the ballscreen.
Instead of staying put in the corner, JaMychal cuts baseline and makes himself available in the dunker spot:
Putting JaMychal on the weak-side corner is found money — but placing him on the strong-side corner also forces the Lakers — James, in particular — to make a much tougher choice. Do I help off the strong-side corner on a Curry drive? Or do I stay on him and trust my teammates to handle Curry on their own?
Helping one pass away from the strong-side corner is typically a defensive faux pas, especially if there’s no ‘peel’ switch from on-ball defender — and JaMychal showed exactly why:
The Lakers’ coverage on Curry ballscreens ranged from the slightly-aggressive-but-non-committal (e.g., high drop and ballscreen-level step-ups) to full commits (hedging and trapping). It was clear that they weren’t ready to go full Boston Celtics by trusting their on-ball personnel to capably navigate and fight over ballscreens.
With Vanderbilt guarding Curry, it was easy to see why the Lakers had to commit to aggressive coverages: because of his aforementioned difficulty with screen navigation.
But if anyone not named Curry on the Warriors — Thompson, in particular — was handling the ball, the Lakers were content with conventional coverages. They didn’t consider Thompson to be the kind of on-ball dribbling threat that Curry is, which is a fair assessment.
Even so, the Warriors drew up Thompson-centered actions to take advantage of that assessment:
Draymond sets the ‘out’ screen for Thompson out of ‘HORNS,’ which flows into an ‘Angle’ pick-and-roll. Davis is in a high drop, but with Reaves getting caught in the screen, Davis is forced to step up higher — but Thompson still drill the three over a nonchalant contest.
The possession above was more of a settled half-court set. The Warriors also tested the Lakers in early offense with ‘Quick’ action, which is Thompson curling off a wide screen. Reaves’ screen navigation is once again tested, and while he does a good job fighting over and chasing, no amount of defense can stop an in-rhythm Thompson:
Taking advantage of Davis’ natural tendency to cheat off of Draymond, the Warriors ran Thompson off a series of screens on this baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) set:
This ‘Gut Chicago’ set — ‘Gut’ being the term for a dribble handoff (DHO) located near the elbow/high post, and ‘Chicago’ being the term for a pindown screen followed by a DHO — allows Thompson to run to the top of the arc with Davis dropping back. Rui Hachimura can’t chase around the screens, while Davis is caught in no-man’s land.
Other than offensive adjustments, the Warriors simply defended Davis much better — made possible by having Draymond as his primary defender.
Seeing that the Warriors were sitting on Davis post-isolations by having Draymond be his man in single coverage, they went away from a heavy diet of up-close touches and relegated Davis to being a mere jump shooter in pick-and-pop siuations.
Was it a choice by the Lakers? Or was it something the Warriors forced out of them? I would say a mixture of both — while the Lakers didn’t do enough to get Davis to his spots, the Warriors also didn’t allow Davis to get anywhere near the rim by employing ‘ICE’ coverage on pick-and-rolls involving Davis.
The Warriors were more than happy to let Davis shoot in the mid-range:
The end of Game 1 presented the Warriors with several questions they had to address — most of which they managed to answer with conviction. Game 3 will be the Lakers’ turn to answer a couple:
- Will they continue to play aggressive coverages on Curry? Will they be okay with switching Davis onto Curry — at the risk of drawing him out of the paint even further?
- Can they scheme Davis toward his preferred offensive comfort zones? Or will they allow the Warriors to dictate where Davis goes, how many touches he gets, and the kinds of shots he takes?
Those will be things to look out for as the series shifts to Southern California.