The Lakers moved to 4-0 in the playoffs at home and did so in convincing fashion with a 127-97 victory over the Warriors in Game 3 on Saturday Night. The win gives the Lakers a 2-1 lead in the series and allows them to maintain home court advantage.
In a series that has now seen back-to-back blowouts, it was the Lakers who this time came with some adjustments and a mentality of playing with more force to dictate the terms of engagement. On that latter point, Anthony Davis was a key driver of the Lakers' play as he again dominated the defensive paint and generally made the Warriors' lives difficult whenever they were on offense.
Davis' monstrous defensive night goes beyond the statistics, though his four blocks, three steals, and 13 defensive rebounds do tell a major part of the story. Coach Ham tweaked his team's defensive assignments, moving AD off of Draymond Green and onto JaMychal Green when the starters were on the floor, and that change put AD in more help positions early on where he could focus on protecting the paint -- just as he did so wonderfully in Game 1.
As the game went on, Davis did have to play more at the level of the ball vs. the Warriors ball screen and handoff actions, but he expertly stepped out high to deter outside shots and used his length, quick feet, and understanding of angles to slide with the ball handler and maintain control of the paint while forcing action away from the rim and racking up deflections at the same time.
Offensively, as he said he would after Game 2, Davis bounced back to find his range and attack the Warriors' interior defense repeatedly. Davis scored 25 points on 7-10 shooting, but more importantly got to the foul line 12 times (making 11) which simultaneously got him easy points and allowed the Lakers to set their defense to better combat the Warriors offense by forcing them to play in the half court more often.
But even when he wasn't drawing fouls, his focus on playing with more force and getting downhill more often was key in his overall success.
D'Angelo Russell's aggressiveness and perimeter-based play was also a huge lift for the Lakers and served as a wonderful counterbalance to Davis' interior presence. Russell scored the Lakers first 11 points, including hitting three shots from behind the arc to really get the Lakers off on the right foot. Russell didn't go out of his way to hunt shots, but as the Warriors were pinching down to help in the paint vs. LeBron and AD, Russell was the beneficiary and made them pay.
Russell would go on to score 13 points in the 1st quarter, and 21 points for the game -- knocking down eight of his 13 shots from the field, including going five of eight from behind the arc. Russell would add five assists and three rebounds, playing a good floor game that was only dented by his five turnovers (which mostly came on passes trying to get AD even more involved).
For the second straight game, LeBron also had an efficient scoring night and looks to be finding a bit of a rhythm on that end of the floor. After not taking a shot in the 1st quarter for the first time in his playoff career, LeBron scored 21 points on 6-11 shooting for the rest of the game, including hitting half of his four shots from distance and going 7-8 at the foul line, while adding on a team-high eight assists.
LeBron also played a strong defensive game, with Coach Ham's new defensive alignments putting LeBron back onto Andrew Wiggins for most of the minutes they shared the floor together. Wiggins shot and played well offensively (16 points, 6-11 shooting), But LeBron played strong positional defense, helped on the backboards (eight rebounds) and showed great hustle on multiple plays in 2nd and 3rd quarters where the Lakers were really able to take control of the game, including a 30-8 run in that 2nd quarter that turned an 11-point deficit into an 11-point lead at halftime.
Ultimately, however, this game was a total team effort in which some of the adjustments the Lakers made defensively and with their rotation paid dividends, while playing with good force and commitment on both sides of the ball led to improved execution.
The Lakers got strong defensive games from Austin Reaves and Jarred Vanderbilt, who got new defensive assignments in Steph Curry and Draymond Green respectively, which put them in position to switch more screens and keep closer tabs on the perimeter in general with AD backing them up. Coach Ham also turned to Lonnie Walker IV as a shift in his rotation, and Lonnie rewarded him with 10 points on 4-6 shooting and focused defense.
The Lakers will look to maintain this level of play and continue their momentum when the series resumes on Monday for Game 4.