2023 Playoffs: West Conf. Semifinal | Warriors vs. Lakers

5 takeaways from Lakers' close-out win over Warriors

LeBron James not about to slow down, Anthony Davis toughens up and Golden State can't find its touch from long range.

LeBron James went at Andrew Wiggins all night, finishing with a team-high 30 points on 10-for-14 shooting.

LOS ANGELES — It might be too soon to say with conviction that a dynasty died Friday. But there was indeed a rebirth.

The Lakers, tossed aside as a bad experiment just three months ago, and who had to participate in the Play-In Tournament, are in the Western Conference finals. Meanwhile, on the same night LeBron James saw his season continue, the defending champion Warriors were in shambles and nothing like the club that won yet another title just last summer or any in a tremendous nine-year run.

If anyone needed to pinpoint the exact moment this shift occurred, look no further than the sequence at the end of the first half of Game 6, which explained it all. Klay Thompson air-balled a 3-pointer, Anthony Davis delivered a block, then Austin Reaves grabbed the loose ball and heaved a half-court shot that beat the buzzer.

There it was, right there: Klay and Stephen Curry, who for over a decade personified the Warriors’ long-distance shooting strength, transformed into the Gassed Brothers because they had nothing. Davis dominated all series with his presence in the paint and on the glass and with mid-range daggers. And Reaves, who scored 23 points, reflected the role players who gave this team life and complimented LeBron and AD so smoothly.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said: “This is not a championship team. If it were, we’d be moving on.”

Davis said: “Me and ‘Bron want another one,” meaning a championship to match the first together, in 2020; in four years together Davis and LeBron have never lost a series in which both were completely healthy.

So the Lakers, 2-10 to start the season and at one point were in 13th place in the West standings, move forward with fewer questions, while the Warriors go home with many.

Meanwhile, here are five takeaways from L.A.’s 122-101 Game 6 victory over Golden State:

LeBron is a step closer to NBA Finals

And when he gets close, he usually cashes in and plays into June. But that’s for the Nuggets to worry about next week. In the meantime, LeBron kept his 20th season alive by defying the laws of ageism. He performed at a high level in all six games, never really showing rust or fatigue or even a sloppy stretch — remarkable for a 38-year-old with lots of wear from multiple deep postseason runs. What’s crazy is the Warriors, for some reason, revealed that Andrew Wiggins, who guarded LeBron, had a rib injury prior to Game 6 that caused him pain. So what did LeBron do? He attacked Wiggins repeatedly, right from the jump, with post-up moves designed to draw contact. It was like Golden State gave LeBron a road map.

Anyway: LeBron came just shy of a triple-double in the close-out game with 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in — get this — 43 minutes here in the middle of May. He just refused to show any strain or weakness, and this against Wiggins, Draymond Green and the defending champion Warriors. LeBron is the all-time leader in series wins with 41, and is looking for his 11th appearance in the Finals (the Nuggets will have say in that). Lakers coach Darvin Ham said: “Simply remarkable. Played downhill all series, fingerprints all over the game, steals, blocked shots, remarkable.”

LeBron James drops a game-high 30 points to go with 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals and a block in 43 minutes as the Lakers clinch spot in West finals.

The long ball failed the Warriors

There’s really no other issue that competed, really, with the Warriors’ inability to make 3-pointers. Game 6 was merely more of the same for Golden State and especially Curry and Thompson. They shot a combined 6-for-26 from deep Friday. Yes, just six. Curry gets that in a quarter. But not in this elimination game when they needed it the most, and not really for this series. In the last four games, three of them losses, Curry was 14-for-49 on 3s. And Thompson? The series was a nightmare for him. He finished it with a whimper, just eight points on 3-for-19 shooting from the floor, missing 10 of 12 from deep. Thompson shot 34% for the series and, with the exception of Game 2, he was largely missing.

For sure, the Lakers’ defense played a part in this, especially Dennis Schroder, who kept Curry from getting many clean looks and forcing him to launch shots deeper than usual. It was the Laker game plan, and while Curry has seen these tactics his entire career, L.A. just did it better than most when they needed it most. Curry didn’t have many playoff stretches poorer than this. Thompson definitely didn’t. There was no splashing from these two; on the contrary, they were all wet.

Uh, about that rivalry

Folks of this generation tried to describe the rivalry between LeBron and Steph as an all-timer, which was accurate to a point. Their clashes for four straight NBA Finals were highly entertaining and captivated the sport. Curry’s teams won three of those series and LeBron won one. But is that really the scorecard? If you take away Kevin Durant, who won Finals MVP for two of those four meetings against LeBron, then LeBron is ahead, two series to one. Also: LeBron was undoubtedly the better player even in those series won by Curry. And once again, in their first-ever playoff meeting that didn’t involve the trophy, this proved to be true.

LeBron was commanding and displayed his usual all-around skills. Meanwhile, the only advantage Curry holds over LeBron — outside shooting — deserted him. There’s a strong mutual respect between those two and you saw as much with their postgame bear-hug. “It’s just great basketball, great competition,” Curry said. “He brings the best out of you and you have to be at your best to try to beat him. You love those experiences. There’s an appreciation for the battle and basketball at the highest level.” So, to summarize: It’s always a treat when LeBron and Curry are on the court, facing each other with something on the line. But when it comes to rivalries, it’s still Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird … then everyone else.

Austin Reaves joins GameTime via Arena Link interview following a 23-point performance in the Lakers' series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Warriors.

Anthony Davis toughs it out

So much for the notion that Davis isn’t up for a good basketball fight. If anything, Davis showed he was rugged enough to punish the Warriors right in the basketball court’s ring — the paint. He was not intimidated. He was intimidating. His defensive clinic was something to behold: Moving well on the switches, closing in for blocked shots and most of all, making the Warriors think twice whenever they approached the rim with Davis lurking nearby. How many times did a Warrior drive the lane, see Davis, then kick the ball back out … to a player who missed the shot? Davis was that good, that solid for the Lakers. And his work on the boards … he had 20 rebounds in the closeout game, the second time this series he had a 20-piece (he averaged 14.5 for the series).

Not bad work for a player who was mocked when he left Game 5 for good with seven minutes left after being clubbed on the side of his head. Davis did all his work within 15 feet of the basket, at both ends. That’s what someone with toughness does — invite collision and contract and conquers it.

Warriors have a Poole problem

Have you seen anyone collapse this hard? It was tough to watch at times. Jordan Poole, who rapidly grew last season into a real asset, especially on offense where he was good for 20 points whenever needed, and helped the Warriors to a championship, was lost, not only all series, but most of the season, actually. It’s as if he never recovered from getting punched by Draymond in training camp, because it was all downhill from there — except the part where the Warriors gave him a four-year extension worth $128 million. Well, Poole regressed in 2022-23 as fast as he broke onto the scene a year ago.

He was rough in the playoffs — buried under turnovers, sloppy defense, head-scratching mistakes and of course, plenty of bad shots. The last four games: 10-for-37 shooting, including a scoreless Game 4 when the Warriors rightly benched him. On Friday, Poole earned his fourth foul … in the first half. He had no points at the time. He gave Steve Kerr no faith in him. And the Lakers never respected him. The Warriors will likely return their core of Klay, Steph and Dray, but Poole’s future with the Warriors, even after that extension, is suddenly foggy.

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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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