SAN FRANCISCO — In a series loaded with unpredictability at every turn and in pretty much every night, Game 5 was probably the easiest to forecast of them all.
Why? Because the defending champions were down, they were desperate, and they were home. Like, what else could be advantageous for the Warriors?
There was really no suspense in Game 5, especially when Draymond Green brought the contagious energy, when Stephen Curry swished a 3-pointer with 1.7 seconds left in the first half for a double-digit lead and momentum-grabber, when Anthony Davis got clubbed on the head midway through the fourth quarter and called it a night.
So, yes, Warriors-Lakers was all but destined to return to Los Angeles (where the Lakers haven’t lost in these playoffs or the AT&T Play-In Tournament) for what will be the biggest game of the series — at least until Game 7, should that happen.
We will then learn if the Warriors, suspiciously lame on the road all season, can muster the heat needed in what will be another elimination game for them; if LeBron James can add to his close-out legacy with an epic performance; if Klay Thompson can have a Game 6 like he did once upon a time on a ballistic night in Oklahoma City.
It’s 3-2, still in favor of the Lakers, after Golden State’s breezy 121-106 victory and here are five takeaways from it all:
1. Can Davis shake it off?
The stage is set for Anthony Davis to kill the narrative and demonstrate that a fall to the floor won’t keep him down for the count. He took an inadvertent elbow from Kevon Looney in the fourth quarter and exited with a head injury evidently bad enough to prevent him from returning to a game that was still within reach.
Until then, Davis was on pace for another solid night (23 points, nine rebounds). It’s never good news when Davis heads to the locker room to get examined — just check his injury history — and there’s only one day to rest and recover for another game.
But a bigger story would be Davis suiting up Friday, spooking the Warriors on defense as he has all series, drawing enough contact to get to the line and get Green complaining to the referees, and pushing the Lakers to the West finals. The Lakers downplayed the significance of Davis’ injury — he wasn’t made availability for comment — and gave no indication that this would be a Game 6 issue.
“The medical team said he’s doing better,” James said. That’s what matters the most.”
2. Draymond was dialed in
Someone will someday conduct a study on NBA players to learn why those players are aggressive one night and passive the next. A good case study is Green as his energy level in this series has run hot and cold.
It’s surprising, given his role as the Warriors’ fiery leader. But that basketball rage doesn’t always equate to a determination to shoot or at least be a threat to score. Throughout his career, Green has had a tendency to pass up open shots, even when he’s in the paint, and a reluctance to post-up smaller players. He clearly doesn’t feel comfortable doing anything with the ball except passing it, especially when he’s left alone at the 3-point line.
When Green isn’t a threat to score, the defense gives him plenty of disrespect and turns its attention on Curry and Thompson, as the Lakers have wisely done to take control of the series. That changed suddenly on the offensive end Wednesday for Green when he took most of those open shots — and was successful enough to score 20 points, breaking 20 for only the second time in 12 playoff games in 2023. The sense of urgency had much to do with his about-face.
Said Warriors coach Steve Kerr: “When he scores a certain number of points, we usually win. When he’s aggressive like that, looking to attack, it adds another dimension to our team. I loved his approach to the game tonight. Draymond is one of the greatest competitors I’ve been around. So you expect him to bring it.”
3. Curry still struggling from deep
Curry has gone chilly on 3-pointers, a rare sight shown by a player who often goes entire halves without missing. After another mild effort (3-for-11) on Wednesday, Curry is now 6-for-25 in his last two games and shooting 35.8% on 3-pointers for the series and 37.1% overall in the 2023 playoffs. Both numbers are substandard for him as he’s never shot lower than 37.7% on 3-pointers in any postseason (2018-19).
It’s perplexing, but Curry’s 3-point percentage was only slightly better (37.8%) in the seven game first-round series against the Sacramento Kings. The Lakers are making him work for his looks, for sure, giving him few clean ones. But that rarely stopped Curry before and he moves without the ball better than most.
Good news for the Warriors: Curry wasn’t harmed too much in Game 5 — he finished with a game-high 27 points — mainly because his dribble game remains strong and helps him reach the rim. Even better: Curry’s passing is leading to easy hoops for his teammates (had eight assists Wednesday, two nights after he managed 14). Great players find other ways to contribute when their specialty isn’t working and Curry is no exception.
“If he gets past one defender they’re sending four,” Green said. “But he’s been an incredible passer forever. He’s always a willing passer.”
4. Lakers’ supporting cast disappears
The essence of the Lakers is James and Davis, but the reason they’re in this position is because of everyone else. Their role players have made this happen, with Los Angeles one win away from the West finals. Those same players, though, turned back into pumpkins, at least for one night. And this was one game removed from Lonnie Walker IV outscoring everyone in the fourth quarter of Game 4.
It was a different story for Game 5 in that nobody elevated themselves. Not Rui Hachimura, not D’Angelo Russell or Jarred Vanderbilt and not even Walker, who scored four points for the game and zero in this fourth quarter. Here’s what this series wants to know: Was this a temporary vaporization, or is the stage suddenly too big? They’ll get another chance, and they’ll be back home, and the Lakers don’t need quality from all of them, just from enough of them to make a difference.
So who will it be? And will they do enough to deny Curry, Thompson and Green from bringing the series back to San Francisco, where the lights would be at their brightest?
“There’s obviously things we can do better,” said Lakers guard Austin Reaves. “We’ll come out with a little more firepower and see what we have.”
5. Warriors welcome Wiggins to the series
This was by far the most impactful and lively effort by Andrew Wiggins in the semifinals. Actually, this was a version of Wiggins the Warriors haven’t seen since the 2022 NBA Finals. The last time Wiggins was arguably the Warriors’ best player on the court was in the 2022 West finals when he dunked on Luka Doncic’s head.
Anyway, enough of the flashbacks. The Warriors needed more from Wiggins and he delivered. The only nitpick Wednesday was his inability to hit the open 3. Otherwise, Wiggins gave 25 points (on 10-for-18 shooting), seven rebounds, six assists and a player on the floor the Lakers had to respect all game. Keep in mind that Wiggins is also guarding James, meaning he’s burning energy at both ends. LeBron never hurt the Warriors Wednesday while Wiggins finally punished L.A. offensively.
“I was locked in,” said Wiggins. “I’m a competitor. This was do or die.”
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