The NBA could not have asked for a better play-in game. The Lakers and Warriors absolutely delivered on the hype surrounding their matchup with an instant classic Wednesday, as Los Angeles advanced to the playoffs by virtue of a 103–100 win. Golden State will remain in the play-in bracket and play the Grizzlies for the eighth seed. The Lakers will now play the Suns in the first round. Here are three thoughts on LA’s exciting win.
LeBron was not 100%. It didn’t matter.
LeBron James didn’t look like himself for most of Wednesday’s win, and yet he delivered a classic performance, recording 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, including the game-winning three over the outstretched arms of Stephen Curry. (The image of LeBron hitting a three over Curry, something we’ve seen the other way around numerous times, was instantly iconic.) Still, it’s fair to show a little concern for James headed into the playoffs. He looked more ground-bound than usual on offense, and his signature freight-train attacks on the rim were few and far between. LeBron, because he’s LeBron, was able to compensate. His passing was masterful, and of course he found enough scoring through other means to have a massive impact. The ankle watch on LeBron is far from over, but if he’s actually gaining strength as the playoffs continue, that’s a scary thought for the West.
Respect Draymond Green.
The Warriors’ loss should not overshadow the defensive clinic Draymond Green showcased Wednesday night. Green was on another level, looking like the spry version of Dray that helped unlock the 73-win Warriors in 2016. He was devastating in pick-and-rolls, showing an elite understanding of occupying space in the paint and keeping his hands active to disrupt passing lanes. The Lakers had a big second half offensively, thanks in large part to their own defensive intensity and Anthony Davis’s success at center. That can’t take away from what Green did as a help defender and individually against AD. Green’s intensity helped propel the Warriors to a large lead in the first half, even as Curry started the game slowly. The Warriors aren’t going to be favored if they even make it to the first round. Wednesday showed why nobody wants to play them anyway.
Here’s what comes next.
The Suns’ reward for finally ending their playoff drought is a matchup with a Lakers team that will be favorites as long as LeBron and AD are healthy. It should be a fun series, particularly with James going up against his buddy Chris Paul for the first time in the postseason. LA will have the experience and talent advantage, but Phoenix is going to be the much fresher team. One early quirk to keep an eye on—how much will Frank Vogel rely on Andre Drummond moving forward? The Lakers looked their best Wednesday with Davis as the long big, which has not been uncommon the last two seasons. Are the Lakers ready to commit to that look now that the stakes are ratcheted up?
The Warriors will face Memphis, who advanced to the play-in game after a win over the Spurs. Golden State defeated the Grizzlies on the last day of the regular season, largely on the back of a huge scoring night from Curry. The Dubs will be expected to move on, and they’ll have the big-game, winner-take-all chops the Grizzlies don’t. A fearless Ja Morant vs. a back-against-the-wall Steph definitely makes for a compelling tilt.
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