At the moment it was the most banal of all pieces.
In hindsight, it signaled the shift in momentum that was cited as the turning point of Game 3 in this second-round NBA playoff series.
Fouled midway through the second quarter by Golden State’s Stephen Curry while the Lakers were five behind, LeBron James shot the Lakers’ first free throws of the quarter.
They wouldn’t be her last.
In the last 6 minutes and 32 seconds before halftime, the Lakers took 15 free throws and made 11, the Warriors produced more technical fouls (three) than free throws (one) and the Lakers’ 11-point deficit with 7:35 minutes remaining That Quarter became an 11-point halftime lead.
With Saturday’s 127-97 win, the Lakers lead the best-of-seven series 2-1 and head into Monday’s fourth game at the Crypto.com Arena.
“We understand what we have to do to keep them off the free-throw line, whether it’s calls we agree with or disagree with, which we didn’t do for most of the night,” said Curry, whose 23 points was a team-best. “But that’s not the only reason we lost.
“It’s just an awareness of how we’re trying to look good, be tough and physically on the defensive end of the floor, not fouling, to keep the pace where we want it and connect the game. It’s pretty easy. It’s just about doing it.”
The Warriors haven’t lost a postseason series to a Western Conference opponent since 2015 and won a road game in an NBA-record playoff series with 28 consecutive playoff series because not only do they own two of the NBA’s greatest shooters, but also problem solvers belong to the greats – always ready with a bucket and an answer.
They left Crypto.com Saturday night in search of more after losing first their poise, then their opportunity to maintain the series lead.
“We controlled the game, we were in pretty good shape. And that’s when we lost our balance,” said coach Steve Kerr.
Draymond Green, the Warriors forward known for his informed replies that resemble discourses rather than mere quotations, was succinct in his analysis.
“The game has stopped,” Green said. “They go to the free-throw line every time.”
The Lakers finished 28 for 37 from the line. The Warriors finished 12-17. Creating easy scoring chances is nothing new for the Lakers, who led the NBA in free throw differential during the season, but it was a necessity in the postseason. During the first two games of that series, they had the lowest percentage of effective field goals among the eight teams playing in the conference semifinals.
Three games in the series, free throws accounted for 18.3% of Lakers points, and among conference semifinalists, only Miami has scored a larger percentage of its points from the line. This is in stark contrast to the Warriors, where free throws account for only 8% of their points.
When asked what it was like to see the fouls keep piling up, Green replied hushedly, “It’s frustrating.”
It wasn’t just the free throws, as Curry suggested. Lakers coach Darvin Ham shifted the Lakers’ defensive assignments, put Jarred Vanderbilt on Green so the Lakers could switch him to Curry if Green would show up in pick-and-roll games, and assigned Anthony Davis to an ineffective JaMychal Green. Four of Draymond Green’s five fouls were drawn by Davis, with several on block-load calls.
“I will continue to play the same defense that I have played for 11 years,” Green said.
The Warriors committed 19 turnovers, with Klay Thompson responsible for six that he described as “inexcusable.”
Thompson added, “We got punky tonight.”
“Those 19 turnovers turned into 27 points, they took 20 more free throws than we did, so we added up all those numbers, and this was a Laker game, you know, dominated by the foul line and came out in transition because we didn’t do well with offensive possessions,” Kerr said. “So they controlled it.”
Thompson scored 15 points in his first away playoff game against the Lakers. Before the series moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, it was Thompson, who attended high school in Southern California, who described how much it would mean to him to play a playoff game there.
“I’ll enjoy it even more on Monday,” he said, “because I’m looking forward to catching up for myself and our team.”