How the Lakers played the role of Grinch to upset the Warriors on the road

December 25, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton (left) instructs forward LeBron James (23) during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers got their best win of the season so far on Tuesday, defeating the Golden State Warriors on the biggest stage the regular season has to offer. The Lakers were dominant in their 127 to 101 thrashing of the defending champions, never relinquishing the lead after the 3:45 mark of the first quarter.

It was a team effort for the Lakers, who faltered after a third-quarter injury to LeBron James before regaining the momentum, to secure the significant win. James recorded 17 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in only 21 minutes before being taken out of the game due to a strained groin. He was aided by double-digit scoring from six other Lakers and arguably the team’s best collective defensive performance of the year.

The Lakers played a nearly flawless game in Oakland on Christmas. They recorded 27 assists on 47 made field goals and only turned the ball over 12 times. They took 33 3-point attempts and hit on 13 of them and even made 20 of 27 free-throw attempts.

But it was the Lakers defense that ultimately won them the game, holding the Warriors to 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 9-of-36 from behind the arc. In order to get to that point, the Lakers played some of their most innovative defense of the season, showcasing just how they might match up against the Warriors loaded roster.


From the moment they hit their first shot, the Lakers harassed Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, having Lonzo Ball guard him full court. This proved to be worthwhile, taking Curry (15 points on 5-17 shooting) out of rhythm and disrupting the flow of the Warriors’ offense.

In the halfcourt, they crossmatched to get their preferred matchups: Kyle Kuzma chasing Klay Thompson around screens, Brandon Ingram matching Kevin Durant’s length and LeBron James playing free safety while “guarding” Draymond Green.

James’ defense on Green turned into a trend for the Lakers who routinely sagged off of the Warriors non-shooters to muck up driving lanes. That gamble paid off as Green did not hit a 3-pointer in three attempts. In fact, outside of the sweet-shooting trio of Curry, Thompson and Durant, only Andre Iguodala managed to hit a 3-pointer (3-5) with the other Warriors combining to miss all 12 of their attempts.

Here’s a look at the Lakers defense on all three of Green’s 3-point attempts on the night. Note that he did not take any after the 7:45 mark of the second quarter:




The Lakers were incredibly disciplined in their gameplan. They ran Thompson off the 3-point line to the tune of only three attempts while taking their chances against other spot-up shooters. Luke Walton even took a page out of his old boss’s notebook, guarding Andre Iguodala with Tyson Chandler to let his center roam free near the paint. While Iguodala had a phenomenal game, scoring 23 points (9-12 from the field and 3-5 from three), the Lakers never blinked and continued to guard him the same way in an effort to continue making the game difficult for Curry, Durant and Thompson.

In certain lineups, the Lakers became even more bold, sagging off almost every Warrior to pack the paint and double-team Durant. On this possession, the non-KD Warriors on the court have 3-point shooting percentages of zero, 38.5, 35.7 and zero percent. The two who have actually made a shot from behind the arc this year are Jonas Jerebko and Iguodala, both of whom are low-volume shooters. The possession ended in Jerebko dribbling into a long two which he missed.

When the Warriors attempted to counteract the Lakers conservative defense by having Green screen for Curry in pick-and-rolls, the Lakers responded by doubling the point guard at half-court to force him to get rid of the ball, diminishing the risk of the ever-dangerous pullup 3-pointer from the best shooter in the game. The Warriors had to then move their pick-and-roll actions further away from the arc, once again allowing the Lakers to sag off of Green while prioritizing staying with Curry.

The Lakers continued their game plan all night, using it to slow down the Warriors’ offense and get enough of their own using Rajon Rondo’s resurgence in the second half without James. They received quite a bit of good luck as well; it’s not often you see Stephen Curry shoot 2-of-8 from three and miss some wide open looks. But they also created their own luck by taking the Warriors out of their rhythm, getting hands in passing lanes (ten deflections) and generally took the Warriors out of their game.

What the Lakers did wasn’t innovative but it was an extreme example of how the Warriors can be slowed down. The Dubs shoot 38 percent from three on the year (good for fourth in the league) but 23.3 of their 31.5 3-point attempts per game come from the trio of Curry, Durant ant Thompson. Their role players and Green are uncomfortable taking a large number of shots from deep and it showed in how their offense faltered against the Lakers.

The idea that “jump shooting teams” can’t succeed is false as the Warriors have shown over the past four years. But the type of jump shots that they take can be indicative of their success level. Against the Lakers, the Warriors took a lot of midrange jumpers and took a lot of 3-pointers that Luke Walton was happy to give up.


More importantly, by taking Green out of the game early, the Lakers forced him into poor decisions, more bad shots and significantly less focus on both ends of the floor.

In short, the Lakers dared anyone not named Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson to beat them. Lonzo Ball, in particular, did a phenomenal job taking Curry away from the Warriors offense as the point guard only attempted five shots in 29 possessions where he was guarded by Ball, according to matchup data. Andre Iguodala did his best to be an impact contributor but the Warriors (I can’t believe I’m typing this) did not have enough weapons to counteract the Lakers’ aggressive defense. [Editor’s note: They did not have best player alive Ivica Zubac.]

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