SAN FRANCISCO — Ahead of Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Los Angeles Lakers, Warriors coach Steve Kerr sat at the podium during his pregame news conference touting his confidence in his team.
Coming off a Game 1 loss, Kerr said he believed in the Warriors’ ability to make the correct adjustments needed and bounce back.
Golden State followed its coach’s words and overwhelmingly beat the Lakers 127-100 to tie the series at one game apiece.
The Warriors’ major adjustment in Game 2 was going small, removing Kevon Looney from the starting lineup and replacing him with JaMychal Green.
Green as Looney’s replacement came as some surprise, but the Warriors accomplished what they set out to do — get out in transition and push the pace.
“It’s using our strengths to our advantage,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “You have to give up something. So as long as we’re decisive and our floor is spaced properly, usually can find a good shot, and then you’ve just got to knock them down.”
Starting Green was a decision made for two reasons: One was to keep the floor spacing by having more of a shooter in the lineup. The other was to keep somewhat of a bigger body on the floor to combat the Lakers’ size, instead of another guard such as Jordan Poole or Donte DiVincenzo — two players the Warriors often go to when starting small.
“With Loon not being in the lineup, we knew we needed some dog out there, and he stepped up for us in a big way,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said.
Lakers forward LeBron James added, “JaMychal gave them big time. Those 12 minutes felt like 24 minutes, 30 minutes. He was big time for their team in the starting role tonight, too.”
Draymond Green said it was the Warriors’ defense that fueled their offense — a pillar of Golden State’s mentality over the past decade.
And the Warriors relied heavily on Draymond Green as their “big man” for much of that defense. Following his Game 1 performance, which he described as “disgusting,” Green was assigned the tall task of being the primary defender on Anthony Davis. With Green as the primary defender in Game 2, Davis went 4-of-8 from the floor and averaged 0.89 points per play. In Game 1, Davis shot 8-of-12 against Looney, who took the main assignment.
Draymond Green finished just two assists shy of a triple-double, putting up 11 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists.
Perhaps the biggest sign of the Warriors’ improved defense was at the free throw line. One game after Los Angeles attempted 29 free throws — 24 more than Golden State — the Lakers took just 17, making 10 of them.
“We met force with force,” Draymond Green said. “We fouled so much the last game and we were on the free throw line and it seemed like every play. That’s tough. That’s a great defensive team. You’re playing against that defense every time down the floor just set waiting on you to come down, it’s a lot tougher to score. I think our defense led to some better offense for us.”
“These are moments you work for. Those short moments of euphoria and that flow state where you just feel like you can’t miss, make all those hard days more than worth it. I was just trying to get the crowd going and it’s always fun when you shoot the ball well.”
Golden State also went 21-of-42 from 3, compared to the Lakers’ 10-of-34 shooting from distance. The Warriors have 42 3-pointers so far this series — 26 more than the Lakers — the most over a two-game span in Warriors postseason history and tied for the second most over a two-game span in NBA playoff history.
The 26 more made 3-pointers the Warriors have over the Lakers are tied for the third-best 3-point differential in a two-game span in any playoff series.
Klay Thompson scored 30 points — 14 of which came in the third quarter — on 11-of-18 shooting, including 8-of-11 from 3. Thompson now leads the NBA in postseason games with at least seven made 3-pointers with 12.
“These are moments you work for,” Thompson said. “Those short moments of euphoria and that flow state where you just feel like you can’t miss, make all those hard days more than worth it. I was just trying to get the crowd going, and it’s always fun when you shoot the ball well.”
Meanwhile, as Curry navigated through foul trouble, he took a backseat on scoring and instead took on a more traditional point guard role through playmaking.
He recorded a postseason-half-high eight assists in the first half before totaling 12 on the night, the most he has had in a playoff game since 2015.
During the Warriors’ 8-0 run through the first three minutes of the second quarter — a stretch that featured a lineup of Andrew Wiggins, Thompson, DiVincenzo, Curry and Looney — all of Golden State’s buckets were assisted by Curry.
“I’m capable of playing a lot of different ways,” Curry said. “As long as we are just creating open shots, no matter who is taking them — and obviously tonight I didn’t have a lot of open ones for a reason — make the right decision. The ball finds the right person, and good things happen.”
Curry was double-teamed on 10 plays in Game 2. On those plays, the Warriors shot 6-of-9, including 4-of-6 off passes from Curry.
This is also just the second time in Curry’s playoff career that he had as many or more assists than field goal attempts in a game, as he scored 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting.
Spreading the floor and beating Los Angeles with 3-point shooting and ball movement was always part of Golden State’s game plan for this series. And after the Warriors’ Game 1 loss, they knew they had to make the correct adjustments to get them there.
It’s similar to how they navigated their first-round series against the Sacramento Kings.
“They’re always trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube every game, and it starts at a different place,” Curry said. “And that’s the beauty of basketball and the way that you see it. I love that part of the game.”
As the series heads to Los Angeles, Curry knows the Lakers, who claim to still have the best defense in the league, will make the adjustments they feel necessary to take the Warriors out of their rhythm.
“We found some success there and then [the Kings] tried to respond to that and we figured that out,” Curry said. “So I assume that will happen with L.A., same kind of vibe, but we’ll have an answer for all of it.”