LOS ANGELES — Heading into Game 3, there was a buzz around this city. A city that is usually too cool to get amped up about much of anything.
But this isn’t just anything. This is the Lakers, Hollywood’s favorite form of entertainment, back in the playoffs.
And on Saturday night, the Lakers played to the crowd, treating Kim Kardashian and Adele, Michael B. Jordan and Dustin Hoffman to an action-packed disaster flick. They were the iceberg and the Golden State Warriors were the Titanic. The Lakers demolished the Warriors 127-97 in Game 3 and now have a two-games-to-one lead in the series.
“You find yourself in a lot of different scenarios,” Stephen Curry said, noting that this is the 29th playoff series that he, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have played in in the past decade.
“You can draw back on anything and this is one of the scenarios that we’ve been in and responded. That’s why I sit up here with a lot of confidence that we can do what we need to do to win Game 4. … Throw this one in the garbage and move on.”
The Warriors were in this exact scenario last June, down 2-1 to Boston with Game 4 on the road. You’ll recall how that one turned out.
The Warriors have a wealth of experience, much of it recent. The iconic Lakers don’t have as much recent history to pull on, which is why this series feels like such a big deal.
The Lakers are so giddy about how far they’ve gotten this postseason that their freebie T-shirts on Saturday read Lakers: California State Championship. With the Kings and Clippers eliminated, if the Lakers beat the Warriors, they would indeed be the California champions. But that’s a little like when Jerry Glanville made a “California Championship” trophy to commemorate his Falcons sweeping the 49ers, Rams, Raiders and Chargers back in 1991. It’s an amateur hour move, not what you expect from one of the greatest franchises in sports history.
But the Lakers haven’t had much to flex about for awhile. They haven’t been in the second round of a non-bubbled playoffs since 2012. That’s so long ago that it would still be four more years before Kobe Bryant retired. So long ago that Mike Brown was the coach. A lifetime for a proud franchise like the Lakers. They won a title in 2020 but it wasn’t showtime: it was down in a Florida bubble, no fans allowed.
So, the celebrities packed the fancy seats and clubs (and shunned those cheesy T-shirts). Though there were plenty of vocal Warriors fans in attendance, the Laker faithful were hyped. Before the game, Steve Kerr warned about being able to match “the force in this building from the fans.”
The Warriors didn’t come close to matching it. After a strong first quarter when it looked like they could dictate pace and find shots at will, the Warriors collapsed.
“We lost our poise,” Kerr said. “It’s a tough environment. You’re on the road in a playoff game.”
The game devolved into a choppy, whistle-filled slog, just the way the Lakers like it.
“We was getting to where we wanted to get to and then the game stopped,” Green said.
By stopped, he meant that the officials stopped it. Over and over. The game was very much like Game 1, in terms of fouls called. There was a huge free-throw disparity: the Lakers went to the line 37 times while the Warriors shot just 17 free throws. The Warriors were whistled for four technical fouls — one a flagrant on Moses Moody — while the Lakers received one tech.
The Warriors let their frustration show on defense. And that irritation seemed to overflow into their offense, where they were rushed and sloppy. They turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 27 Lakers points. Klay Thompson, who might have been too excited to play at the arena where he went to games as a youth, against the team he worshiped as a kid, had a career playoff high six turnovers.
“I’ll enjoy it even more Monday,” Thompson said, of playing in front of family and friends, “because I’m looking forward to a bounce-back performance from myself and the whole team.”
This has been a whiplash series. Each game has been dominated by one team. Momentum doesn’t carry between games. In Games 1 and 3 the Lakers have been able to play the game they want. In Game 2 the Warriors dictated the pace and played their style.
“That’s kind of the nature of a playoff series,” Curry said. “Especially because of how drastically different we play.
‘We understand the things we have to do. It’s pretty simple. It’s just a matter of doing it.’
Anthony Davis stayed true to his Alternate Day pattern, coming on strong on Saturday. Early on LeBron James looked like he was going to have an off night, on what was a big day for him. His son Bronny committed to USC earlier in the day and was one of the ‘celebrities’ shown on the big screen.
Though ABC cameras caught James shooting at Crypto.com Arena almost four hours before tip, he didn’t take a single shot in the first quarter, for the first time since his rookie season.
But any thought that James was going to have a quiet night was quickly dismissed. He finished with 21 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds. He was hustling. In the third quarter, he flew back on defense, chasing Andrew Wiggins down so quickly that he hurdled the two rows of baseline seats and leaped up seven rows, almost landing in my media seating row, before coming to a stop.
The biggest number in the box score might have been 32 and 33. Those are the number of minutes James and Davis, respectively, played. That means the Warriors didn’t succeed in wearing out the Lakers key players. But, by the same token, Curry and Thompson only played 32 minutes each and Green, in early foul trouble again, only played 23. So, all the key players will be rested for a critical Game 4.
‘The last series proved we could figure it out,’ Curry said of the Kings series, when the Warriors also trailed 2-1, though with Game 4 at home. ‘Unfortunately we have to do it again.
‘It’s not ideal … but it’s not the end of the world for us.’