SAN FRANCISCO — The contrasting styles between the Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers couldn’t have been clearer Tuesday night in Golden State’s 117-112 Game 1 loss to start the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Warriors had a 45-point advantage behind the 3-point line, conceding 21 threes to just six from the Lakers. Down below, the Lakers held a 26-point advantage, scoring 54 points in the paint while the Warriors totaled 28. The biggest difference, however, was at the free throw line.
Tuesday night’s refereeing team of Marc Davis, Ed Malloy and Nick Buchert didn’t exactly buy into the notion of home advantage with their whistles. They whistled the Warriors for 24 fouls, twice as many as the 12 that were called on the Lakers.
This led to the Lakers making 29 free throws, making 25 of them. The Warriors, within the friendly hardwood confines of the Chase Center, attempted six free throws all night and hit five. For our math crowd, that’s a 20-point advantage for the road team at the free throw line.
Andrew Wiggins, who made both of his free throw attempts, thinks the solution is simple for the Warriors and should be a change from the first warning.
“Be more energetic,” Wiggins said Wednesday. “Attack the basket more, be the aggressors.”
Throughout the regular season, no other team hit the line more frequently than the Lakers. They average 26.6 free throws per game. The Philadelphia 76ers (21.0) were the only team to shoot more free throws than the Lakers (20.6) per game.
But the Warriors were quite the opposite compared to their Southern California counterparts.
They ranked dead last in free throw attempts per game at 20.2. The San Antonio Spurs (22 wins) (15.8) were ranked last in free throws made per game. The Warriors barely finished ahead of them, averaging 16.0 free throws.
However, in the first round of the playoffs, the roles were reversed.
In six games against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers made 130 free throws, or 21.7 per game. The Warriors in seven games against the Kings made 176 free throws, or 25.1 per game.
Trying to shoot around the much taller and longer Lakers, the Warriors waited and waited and waited a little longer before shooting a single free throw. By the time the Warriors finally reached the line, the Lakers had shot 17 free throws and made 16.
Playing charity strip catch-up is an adjustment Steve Kerr knows the Warriors will have to make after feeling the opener in the series.
“That’s a good question,” Kerr said Wednesday. “I think we did some good things putting the ball in the paint, but you need to have an idea of (Anthony) Davis and their size and length before you can really understand exactly how you’re going to attack. I think That Game 1s are great for that reason. You feel it and you see it on tape, and then you can adjust from there.
“I just think we can play with more strength overall. I thought they were the more aggressive team last night. And with a bit more energy, a bit more strength, so I think that we are much more likely to attack and get to the foul line.”
There’s a reason 50% of the Warriors’ 106 shot attempts were 3-point shots in their Game 1 loss. The Lakers’ home defense is second to none, especially since the All-Star break and moves for players as an all-purpose defensive weapon in Jarred Vanderbilt. The Warriors saw 10 of their shots smashed as the Lakers made a statement and imposed their will.
Davis blocked four shots. LeBron James had three, Vanderbilt had two, and D’Angelo Russell even had one.
Still, the Warriors’ first free throw was fittingly the conclusion of a four-point play with Jordan Poole making a 3-pointer on Russell. There were just 38 seconds left in the first half when Poole headed for the line.
The Warriors entered the second quarter with a two-point lead and reason to feel confident for the next 36 minutes. Then they were outscored 36-33 in the second quarter, giving the Lakers a one-point halftime lead. The Lakers fired 13 free throws in the second quarter and the Warriors fired three – one from Poole and two from Wiggins.
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With their 10 blocked shots in Game 1, the Lakers are now averaging 9.3 blocks per playoff game. The Boston Celtics are second with an average of 6.7. Davis and company could very well keep counting their blocked shots. What needs to change is that Los Angeles feels challenged from the start.
For Kerr and Wiggins, “strength” and “aggressive” were the two buzzwords of the day, and for good reason. Now it’s up to many more warriors to keep their word and bring strength and aggression into Game 2 by slashing, slashing, driving, second chance points and whatever else is needed.
A victory is now essential before flying to Los Angeles and moving the series away from San Francisco.
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