How Warriors took advantage of Anthony Davis-less Lakers en route to historic shooting night

The Warriors won’t be able to avoid Anthony Davis in a potential play-in matchup.

Warriors' Draymond Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with Lakers' LeBron James and Anthony Davis

Tuesday’s highly anticipated clash between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers could still very be a play-in tournament preview. Given the palpable two-way absence of Anthony Davis, though, most strategic takeaways from the Dubs’ victory won’t prove a harbinger of what’s likely to come in a do-or-die postseason battle.  Still, that reality hardly blunts burgeoning optimism about Golden State’s standing as 2023-24 comes to a close.

The Warriors out-classed the shorthanded Lakers at Crypto.com Arena, earning a 134-120 win in both teams’ biggest game of the season. Six players scored in double-figures for Golden State, led by 27 points on just 16 shots from Klay Thompson, playing his best basketball at exactly the right time. Stephen Curry needed just nine shots to drop 23 points in a hyper-efficient performance, while Andrew Wiggins scored from all three levels en route to 17 points of his own.

Golden State splashed a season-high 26 triples on 41 tries, with Draymond Green connecting on his first five attempts and Gary Payton II also hitting multiple long balls. The Warriors’ 63.4% shooting from beyond the arc marks a new NBA record for a team that took at least 40 three-pointers, according to ESPN.

Steve Kerr’s team doled out a whopping 37 assists on 47 makes, running Los Angeles’ defense ragged in both the halfcourt and open floor. That same spirit and energy largely carried over to the other side of the ball, where the Warriors racked up 12 blocks, just one off their season-high.

In a game Kerr shortened his rotation to exclude Moses Moody until garbage time, every regular player for the Dubs made their presence felt. Golden State’s bench outscored the Lakers’ 45-20, with Chris Paul leading a crucial late third quarter run and Brandin Podziemski playing with unbridled confidence and aggression offensively. Jonathan Kuminga never quote found his footing, but still made key plays on both sides of the ball.

After the game, Kerr acknowledged the Warriors—8-1 in their last nine games—are in the type of groove they’d been searching for all season. Regardless, he couldn’t help but admit how the outlier nature of their red-hot long-range shooting helped compensate for mistakes elsewhere.

“That was the game, basically. ‘Cause I didn’t feel like we played that well, but we made a million threes, so the ball was going in,” Kerr said. “But I didn’t think we were sharp. A lot of possessions where we just weren’t quite locked in, our passing was off-target, we were a little disjointed, but the ball kept going in. Draymond went 5-for-5 in a half; you don’t see that often. Everybody got going, and to shoot 63% from three, that’s crazy.”

The win moves the Warriors to 44-35, tied with the Lakers in the loss column and having just secured the head-to-head tiebreaker. Golden State now controls its own destiny for the nine seed in the Western Conference, potentially netting home-court advantage in that prospective play-in rematch with the purple-and-gold. If they get lots of help from the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans or Phoenix Suns and go undefeated, the Dubs can even move up to eighth.

“All we’ve talked about is just win. Take care of our business and see how everything else shakes out,” Kerr said. “So many teams are playing each other in the group that we’re in. You just never know. Gotta keep going, keep winning and see how it plays out.”

Anthony Davis’ absence looms large in Warriors’ win over Lakers

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (left) falls to the ground after shooting a three point basket against Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (right) during the second overtime at Chase Center
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Odds are still that Golden State meets Los Angeles in the 9-10 play-in game, whether from Chase Center or Crypto.com Arena. The Kings would have to lose twice in their last three games for the Warriors to have the chance to get the eight seed, while the New Orleans Pelicans or Phoenix Suns would have to lose all of their final three games of the regular season.

Let’s assume each of those teams get one more win to keep Golden State in the bottom of the play-in tournament, needing two victories to advance to the playoffs. The Lakers would await them in that scenario, and every indication suggests Davis—who arrived at the arena on Tuesday with hopes of playing—will have recovered from lingering effects of his eye injury to suit up for the postseason.

That prospective play-in game would look nothing like Tuesday’s. Darvin Ham’s team eliminated the Warriors from the second round of last year’s playoffs by deploying an aggressive defensive strategy that took full advantage of Davis’ unsurpassed length and mobility.

Giving perimeter defenders the arduous task of top-locking Curry and Thompson off the ball, Los Angeles often neutered Golden State’s vaunted halfcourt offense by sending everything toward Davis at the rim while preventing the Dubs’ best shooters from getting loose beyond the arc. That gambit wasn’t available on Tuesday with Davis sidelined, a strategic sea change compared to recent matchups between basketball’s glamor teams.

The Warriors’ offensive rating against Los Angeles with Davis on the floor this season is a strong 119.1, per NBA.com/stats. That number spikes all the way up to a ridiculous 130.6 with him on the bench, indicative of the Lakers’ “totally different look” defensively that Davis provides.

“It’s different when it’s AD out there,” Green said after the game. “He covers up so many mistakes, they can funnel things to him, so it’s a totally different look when he’s not on the floor.”

Make no mistake: Golden State’s streaky or subpar shooters will get plenty of open looks from deep in a play-in game against Los Angeles.

The Lakers will dare Green, Payton and even Kuminga to launch triples just like they did on Tuesday, surely making Wiggins and Podziemski prove it as well before paying them real attention behind the three-point line. Curry and Thompson will certainly shake free for their fair share of triples, especially when working on the ball.

Kerr and his coaching staff no doubt spent last summer stewing over failing to find an answer for Los Angeles’ defense. Kuminga’s development is a wrinkle that didn’t exist this time last year. Paul and Podziemski make this team much better suited to exploiting that type of defensive attack, too.

But none of that will change what the Warriors’ crucial win over the Lakers laid bare. There’s just no way for Los Angeles to replicate the defense influence of Davis, and Golden State—even when not setting shooting records—is a much different offensive outfit when he’s unavailable.