How the Lakers use their free throw advantage to beat the Warriors

LOS ANGELES – It was a first quarter like no one else had seen from LeBron James in the postseason: There were no field goal attempts. James saw D’Angelo Russell score the Lakers’ first 11 points of Game 3, and did not force it. But despite Russell’s early heat and the Lakers’ focus on starting Anthony Davis, the Golden State Warriors still led 30-23 after one quarter of play Saturday night.

When James finally attempted his first shot of the game, it was a 19-foot pull late in the shot clock that missed, and Golden State Warriors backup wing Moses Moody took a lead of 3 giving the Guests a 40-29 lead with 7:53 left in the first half. . But after Davis’ back-to-back buckets, Klay Thompson threw a bad pass that Davis stole, and the ball found its way into James’ hands.

James had yet to score when he was fouled by Stephen Curry on a fast break with 6:32 left in the first half. There was no choice for James not to look forward to signing up. Lakers were down seven. But then James hit two free throws, with a stray Steve Kerr attempt timeout ending between them, for his first points of the game.

“I think for our ball club, or anyone else – if you talk about players in the league who have the ability to score and score collectively, the best thing they can do is see the ball go over the edge,” said James. After the third game when I asked him about getting to the free throw line. “They’re called free throws for a reason, so you want to try to get up there and take them.”

From that point on, until Davis beat the second-quarter buzzer with a shutdown, James ended up outscoring the Warriors 10-8 himself to close out the first half. It was in the midst of a 22-point turnaround that saw the Lakers go from trailing 11 points to leading 59-48 at halftime. And in that time, James has made 5 of 6 free throws on his own while the Warriors have made only 1 as a team.

“I saw those two go down, and I think I followed that up with a transitional spin on Draymond (Green) with a buoy over the top,” James recalled. Then we managed to stop. I managed to knock 3 more off the bench. And then we just got started.”

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The defeat was continuing. The Warriors did not come close to nine points in the second half. There will be no lead changes. By the end of the night, the Lakers had a 2-1 series lead and the Warriors had a 127-97 win in Game 3.

James explained after he finished the game: 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

It all started on the free throw line, which is where the Lakers have dominated opponents all season – and the Warriors were at their weakest. In the first half, both teams kicked 18 field goals and eight goals 3 each. The Warriors had a 12-6 disadvantage in their turnover, but made up for it by beating the Lakers 7-1 on offensive rebounds to tie the battle for possession. But the Warriors made only 4 out of 6 free throws, while the Lakers made 15 out of 21.

Those margins outside of free throws remained unchanged in the third quarter: both teams with 26 field goals and 10 3s by the start of the fourth quarter, with the Warriors having 17 possessions to LA’s 10, but also having 11 offensive rebounds to four LA . The Lakers made 24 of 33 free throws through three quarters, and the Warriors only made 6 of their 8, giving the Lakers an 86-68 lead before laughing at the final period that saw Los Angeles lead by as much as 34 points. in trash time.

Overall, the Lakers outscored the Warriors 28-12 from the free throw line. It wasn’t the biggest margin of the series, however, as the Lakers won Game 1 in large part due to a 25-5 advantage on free throws. But Golden State managed to tie the series in Game 2 as both teams made 10 free throws each.

This is the first postseason where the team with the best free throw difference made in the regular season meets the team with the worst free throw difference made in the regular season. Despite suffering injuries to star players James and Davis, new head coach Darvin Hamm, and a roster that has been upended by several trades for new starters and other rotational pieces, the Lakers have consistently outperformed opponents from the free throw line.

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Using the second highest free throw attempt rate in the NBA and the best allowed free throw attempt rate, the Lakers outscored opponents by 372 points from the free throw line. On the other hand, the defending champion Warriors won by 275 points from the free throw line, having the worst free throw attempts rate in the league while ranking 23rd in the NBA in free throw attempts allowed.

Hamm was an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks under former head coach Mike Bodenholzer, where the Bucks led the NBA in average opponent free throw attempts in their 2021 championship regular season. Again in the 2011-12 season, Hamm was a first-year assistant with the Lakers under the leadership of Coach Mike Brown, the Lakers outscored their opponents by 301 points from the free throw line. For Hamm, it is of the utmost importance that his defense keeps his opponents away from the front line, and this is the solid foundation of his teachings.

“The free throw line is a huge, huge component when it comes to your success or failure in the game of basketball, specifically in the NBA,” Hamm said before Game 3. other places. We have workouts to do, we have a movie to watch. We have numbers to show guys. Just showing our hands, we know how tightly the games are now managed. You know, this is beyond your control. So you don’t know if the referee will call a foul or not. Sometimes, the position of your hand may be the reason for the whistle blowing. So we’re working so hard on just showing our hands when we’re doing our defensive faults when we’re competing for the edge in upright drills, in ball drills. We are constantly preaching and playing Show Your Hands.”

Budenholzer and Brown were assistant coaches under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs. All of Popovich’s championships have been won with the Spurs defense in the top 10 in average opposition free-throw attempts, and only the 2005 team was outside the top 5.

“Pop is more of a disciplined guy than Hamm,” said Lonnie Walker 4, the former Spurs guard and current Lakers reserve. the athlete When asked to explain learning about similar defense agendas. “I think more importantly, it’s just about reading the game plan, maintaining discipline. That’s one thing, being with Pop and the Spurs is, you know we take one thing, but we also give up another. You know, we can’t We take it all in.”

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Game 3’s gameplay showed Davis’ two-way prowess across the free throw line. Davis hit the track after a loose Game 2 game by tying it with eight errors. Half of those errors were on Draymond Green alone, including errors that resulted in Green getting a technical advantage in the second quarter and cost Kerr a coach challenge in the third quarter. Davis was able to amass game-highs 25 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and four blocks while committing only two personal fouls at 33:01. Davis attempted as many free throws made by the Warriors as a team (12), while Davis made more free throws than his field goal attempts.

“We just try not to miss in general, especially when we’re playing against a team like that,” said Davis after the third game as he finished with 28 plus. “They’re going to take pictures. They’re going to make some tough shots. And you don’t want to add to that by sending them to the free-throw line.”

The Lakers embarrassed the Warriors in Game 3, but they know not to get comfortable. Another game on the way Monday night. Hamm views the free throw line as a measure of Lakers success, and it will continue to determine how the series performs.

“We conceded 21 free throws in the first half,” Hamm said after Game 3, “and that’s a signal for us when we’re playing the right, offensive way, we’re playing physical.” More time on the clock. I’m sitting there, we’re ahead, and I just expect them to run eight or nine 3 seconds in like a minute and a half or something, crazy. It’s just constant paranoia and respect for who they are, who they were, and what they are capable of.”

(Photo by Anthony Davis: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

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