The Golden State Warriors will never come back. Again, LeBron James was involved.
Led by 30 points from James, the Los Angeles Lakers shut out the Warriors 122-101 in Game 6 on Friday. They will face the Denver Nuggets, who advanced past the Phoenix Suns, in the Western Conference Finals on Thursday.
It was the first time the Warriors had been eliminated by a Western Conference team since hiring head coach Steve Kerr in 2014. They have reached the NBA Finals – winning four and losing twice to James and once to the Cleveland Cavaliers. For the Toronto Raptors — or missing the playoffs entirely in 2020 and 2021.
That 2021 campaign also ended in a play-in tournament, where they lost the first game to the Lakers.
James was outstanding as always, going 10-for-14 with 9 rebounds, 9 assists and 2 steals, while Anthony Davis dominated defense and on the boards with 17 points, 20 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. The Lakers joined the Miami Heat as the second team to reach the conference finals from the play-ins this postseason.
How do you stop the Warriors in an entire series? The answer is for Davis to protect the interior while remaining cool from 3-point range. The Warriors entered the game shooting 31.7% from deep in their previous three games.
The struggles came from every player as the Warriors typically rely on long-range shots. Stephen Curry wasn’t Stephen Curry, shooting an ineffective 11-for-28 for 32 points. With 3-of-19 shooting and 8 points, Klay Thompson certainly didn’t look like the Klay Thompson of old.
Jordan Poole, well, he’s gone missing again. Last year’s playoff breakout star ended a miserable streak with 7 points on 3-of-10 shooting.
The Lakers never trailed on Friday, jumping out to a double-digit lead midway through the first quarter. The Warriors led within single digits in the second overtime, but Austin Reaves’ halfcourt heave extended the Lakers’ lead to 10. Reaves finished the game with 20 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
That was as close as the Warriors would get for the rest of the game.
The Warriors never regained championship form this season
The series loss ends a tumultuous season for the Warriors, which began with a freak showdown between Poole and Draymond Green.
Over the years, the Warriors’ plan has been to bring in a new wave of young players — led by Poole, James Wiseman, Jonathan Cuminga and others — to keep the team among the NBA’s elite, but it took Curry and Co. to make the playoffs for them. Their bench was extremely weak throughout the season, and their aging core couldn’t cover the holes they were used to.
Golden State finished the regular season 44-38, sixth in the West, and needed seven games to hold off the Sacramento Kings in the first round. They were unlucky when they showed the same form in the next round.
How do the Lakers match up against the Nuggets?
While beating the Warriors was largely the NBA’s version of slaying the dragon, the Lakers’ next opponent will represent a tougher challenge.
Starting with MVP runner-up Nikola Jokic, the West’s top-ranked Nuggets have been excellent all season. Instead of holding down the paint alongside Green and Kevon Looney, Davis will be tasked with handling the best passing big man of all time playing with the best supporting cast of his career.
The Lakers are 2-2 against the Nuggets this season, and both James and Davis are sidelined with injuries. The Nuggets are obviously elite, but the Lakers’ pair of stars and post-trade deadline reinforcements give them the highest ceiling of anyone at this point.
Game 1 of the Western Conference finals is scheduled for Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., at Denver (ESPN).
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