NBA Playoffs – playoffs – working day 27
LeBron James and Stephen Curry have shown tonight why their clash will be in the minds of basketball fans for decades. The stars of the Lakers and Warriors have starred in an electrifying fourth game of the West semifinals. Golden State, current NBA champion, is on the ropes with a 3-1 series against its most hated rival in California. Not even an intense performance by Curry, who has registered a triple double, has prevented the fall (104-101). San Francisco will look to salvage the season at home on Wednesday.
Curry has registered this Monday the third triple double of his career in the playoffs. With 31 points, 10 boards and 14 assists, the point guard became the leader of his team’s offense. And he did it despite having a night with not-quite-calibrated 3-point sights. He made just 3 of 14 shots outside the area, a number that weighed down the Warriors at depth (they only made 12 of 41 3-pointers, 29%). His lethality, however, is enough for the 19,000 fans of the Crypto arena to keep a long silence while the number 30 drew a rainbow in the last seconds of the game. If the shot went in he was going to get the tie. The ball hit the rim and Anthony Davis got a crucial defensive rebound for the Lakers to secure possession in the final moments of the game. It was the second shot of two consecutive ones that failed and that could change the luck of the game.
Curry and his magic will now have to face a tough rival: statistics. Only on 13 occasions (out of more than 260) has a team managed to overcome a 3-1 loss. Only the Warriors, a team that has played six finals in eight years, are candidates to win at a probability that barely touches 5%. Not an unheard of feat for this very team. They did it in 2016, when they managed to come back from the series in seven games against the Oklahoma City Thunder of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Lakers had an unlikely hero tonight. No one played more minutes than Anthony Davis (43.06) and LeBron James (42.57), who had 27 points tonight and a block on Curry reminiscent of Andre Iguodala’s memorable block in the 2016 Cleveland-Golden State final. Lonnie Walker IV, a 24-year-old who was a starter until an injury relegated him to the bench, who has brought his team closer to the Western final that will be played against Phoenix or Denver. Walker, who was drafted by San Antonio in 2018 and arrived in Los Angeles last summer, had a rebound and two assists in the first three quarters.
It was another when he came off the bench in the fourth quarter. His team started seven points down on the scoreboard (84-77). Walker played every minute of the closing game. He seemed to be around on every play and hit shots wherever he parted with the ball. He scored six times inside the area, a triple and two free throws to settle his account with 15 points (of 27 converted by the Lakers). His performance outshone other teammates on the team. Among these, Anthony Davis, who made only two of 23 points in the last period. The power forward, however, had another stellar night on the board with 15 rebounds. Walker IV came close to being traded last January for the Lakers’ payroll cap. Tonight he was the trusted face of the team that continues in search of its 18th title.
“Lonnie Walker made all the difference,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr acknowledged in the locker room. “That’s what the playoffs are about. It is a closed game until someone enters the game and does something unexpected, “added the coach. Kerr proposed from the start a game that was more defensive, but could also be fast. He chose Gary Payton II as the starting piece in this strategy, with whom he hoped to limit the movements of D’Angelo Russell, who on Saturday scored 21 points in what has been his best game of the series.
The adjustment paid off. The Warriors went into halftime with a lead on the scoreboard, a difference they extended in the final period. Russell only had one basket from ten attempts inside the box in the entire game (four points). Instead, Payton II was a factor in the Warriors’ attack, as he scored 15 points in 23 minutes on the court. His performance contrasted with the low-key night of Klay Thompson, who had nine points and two assists in 41 minutes of action. Jordan Poole deserves a special mention, a player who was decisive last year for the Warriors to break through in the tie. Tonight, however, Poole didn’t score a single point despite playing 10 minutes. His performance was so weak that he didn’t see a single second in the final period. Questioned by the press about the low level of his partner, Curry said that he will not focus on anyone in particular and that it is the responsibility of the group to prove that the fate of the series is not cast.
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