The most anticipated matchup of the NBA’s play-in tournament is here as the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers put on a thriller in their showdown to determine who would lay claim to the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and who would have to play on Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. In the end, it was the defending champions who held on for a 103-100 win.
In the end, it was LeBron James who hit the game-winning 3-pointer to cap off his triple-double and lead Los Angeles to a playoff-clinching victory. The former MVP finished with 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 10 assists while Anthony Davis chipped in 25 points and 12 rebounds of his own to help Los Angeles’ cause.
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This game delivered on every level as LeBron James and Stephen Curry came up clutch for their respective teams to bring us to the conclusion we ultimately saw. With the Lakers moving on to face the Phoenix Suns, the Warriors will now have to shift their focus to another game on Friday night to keep their postseason hopes alive. Here are the three biggest takeaways from tonight’s Lakers victory.
1. Identity crisis resolved
The Lakers’ front office put Frank Vogel in a very difficult position this season. Last season’s roster was fairly easy to manage. It was essentially built to surround the superstars with shooting and defense, and that made lineup construction relatively simple. The decisions were usually as basic as “big or small” and “which shooters do we use?” But Rob Pelinka built a roster this season with 13 rotation-caliber players all with disparate skill sets, many of whom are headed for free agency in the offseason. Balancing that group has been a challenge all season. Good players often went weeks without playing. The regular season was largely spent experimenting with different combinations and trying to make sure everyone got the reps that they needed.
But down 13 in a playoff game, the Lakers no longer had time to experiment. They had to settle on their best groups or face elimination Friday, and from the middle of the third quarter onward, they used only seven players. James and Davis were no surprises. Neither were Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Alex Caruso. Those were arguably the three most important role players on last season’s championship team, and when the chips were down, Vogel trusted them again. They delivered, shooting a combined 50 percent from the floor while providing stellar defense and rebounding.