Beating The Warriors Reveals Magic and Pelinka’s Genius

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors on December 25, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Fresh off of a win against the back to back champion Warriors in a marquee matchup, the young Lakers are brimming with confidence after pulverizing their opponent without Lebron James for nearly all of the second half. When teams blowout the Warriors a “bad shooting” night for the trio of Durant, Curry, and Klay is usually the main reason. In last night’s win, the Warriors missed some open shots but that isn’t just because they were missing them on their own. The Lakers executed a defensive game plan that involved excellent coordination and effort in order to disrupt the trio from getting quality looks.

“We wanted to surround LeBron James with versatile defenders”

Rob Pelinka

In July 2018 after nabbing the most coveted free agent of the off season in James, the front office made several free agent acquisitions that left fans with scratching their heads while the Lakers were repeatedly on the receiving end of jokes courtesy of the media.

Even after a press conference with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson in which both of them mentioned how important it was to build a roster of versatile players on both ends of the court, many fans and media members alike were concerned with the strategy. Fans as always remained optimistic and Pelinka re-stated that the goal was to build a roster of multi-faceted players to beat the current gold standard of the NBA.

“We did not want to go out and just sign specialists…we wanted tough two-way players that can defend with a level of toughness and also make shots”

Rob Pelinka

Fast forward to the first matchup against the Warriors, the Lakers have managed to survive all kinds of different hiccups along the way to a 20-14 record including suspensions to Ingram and Rondo, Ingram’s ankle sprain, Rondo’s fractured hand, and recently Javale McGee’s respiratory infection. Despite the many issues, Luke Walton has managed to patch up the Laker rotation as best as he can guiding the team to those wins. The most recent win was by far the most complete game on the defensive end that the Lakers have played so far and each player that recorded any minutes was crucial to the blowout victory against the Warriors

Tracking Klay Thompson

One of Klay Thompson’s best skills aside from his shooting is how he comes off of screens from his teammates. His nearly automatic shooting motion doesn’t require much of a shooting window and the Warriors usually like to go to him for some easy looks in his shooting spots.

Often with players like Klay the usual idea is to play enough length on him to disturb his shot but as his career has progressed, Klay has become more and more unaffected by strong closeouts. The Lakers gameplan for Klay involved not only attempting to disturb his shot but making sure that as a team they disrupted his rhythm prior to getting his shot off.

In the sequence below Klay makes a move to the free throw line after getting a down screen from Looney with Kuzma close behind him. Lebron immediately jumps into the space off of Draymond taking away the free throw line pull up jumper forcing Klay to gather his dribble take an off balance contested floater instead

Even after getting the ball back, Lonzo doesn’t leave his assignment and helps disrupt Klay’s dribble allowing Kuzma to contest his pull up jumper again

On the next sequence, Ingram sticks with Klay as the Warriors run their misdirection down screen. Klay lazily jogs towards the baseline then quickly accelerates through another screen for a look. Ingram recognizes the sudden change and keeps pace with Klay ultimately challenging his shot.

Klay ended up taking 7 shots total last night and part of the reason for that is because the Lakers team effort in disrupting Klay’s rhythm early in the game forced Kerr to not run those sets later.

Lonzo vs Curry

From the player tracking data available Lonzo was recorded handling Curry on roughly 31 possessions resulting in Curry only attempting 3 shots, drawing 2 shooting fouls, and Lonzo drawing an offensive foul. Like Klay, guarding Curry is not something that can be done easily one on one because a lot of Curry’s looks come from getting screens from his teammates. Curry’s quick strike ability catches every team off guard because of how artfully he utilizes his screens and the small window he needs to shoot.

But just like we saw with Klay. The Lakers as a team led by Lonzo’s excellent footwork and quick hands did enough to disrupt the offensive sets for Curry. Lonzo’s ability to stay attached and keep within arm’s reach to Curry had a big part in disrupting his rhythm.

In the sequence below Zubac helps after Lonzo gets screened and recovers. On Klay’s run to the corner Hart takes a swipe forcing Curry to pick up and give the ball up to get it back, only this time Lonzo is already ready to closeout and forces Curry back towards Zubac again.

Later in the second half Curry tries to create a look for himself by quickly running to the corner early in the shot clock and using his screener like a lead blocker. Lonzo is ready and waiting as Curry is forced to take a fade away three after Lonzo expertly recovers to the correct side of the screen.

Part of what is so frustrating about being guarded by Lonzo is that his ability to stay attached to his assignment throughout the game results in limited “clean shooting” opportunities so when offensive players finally get the space they need, they are often rushing to get their shot off.

Keeping Durant One-Dimensional

Unlike his teammates, Durant doesn’t typically get as many off the ball screens called for him and Brandon Ingram did a great job with some late contests throughout the game. When checking out Durant’s passing dashboard throughout the year we find that there is usually a pretty even distribution between Steph and Klay regarding who Durant likes to pass to.

Because of the Lakers outstanding defense on Steph and Klay, Durant ended sending most of his passes (outside of Steph) to Draymond, Iguodala, and Looney.

Breaking the passing chemistry between Durant, Klay, and Curry is key in helping disrupt how the trio feeds off each other on the offensive end.

During this sideline out of bounds sequence, Brandon fights through two screens and gets his leading hand up in the air enough to late contest Durant’s three point shot.

Draymond Moonlights as a Brick Layer

The most interesting new wrinkle in the Lakers team defense against the Warriors was Lebron playing his “roving” zone defense off of Draymond.

The Lakers spent the entire game remaining disciplined on that end. Lebron would regularly occupy the space around the free throw line which took away a lot of straight line drives for the Warriors. Even without Lebron, the Lakers remained disciplined by having his Draymond’s defender parked at the free throw line. This fantastic scheme essentially negates the “play-making ability” Draymond is lauded for as he is forced to either make risky passes or shoot the ball.

In the sequence below Lebron literally turns around and the Lakers play a 5 on 4 zone against the Warriors waiting to see where the ball eventually goes. After the straight line drive by Durant with the dump off to Looney, the ball gets kicked out to Draymond and neither Lonzo nor Kuzma rotate from their assignments to Draymond.

Even on the next sequence, KCP tracks Curry’s backdoor play and denies him the ability to use Livingston’s down screen. Lance shadows Curry as he eventually moves through the key and when Livingston gets the ball from Draymond, both Lance and Zubac close up on Livingston. The end result is a kick out to Draymond. More importantly, even though Draymond gets a wide open look, Hart never leaves Klay to contest Draymond.

In entirety the Lakers defensive game plan for the Warriors was superb. They never strayed away from their assignments and thanks to some great offensive play from Rondo, Lance, Zubac as well as some fantastic defensive effort from the young core the Lakers were able to stave off a huge run from the Warriors and clobber them handily.

Though it was one game, the Warriors matchup is one that has been circled multiple times over for these Lakers and for them to defeat the darlings of the NBA without their superstar for half of the game and Javale for the entire game is tremendous step forward in building the foundation needed to be a champion.