The Golden State Warriors crumbled against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, their dreams of winning back-to-back titles forcefully dashed with a 122-101 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Here are three reactions from the Dubs' all-too-familiar season-ending defeat to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena.
These Warriors go out the way they deserve
Golden State fell into a 24-9 hole midway through the first quarter of Game 6, helpless to handle James and Davis in the paint, clanking open jumpers from all over the floor and unable to stop fouling. That deficit was just five entering the second quarter after Stephen Curry's personal 8-0 run, and the Warriors were down seven points before Austin Reaves threw in a 50-footer at the halftime buzzer.
Don't be fooled by the Dubs keeping touch with the Lakers entering intermission, though. Nothing much changed after that hideous start, and any hopeful notion it would was pretty much gone once James went into takeover mode after the first few minutes of the second half.
The Warriors, it turns out, close 2022-23 as exactly the same team they were throughout a tumultuous, revealing and likely franchise-altering regular season.
“In my mind, we didn't feel like a championship team all year, but we have the guts and the fortitude to still believe and we made a pretty good push,” Steve Kerr said on the postgame podium. “We just couldn't get there.”
The same problems that dogged Golden State across the 82-game grind and for most of its second-round matchup with Los Angeles came to bear in Game 6.
The Warriors committed 13 more fouls than the Lakers, leading Darvin Ham's team to +21 advantage at the free-throw line. Los Angeles shot 13-of-26 from three, continuing a season-long trend of red-hot long-range shooting from opponents on the road. Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole were either missing shots or plain missing in action. The Lakers raced out to 22 fast-break points, their new playoff-high—and the most Golden State allowed on its (relatively) brief playoff run.
But nothing from Friday's action exemplified this team's missing championship DNA quite like one maddening defensive possession early in the fourth quarter.
The Dubs' zone defense had been fooling the Lakers. Poole roasted Lonnie Walker IV with a lightning-quick reject of a ball screen, finishing at the rim for an and-1. Curry was on the bench, chomping at the bit to return and extend that momentum even further following Dennis Schroder's soft ejection.
After a long dead ball, though, Thompson, Poole and Moses Moody somehow didn't know who they were guarding on a sideline out-of-bounds play. Rui Hachimura made the ensuing free throws, blocked Thompson at the rim on the other end, then James rumbled through Wiggins for a post-up and-1 while getting hit in the face.
Ham didn't send James and Davis off to rousing ovations until 3:45 remaining, his team up 116-94. Kerr only waved the white flag coming out of that same timeout. But the fate of this game was sealed much earlier, when the Warriors' lack of attention to detail and all-around connectedness was laid bare as they failed to matchup defensively with possibly less than 11 minutes left in their title defense.
There were similar moments littered across Game 6: A horde of unnecessary fouls that put the Lakers in the bonus and limited Green's minutes; two separate turnovers inbounding the ball after makes; rushed, difficult shots that count as wasted possessions.
Don't forget that the Dubs fared worse on the road this season than any other reigning champion in league history.
But that embarrassing gaffe with 10:40 left on the fourth-quarter game clock embodies these Warriors more than anything else, a real-time example of the missing cohesion always bound—that hindsight is crystal clear now—to prevent them from winning another ring.
Golden State goes ice cold at the wrong time
No team in the league got a higher percentage of its points from three this season than Golden State. What happens when Davis and the Lakers spook the Warriors into just 16-of-29 accuracy and only two drawn shooting fouls at the rim? That reliance on the long ball looms even larger, and it doomed the Warriors on Friday night.
The Dubs went 13-of-48 on triples in Game 6, good for 27.1% shooting—their lowest mark of the playoffs and fifth-worst of the season at large.
Bad shot selection and offensive process is hardly what prompted those rough, team-wide labors from beyond the arc. Golden State simply misfired again and again and again on looks it's fully capable of making.
Bizarro ‘Game 6 Klay' showed up at Crypto. Instead of leading the Warriors to a season-saving victory on the road with shot-making heroics typical of this point in a playoff series, Thompson finished with 8 points on 19 field goal attempts, including 2-of-12 from deep.
Even one of the five greatest shooters ever isn't immune to off nights. These are all jumpers you expect Klay to cash in.
Thompson missed two threes on the same trip after the Warriors—who would've been run off the floor if they didn't dominate the offensive glass, by the way—came down with his first miss. Curry misfired on a pair of jumpers on the same possession, too.
Each of these shots is one Curry and his teammates would want right back.
Live by the three, die by the three—especially against basketball's most feared rim-protector. Unfortunately for the Dubs, they were well on the wrong side of that extreme with the season on the line.
LeBron James, Lakers prey on Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole
James was the undisputed best player on the floor in Game 6 for the first time this series, and it wasn't particularly close. The way he dictated the action in the second half was LeBron's singular greatness in a nutshell, another reminder of why he's still making a case as the greatest player ever at 38 years old even absent the unsurpassed explosiveness that helped propel him to superstardom two decades ago.
James' brain and brawn proved more than enough to overwhelm the Warriors Friday night when he went on the hunt.
Curry and Poole were in James' crosshairs from the moment the third quarter tipped off. After willingly ceding a switch when James turned off chill mode in Los Angeles' pivotal Game 4 victory, Golden State avoided that strategy entirely, tasking Curry and Poole with hedging and recovering.
It didn't work, even when the ball didn't start in James' hands or the Dubs pre-switched screens to try and keep their most vulnerable defenders out of the play.
Look away, Dub Nation. You've seen this Lonnie Walker IV movie before.
It wasn't just James or pick-and-rolls that exposed Curry and Poole defensively. Both were abused by Hachimura in isolation when Los Angeles attacked them even more directly.
Poole was awful again in Game 6. Golden State needs him most offensively, of course, but the decision the front office could be forced to make on his future in San Francisco this summer extends to the other side of the ball.
If Poole isn't an abject positive night-in and night-out offensively, can the Dubs really afford to have another imminently exploitable defender in their playoff core beyond Curry going forward—who quietly took a step back on that end this season?
These aren't the ‘Strength in Numbers' Warriors. That unsurpassed wing depth and defensive versatility isn't coming. But Poole's sweeping offensive struggles in the postseason magnified his weaknesses on the other end even further, putting his tenure with the Dubs in greater doubt than ever not nine months after signing a big-money extension.