Eight long years ago in this same playoff round, en route to their first title of this dynastic run, the Golden State Warriors pushed the edges of NBA defense by deciding to totally ignore Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen.

They didn’t merely abandon Allen — forcing the Grizzlies to almost play offense 4-on-5. They inverted positions by assigning their center, Andrew Bogut, as Allen’s nominal defender — and asking Bogut to hang near the paint regardless of where Allen was.

Defenses had long sagged from below-average perimeter shooters. But the league’s revamped illegal defense rules had given individual defenders more freedom. The Bogut-on-Allen gambit was a flashbulb moment in NBA coaching: Oh, we can take it that far?

It wasn’t long before teams deployed versions of that strategy against the Warriors themselves. Golden State has employed a long list of non-centers whom opposing defenses were and are mostly happy to let fly: Draymond Green (at times a center, of course), Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Gary Payton II.

The Warriors — really, the Splash Brothers — revolutionized the entire geometry of NBA offenses by expanding the universe of acceptable 3-point attempts. An under discussed ingredient in Golden State’s secret sauce was how it used those 3s to unlock shots at the rim via drives and cuts. If you stretched your defense outward in every direction, you risked exposing the paint.

That brings us today to Anthony Davis, who laid waste to the Warriors with 30 points, 23 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 blocks in the Los Angeles Lakers Game 1 road win. It is irresistible to frame this series around LeBron James and Stephen Curry, two all-time greats who have circled each other for a decade. But Davis is the epicenter of the series. He is the pivot point — the most important player. If he is the best player for the entirety of it, the Lakers can win.

Davis’ main job on defense is to ignore whatever non-shooter he’s guarding — Green or Kevon Looney — and vaporize the paint. The Warriors are not a heavy pick-and-roll machine. They run shooters around off-ball screens, hoping to pry catch-and-shoot 3s and get defenses scrambling. The Lakers are trying to shut those plays off before they happen.

Check out how Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder are guarding Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole as Moses Moody handles up top. Thompson and Poole want to jet around Looney’s pin down. Reaves and Schroder form a barricade — “top-locking” in NBA parlance. It’s hard to use a screen if you have to shove someone out of the way to get there. Cut backdoor, and Davis looms.

The Warriors have seen this hundreds of times in dozens of high-stakes games. In Game 1, they generated good looks by cutting backdoor — but short-circuiting those cuts early, sauntering into midrangers instead of breaching the Davis rejection zone. Thompson, Curry and Poole are smart taking circuitous routes against top-locking; instead of bulldozing toward the screen or slicing backdoor, they might meander across the middle before U-turning elsewhere.

The danger in the Lakers’ “ignore the non-shooters” scheme is what happens when one of the Warriors’ shooters is suddenly, somehow, rocketing around a pick from that non-shooter. If that pick hits and Davis is 20 feet away, a marksman steps into wide open space.

The Warriors weaponize your inattention against you. They can do this because of their unique personnel. Curry is the greatest shooter ever and can launch out of a dead sprint. Thompson is right behind him. Poole has picked up some of those elements. In Green — one designated “don’t guard him” screener — the Warriors have one of the greatest big man playmakers ever. Everything is fine, and then in a blink, you are underwater.

This is the life of opposing big men: Your job is to stay near the rim, but, umm, also, be ready to be at the 3-point arc in an instant. That is the Golden State yo-yo, and it is what Davis has to do at a very high level now.

Here’s LeBron yo-yoing in Game 1 — sinking back to deter Donte DiVincenzo‘s cut, then rushing outside when he realizes Curry is about to pop off Green’s pick.

That is exhausting. The alertness required to do that over and over drains you. Here’s Rui Hachimura, late to the party:

Trying to understand and anticipate the Warriors’ motion machine as it evolves game to game is unlike anything Hachimura has ever had to do. Hachimura has been a critical source of something-from-nothing points for the Lakers. He showed in Game 1 he can get traction against Golden State’s guards in the post when the Lakers are big and the Warriors are small. But this series will test his defense — and D’Angelo Russell‘s.

Here’s Davis making the mad yo-yo dash:

The Warriors often redirect their offense toward the court’s dead zones if there is profit to be had. Curry rides Schroder’s top-lock defense beyond Looney’s screen — seeming to almost walk out of the play — before darting back for that corner handoff. Davis is late, but a giant person with giant arms leaping at you is better than nothing.

The easiest way to beat this combination of top-locking and Davis paint-hanging is to give Curry (and sometimes Thompson and Poole) the ball at the top instead of making them come get it. You can’t top-lock someone if they bring the ball up. Curry ran only 22 pick-and-rolls in Game 1 — about 27 per 100 possessions, his 10th-lowest single-game figure this season, per Second Spectrum. (Interestingly, three of those nine below that one came in the first round against the Sacramento Kings.)

That number should be higher in Game 2. Using Davis’s man — Green, Looney, whoever — to screen for Curry is the only surefire way to drag Davis from the rim. How well Davis does corralling Curry and then scampering back to the paint is a key tipping point.

(A high-volume Curry pick-and-roll game typically has him running about 45 per 100 possessions. Luka Doncic and Trae Young routinely crack 75, per Second Spectrum. The Warriors mix is optimal for them. It fits their personnel. It makes them unpredictable. But this may be one of those series where tipping the scales a bit toward more pick-and-roll is the way.)

The Lakers could move Davis around to keep him out of the screening action. If the Warriors play small with Green at center and Payton II is also on the floor, the Lakers could stash Davis on Payton II and plant him in the paint. But then someone else has to defend Green, and wouldn’t you rather have the guy on the yo-yo be your best defender? Davis’ explosiveness and length give him more margin for error than any other Laker.

(The Lakers opened both halves with LeBron on Green, Davis on Looney and Jarred Vanderbilt hounding Curry. Even in that alignment, the Lakers did not switch the Curry-Green pick-and-roll — a switch that would have LeBron taking Curry and Vanderbilt toggling onto Green. The Warriors should perhaps peck at that a little more, even with Looney and Davis clogging the paint behind the play. It’s a way of making LeBron work and testing what the Lakers want to do.

Those assignments leave Russell on Andrew Wiggins, and the Warriors might have left money on the table going at that matchup. Wiggins can score against Russell in the post, and draw help. At the end of Game 1, Curry hunted Russell on switches and roasted him. The Warriors can do that from the jump by calling Curry-Wiggins pick-and-rolls. The occasional Curry isolation against Vanderbilt can work too.)

Lifting Davis would open juicier 2-point looks. The Warriors got plenty of 3s in Game 1 — 21 of them, 15 more than the Lakers hit. They need more 2s (and free throws). Against a defense as big and dialed in as the Lakers, it’s hard to open the paint with two non-shooters on the floor — even if the Warriors draw Davis out.

Look at the difference between these two pin downs for Thompson:

On the second — the missed 3 — Davis is so concerned about getting back to Looney that he walks away from Klay freaking Thompson even though Thompson’s defender (Troy Brown Jr.) is toast. I would suspect Davis knows none of his teammates are in the paint to swarm Looney. On the first play, the Warriors have Payton II in the game; he’s under the rim, with his man (Hachimura) ready to pounce on Looney. Between those plays, the Warriors replaced Payton with a shooter.

One of the stories of the Warriors’ confusing season is they have not found a trusted Green-at-center lineup. Steve Kerr had moved away from the once-vaunted Poole Party lineup — Curry, Poole, Thompson, Wiggins, Green — as a heavy-minutes group before busting it out in a last-ditch comeback attempt that worked. How much did that turbocharged rally change the team’s thinking?

Kerr last postseason grew to favor a bigger version of that lineup with Otto Porter Jr. in Poole’s spot. The size and versatility of the Porter/Wiggins/Green trio echoed past Death Lineup variants.

There is no Porter now. The Warriors hoped Jonathan Kuminga might claim a chunk of those minutes, and there is a place for him in this series as an all-court chaos engine who can spell some time guarding LeBron. Kuminga has logged nine combined minutes in Golden State’s past five games.

Kerr seems to have more faith in the version with Payton II in Poole’s spot; Payton is among the league’s best perimeter defenders, and can make plays as a screen-setter. But spacing can get clunky when he plays alongside either Green or Looney. The Curry/Thompson/DiVincenzo/Wiggins/Green quintet looks promising on paper; it has barely played.

Green-at-center groups tend to play fast, and the Warriors rallied to tie Game 1 when they mashed the accelerator. Whatever makes LeBron and Davis exert maximum energy is probably good for Golden State in a series that plays every other day. The Lakers play fast too, and their front office built a younger team around LeBron. The foundational Warriors are getting up there in age. But LeBron has played the second-most minutes of any player ever, and the burden on Davis is enormous; he played 44 minutes in Game 1, including the entire second half.

The Warriors can craft symphonies within clunky half-court spacing. Such is the luxury of pairing two of the greatest shooters ever. Some Curry-Green two-man actions will cascade into those patented Green-to-Looney tic-tac-toe sequences. But how and when to go smaller may be a more pressing issue for them in this series. Davis is that dominant on defense right now. And if the Warriors downsize more, he’ll have to do the same offense and on the glass. He looked more than ready in Game 1.

Some other scattered thoughts entering Game 2:

• The Warriors face their own version of this dilemma on defense with Vanderbilt. My guess before the series was that they would slot Green on Vanderbilt against the Lakers’ starters — allowing Green to rove. Golden State opened the game that way before swapping Curry onto Vanderbilt and Green onto Russell.

That was curious. Green can guard anyone. Curry is safe on Vanderbilt. That setup preserves Curry’s energy and minimizes his risk of foul trouble. But it removes Green’s help defense, and there is a cost for that:

With Green up high on Russell — and Curry in help position — Davis lopes into an easy layup on this corner set the Lakers ran several times. If you flip assignments, Green contests that shot.

• That said, the Lakers at times on offense are hunting Curry regardless of where he is. Slotting him onto Vanderbilt is a way of saying: If you’re going to hunt Steph, you have to do it using your worst offensive player. The Lakers had Vanderbilt set some ball screens for LeBron and their guards, but didn’t do too much damage.

• In their four consecutive Finals matchups, LeBron went at Curry by having Curry’s man set screens for him — forcing the Warriors to either switch Curry onto LeBron or put themselves into rotation. LeBron tried that a few times in Game 1, but it was striking how much more often the Lakers’ vehicle of choice was using Curry’s man — Russell, Reaves, Schroder — as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls with Davis (and sometimes LeBron.)

LeBron injected his classic bully-ball game in small doses — selective post-ups against Wiggins, Thompson and Payton II. The Lakers got good stuff out of that. They might need more of it. (Any minutes in which LeBron plays and both Wiggins and Green rest feel dangerous for the Warriors — an invitation for LeBron to dominate.)

But more than ever, this playoff run — and this whole season — is starting to feel like the official transition from LeBron to Davis as the Lakers undisputed No. 1 player. LeBron is 38. And yet: LeBron averaged 29 points, and every time anyone so much as whispers this, he puts up some preposterous 38-12-12 line with two demoralizing chase-down blocks just for kicks. Davis has to stay healthy to permanently claim that status.

• The genius of LeBron is how all-encompassing his impact can seem even when he is not doing as much with the ball — and missing tons of 3s. He is a lurking threat, always, on both ends. Teams fear him, know where is, overreact to every one of his movements. He is always in the right place as a help defender. He can work as an elite connector on offense, with cuts, screens and extra passes. Watch for LeBron to amp up his cutting and off-ball screening if the Warriors get even more brazen sloughing away from him.

• One trickle-down benefit of going small for Golden State: Green guarding Davis means the Warriors can more easily switch the LeBron-Davis pick-and-roll. Golden State has in the past switched Looney onto LeBron, but steered away from that in Game 1. Maybe they will test that out again soon.

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