LOS ANGELES — The Lakers‘ 127-97 Game 3 win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday meant that for the second consecutive series, Los Angeles started with a win, followed with a loss and then responded with another victory to go up 2-1.
With Los Angeles seemingly on a seesaw — losing by 27 on Thursday only to win by 30 two days later — LeBron James is urging his teammates to ignore the outside noise that comes in the aftermath of every game result.
“For the young guys that haven’t been a part of the postseason or haven’t had much experience in the postseason, just stay off the TV and stay off social media,” James advised after putting up 21 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. “You win a game, everybody is the greatest player in the world; you lose a game, they’re throwing dirt on you. It’s literally that simple. It’s all about training your mind for the next challenge. And, ‘What’s the next challenge? This game is over with, we played well. OK, cool. But we got another on Monday.'”
Anthony Davis has become the face of the Lakers’ postseason ups and downs, with some fans suggesting his nickname, AD, stands for “alternate days,” because of the disparity in his play from night to night.
While it’s only been nine games so far — a small sample size compared to the consistency he showed averaging 25.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 56 games in the regular season — the hot and cold play continued for Davis on Saturday.
He opened the series, notably, with 30 points and 23 rebounds in a Game 1 win. He followed with 11 and 7 in a Game 2 loss. And then it was 25 points and 13 rebounds in Game 3.
Davis, after the Lakers improved to 6-3 in the playoffs — 10 wins away from the title — said he hasn’t heard any critiques of his performances and doesn’t believe his approach has varied from game to game, even if his numbers have.
“I’m not on social media,” Davis said. “My teammates are not talking about it, my circle, my inner circle is not talking about it, so I have not [heard about it]. It’s crazy.”
Davis was 7-for-10 from the field in Game 3 and 11-for-12 from the foul line. He was 5-for-11 from the field (1-for-1 on free throws) in Game 2 and 11-for-19 (8-for-8 on free throws) in Game 1.
“The same shots I had in Game1, I had in Game 2. I made Game 1, I missed Game 2,” he said. “The same shots I had in Game 2, had in Game 3. And I missed in Game 2 and I made in Game 3. So, I look at it as I just missed shots. I didn’t do anything differently.
“I know, especially at this time of the year, I put it all on the floor and that’s all I can do.”
The biggest change in the Lakers’ approach in Game 3 was coach Darvin Ham having Lonnie Walker IV leapfrog over Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley in his rotation. Walker, who had played 27 minutes total in the playoffs coming into Saturday, had 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting in 25 minutes, adding four rebounds and two steals.
The biggest difference in the Lakers’ effectiveness was in their perimeter defense. After allowing the Warriors to make 42 3-pointers over the first two games — a record for the most 3s made over two games to open a series — Golden State shot 13-for-44 (29.5%) in Game 3.
“We’re one of the best defensive teams in the league, if not the best,” James said, repeating the same line he said after the Game 2 loss. “And in order for us to reach our potential, we have to defend at a high level. And there’s not one team in this league that tests you on that side more than Golden State.”
The Lakers know that nothing that happened in Game 3 — including D’Angelo Russell‘s 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, starting with the first 11 points in the first quarter — is a guaranteed harbinger of what’s to come in Monday’s Game 4 of this Western Conference semifinal in Los Angeles or Wednesday’s Game 5 in San Francisco or beyond.
Just as Ham has been preaching since the Lakers scrambled to make up for their 2-10 start to the season by qualifying for the play-in tournament, they can control playing with energy, effort and urgency.
Shots will fall. Shots will miss. Players’ legs will feel fresh one game and tired the next.
However, as James and Davis said on Saturday, the Lakers’ mindset can stay steady so long as they’re disciplined.
“Make no mistake about it, the deficit, us winning by whatever, 30 doesn’t represent who that team really is. Just like losing Game 2 doesn’t represent who we are,” Ham said. “This is going to be a battle to the end.”