How the Lakers use their advantage to beat the Warriors at the free-throw line

LOS ANGELES — It was the first quarter in the postseason that no one had ever seen from LeBron James: No field goal attempts. James saw D’Angelo Russell score his first 11 points of Game 3 for the Lakers, and he didn’t force it. But despite Russell’s early heater and the Lakers’ emphasis on establishing Anthony Davis, the Golden State Warriors still led 30-23 after one quarter of play Saturday night.

The last time James made his first shot, a 19-foot pull-up missed in the shot clock, and Golden State Warriors backup wing Moses Moody hit a 3-pointer to give the visitors a 40-29 lead with 7 to go. :53 left in the first half. But after Davis bucketed, Klay Thompson threw a bad pass that Davis stole and the ball ended up in James’ hands.

James had yet to score when he was fouled by Stephen Curry on a fast break with 6:32 left in the first half. James had no choice but to score. The Lakers were down seven. But then James hit two free throws of his own, with Steve Kerr icing-try time running out in between, for the game’s first points.

“I think for our ballclub or anybody — if you’re talking about guys in the league who have the ability to score and score overall, the best thing they can do is watch the ball go through the rim,” James said. When I asked him after Game 3 about getting to the free-throw line. “They’re called free throws for a reason, so you’ve got to go out there and try to make them.”

From that point until Davis beat the second-quarter buzzer with a driving layup, James outscored the Warriors 10-8 to end the first half. Amid a 22-point turnaround, the Lakers rallied from an 11-point deficit to lead 59-48 at halftime. During that time, James made just 5 of 6 free throws, while the Warriors did just that as a team.

“I saw those two go down and I believe I followed that up with a transition spin move with a floater over Draymond (Green),” James recalled. “Then we were able to get a stop. I was able to hit another 3 off their bench. Then we started going.

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was on the way. The Warriors never got closer than nine points in the second half. There will be no lead changes. At the end of the night, the Lakers took a 2-1 series lead over the Warriors thanks to a 127-97 Game 3 win.

“We had an 11-point lead in seven first half at one point, so try to feed off the fans, feed off the defense and put pressure on them,” James explained. 21 points, eight rebounds and a game-high eight assists.

It all started at the free-throw line, where the Lakers have dominated opponents all season — and where the Warriors were most vulnerable. At halftime, both teams had made 18 field goals and eight 3s. The Warriors had a 12-6 turnover deficit, but made up for it by outscoring the Lakers 7-1 in offensive rebounds to tie the possession battle. But the Warriors made just 4 of 6 free throws, while the Lakers made 15 of 21 free throws.

Those margins outside of free throws remained the same in the third quarter: The Warriors had 17 turnovers to Los Angeles’ 10, with both teams making 26 field goals and 10 3s early in the fourth quarter, but had 11 offensive rebounds. Four of Los Angeles. The Lakers made 24 of 33 free throws in three quarters and the Warriors just 6 of 8 as Los Angeles led by as many as 34 points before the Lakers took an 86-68 lead into the final period. At garbage time.

Overall, the Lakers outscored the Warriors 28-12 from the free-throw line. It wasn’t even the biggest margin of the series, as the Lakers won Game 1 largely due to a 25-5 advantage in free throws. But Golden State managed to tie the series in Game 2 with both teams making 10 free throws each.

This is the first season in which the team with the best free throws made margin in the regular season meets the team with the worst free throws made margin in the regular season. Despite injuries to star players James and Davis under new head coach Darwin Hamm, and a roster transformed by multiple trades to acquire new starters and other rotation pieces, the Lakers continued to outscore opponents from the free-throw line. .

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Using the second-highest free-throw attempt rate in the NBA and the best free-throw attempt rate allowed, the Lakers outscored opponents by an NBA-high 372 points from the free-throw line. On the other hand, the defending champion Warriors were outscored by 275 points from the free-throw line thanks to a league-worst free-throw attempt rate, while ranking 23rd in the NBA in free-throw attempt rate allowed.

Hamm was an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks under former head coach Mike Budenholzer, where the Bucks led the NBA in opponent free-throw attempt rate during their 2021 championship regular season. During the 2011–12 season, Hamm was a first-year assistant with the Lakers under head coach Mike Brown, and the Lakers outscored opponents from the free-throw line by a league-best 301 points. For Hamm, keeping his defenses out of range is critical and is the foundation of his teaching.

“The free-throw line is the biggest, biggest component of your success or failure in a basketball game, especially in the NBA,” Hamm said before Game 3. “We come in and it’s a system that I helped build. Other places. We have drills, we have film that we watch. We have numbers to show guys. We show our hands and know how tight the games are now. You know, it’s out of your control. So you don’t know if the referee is going to call a foul or not. Sometimes, your hand placement can be the reason for the whistle. So we’re frantically working on showing our hands in vertical drills, competing at the rim in ball drills, doing our pick-and-roll defensive breakdowns. We continue to preach and show your hands.

Budenholzer and Brown have been assistants under Gregg Popovich with the San Antonio Spurs. All of Popovich’s championships were won by his Spurs defense ranking in the top 10 in opposing free-throw attempt rate, and only the 2005 team ranked outside the top five.

“Bob’s a decent guy compared to Hamm,” former Spurs guard and current Lakers reserve Lonnie Walker IV said. Athletic When asked to explain learning similar defensive agendas. “I think the most important thing is studying the game plan, being disciplined. The thing with Bob and the Spurs is that you know we take something, but we leave something else behind. You know, we can’t carry everything.

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The way Game 3 played out showed Davis’ two-way strength through the free-throw line. Davis got back on track after a poor Game 2, drawing eight fouls. Half of those fouls were on Draymond Green alone, including fouls that led to Green receiving a technical in the second quarter and a coach’s challenge to Kerr in the third quarter. Davis managed to collect a game-high 25 points, 13 rebounds, three steals and four blocks while picking up just two personal fouls in 33:01. Davis attempted more free throws than the Warriors made as a team (12), while Davis made more free throws than attempted field goals.

“We usually try not to foul, especially against a team like this,” Davis said after Game 3, where he finished with a plus-28. “They’re going to make shots. They’re going to take some tough shots. You don’t want to add to that by sending them to the free-throw line.

The Lakers embarrassed the Warriors in Game 3, but knew they wouldn’t be comfortable. There is another game on Monday night. Hamm sees the free-throw line as the barometer of Lakers success and will continue to determine how the series plays out.

“We had 21 free throws at halftime, and that’s a sign for us when we’re playing the right way offensively, when we’re playing physical,” Hamm said after Game 3. More time on the clock. I’m sitting there, we’re a bunch, and I’m expecting them to run eight, nine 3s in a minute and a half, crazy. It’s a constant paranoia and respect for who they are, who they are, and what they’re capable of.

(Photo by Anthony Davis: Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today)

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