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  • Writer's pictureJoshua U.

Lakers/Warriors: You Can't Hide Your Habits

So... the LeBron vs Steph hype dominated the headlines before this second-round series tipped off.


Those two superpowers and their all-time places in history have been widely discussed on sports talk television/radio, and by fans everywhere before Game 1 (and throughout the series to date).


And while both Curry and James have had their fair share of individual moments through 4 games, it’s been the supporting actors that have swung the pendulum in each game this series.


In Game 1, Anthony Davis’ dominance took center stage, with the Brow going for 30 pts, 23 rebs and more than a handful of blocked shots in a tight Lakers win on 'Warriors Ground.' Game 2 saw Klay Thompson pop off for 8 three-pointers as the Warriors won handily. Game 3 was complete Laker dominance from the second quarter on, blowing out the champs by an even 30 with powerful aggressiveness on both ends of the floor.


In last night’s Game 4 — An unsung hero got a timely opportunity and made the absolute most of it for the Lakers.

Lonnie Walker’s ”IV Quarter” saw the 5th-year pro and 1st-year Laker score all 15 of his points in the final period, which fell two points shy of the ENTIRE Warriors’ team total in the 4th (Golden State mustered just 17 points in the frame). Walker was THE key in the Lakers overcoming a 7-point deficit in the 4th to defeat the Warriors, 104-101, to take a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.



IMAGE: Lakers' Lonnie Walker IV connects on a jumper over Warriors' Stephen Curry in the midst of Walker IV's heroic 15-point 4th quarter performance in Game 4.


It was a phenomenal game to watch. As LeBron James said during the postgame on-court interview, the defending champion Warriors were throwing "haymaker after haymaker after haymaker", but the Lakers "stayed in the fight". Spot-on synopsis from LeBron as far as I'm concerned. Golden State came out with the requisite focus, determination and desperation required with their backs up against the wall coming in. A keen pregame adjustment made by Warriors HC Steve Kerr to start Gary Payton II with the intention to pull Anthony Davis out of the paint and out to the perimeter paid early dividends. The Lakers rolled with the punches every single step of the way, which was paramount in hanging around and making their deficit after three quarters of play very, very manageable. Before the 4th quarter got underway, Lakers' rookie HC Darvin Ham had some tough decisions to make. LeBron James, Anthony Davis & guard creators Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder had all played heavy minutes already with still a full quarter to play. D'Angelo Russell hadn't been contributing much of anything, as he stood at 1-10 shooting from the field. Ham needed fresh legs -- someone that could come into the game and provide a spark offensively... and immediately.


And here lies the power in simply staying ready.


Ham already knew he could count on Walker IV. Towards the winding-down stages of the Warriors' 27-point blowout win in Game 2, Walker was called upon for mop-up duty to start the 4th quarter. Now, he could've easily gone through the motions and just played the final 12 minutes out in anticipation of heading back home to LA for G3. Instead, #4 impressed with 9 points on 4/8 shooting.


Before the Lakers' sweeping changes around February's trade deadline, Lonnie Walker was a regular starter for the squad, starting a near-career high 32 games. However, with new additions like D'Angelo Russell, Rui Hachimura, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley, all of whom immediately entered the Lakers' rotation upon arrival, playing time began to grow scarcer and scarcer for Lonnie.


One cannot overstate how easy it would've been for a guy in Walker's situation to pout & mope, being completely out of the rotation at the start of the postseason. I mean -- the Lakers had already been experiencing that type of behavior in their locker room earlier in the season with guys like Russell Westbrook and Patrick Beverley.


Lonnie instead made the choice to stay ready and play the long game.


Now, because of that: he's the hero if the Lakers can indeed win one last game over the defending champs to move on the the Conference Finals.


It can't be said enough, the job the Lakers' organization did to:


#1: revamp and retool almost the entire roster mid-season.

and #2: build chemistry and cohesion on the fly all the way to this point.


INCREDIBLE by GM Rob Pelinka and crew. The Lakers are now playing with a vibe and swagger eerily similar to their 2020 title team in the Bubble. They're undeniably dangerous.


IMAGE: Lakers' LeBron James and Dennis Schroder celebrate Schroder's clutch three-pointer in the Play-In Game vs Minnesota, a key win in jumpstarting Los Angeles' postseason journey.


As for Golden State?


Damn.


The Warriors now trail this series 3-1. After dropping Game 1 at home, that meant at least one win on the road was now required to escape out of the series. Golden State went an inexplicable 11-30 on the road during the regular season, but their sins were at least partially washed away with clutch road victories in Games 5 & 7 vs the higher-seeded Sacramento Kings, extending their consecutive-series-with-a-road-win streak to 28. Stephen Curry became the first player in the history of the Association to tally 50 points in a series' 7th game. Even after the G1 loss in THIS series, safe to say their confidence probably wasn't shattered.


It might just be now.


After controlling the action for the majority of the game, the Dubs surrendered a quick 7-0 run to the Lakers, which tied the game at 84 just briefly into the final period. Steph Curry, after totaling a triple-double through 3 quarters of play, appeared to run out of gas towards the game's conclusion (missed two consecutive potential go-ahead shots in the final minute), largely due to receiving next-to-nothing all game from his normally high-octane teammates Klay Thompson (9 points) and Jordan Poole (a donut -- 0 points on the night).


Let's make a larger point out of the struggles of those two in particular.


The NBA has seen great dynasties over its 76-year history. Bill Russell's Celtics, Larry Bird's Celtics, Magic & Kareem's Lakers, Jordan's Bulls, the Shaq/Kobe Lakers -- and now the Warriors. Every dynasty comes and goes. They have their rise, and they have their fall. It's absolute and certain. So what kills a dynasty?


Age? Yeah, for sure. But what else?


"Disease-of-me Syndrome."


Yeah. The '90s Chicago Bulls had just won their 6th title in 8 seasons after the 1998 Finals, and as discussed in "The Last Dance", multiple players like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and coach Phil Jackson felt they still had room to shoot for at least one more chip. GM Jerry Krause though, felt it was time to rebuild. And NOBODY was going to stop him. Nice job, Jerry. RIP, though.


The downfall of the Shaq and Kobe Lakers has been well-documented, with all the "who's team is it?" discourse, and public feuds in the media.


A three-peat, 3 Finals MVPs for Shaquille O'Neal...


then a troubling season in 2003 and a shocking Finals loss in 2004, and, all of a sudden... no more.


As the Warriors now find themselves on the brink, what I have to imagine is racing through their collective minds right now is how selfishness, personal agendas, overconfidence (and, yes, a little violence) has thrown their title-defense season almost all the way off the tracks. Klay's shot-selection has gotten wilder while his skills have gotten duller post-injuries. That's definitely part of the Warriors' issues, but almost everything that has ailed the champs this season can be traced back to Draymond punching Jordan Poole during that infamous preseason practice. (The TMZ viral leak probably didn't help either). Even after the punch, the Dubs moved with a subtle sense of arrogance -- one that reeked of:


"We're the Warriors... Nobody else is the Warriors... We'll get past this like everything else and be fine."


The Golden State Warriors over the past decade had been a model & a testament to the power of ego-less, unselfish, just-downright-fun basketball. The passing. The shot-making. The shimmying. The dick-headedness. The CAMADERIE. I mean, just look at this:


During GSW's 2014-15 title season.


They were the Gold Standard of the NBA, no pun intended. And, now? They look like a shell of their former dominant selves and are now on the brink -- 1 loss away from the potential death of the dynasty.


Reports out of Golden State throughout the season pointed to youngsters such as Poole, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman silently being unhappy with their roles and lack of playing time at varying levels. That, in combination with 'the punch' has seemed to drive a wedge between the Warriors' vets and young pups, which seemed to reach a boiling point during GSW's first-round series versus the Kings, where Steph Curry felt the need to give an impassioned speech in the Warriors' locker room after a sour Game 6 home loss -- sending his teammates the message that if they were to board the bus going from San Francisco to Sacramento -- they were making a commitment to the team to fight WITH pride and WITHOUT ego.


Stephen Curry delivered a powerful speech to his team before his 50-point performance in Game 7 vs SAC. Has his message lost luster during the Dubs' battle vs LAL?


Curry, Thompson and Green have come back from 3-1 once before, against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the OKC Thunder in the 2016 WCF -- including an 11 3PM masterclass from Klay in Game 6. They'll need Klay -- and the much-maligned Jordan Poole to provide aid to #30 to pull this one off, without question.


A daunting task, but like Rudy Tomjanovich told us nearly 30 years ago:


"Never underestimate the heart of a champion."


However, if the odds do indeed hold true (over 80% of teams that go up 3-1 in NBA best-of-seven series go on to win), the Lakers will punch their ticket to the Conference Finals -- a thought that seemed laughable when they were sitting at 2-10 in November. If they do so, a powerful message will be sent on both sides of the coin.


Build good habits. Stay ready for your opportunity to come. Cultivate a good locker room vibe & culture. Don't go 11-30 on the road, and TKO your teammate during practice.


Or else, let poor habits become your demise.


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