Elliott: In trying to close out Warriors, Lakers know they 'can expect another dogfight'

Los Angeles, CA - May 08: Lakers guard Dennis Schroder slices to the basket for a layup against the Warriors in the second half of Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Monday, May 8,, 2023. The Lakers won, 104-101. Los Angeles on Monday, May 8, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Guard Dennis Schroder elevates past Warriors defenders for a layup during the Lakers' Game 4 victory on Monday night at Crypto.com Arena. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers’ first attempt this season to close out a playoff series on their first try didn’t go so well.

With a chance to wrap up their opening-round series against the Grizzlies in a tidy five games, they went to Memphis and lost by 17, costing themselves a few precious days of rest. “We didn’t play up to our abilities,” LeBron James said.

They apparently learned from that experience, because they came home to Crypto.com Arena and demolished the No. 2-seeded Grizzlies by 40 points two days later to complete a six-game upset that really wasn’t so surprising.

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Having earned another chance to close out a series by gritting out a 104-101 victory over defending champion Golden State on Monday, the Lakers must seize the moment and deliver a knockout punch when the series resumes on Wednesday for Game 5 at Chase Center in San Francisco.

It will be their toughest challenge in a season full of tests. The Lakers can’t count on the Warriors imploding under pressure, like the Grizzlies did. They can’t expect the Warriors, who won NBA titles in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2022 and lost in the finals in 2016 and 2019, to find the moment too big for them to handle, as the Grizzlies so clearly did.

“It’s going to be a tough one going up north. That game on Wednesday is going to be another dogfight,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “We can expect another dogfight. That’s a prideful team. They’re the defending champions for a reason, so all of us are going to have to make sure we’re on the same page and locked in.”

The Lakers have overcome some imposing challenges already this season, starting with bouncing back from a seemingly hopeless 2-10 start and continuing with their ability to adapt after general manager Rob Pelinka essentially remade their roster before the trade deadline.


Reinvigorated and reinforced defensively, they navigated the play-in against Minnesota, then sent the brash Grizzlies home. Against the Warriors, they’ve been able to weather players’ game-to-game shooting slumps and have coaxed enormous and timely contributions out of Austin Reaves, Dennis Schroder, and role players like Rui Hachimura and Lonnie Walker IV. In Game 4 against Golden State, Walker provided a jolt of adrenaline by scoring all of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. He hadn’t taken a shot before that.

“A lot of times that’s what the playoffs are about. A close game and somebody comes in who you don’t expect to make an impact and that player makes a bunch of shots, makes some big plays,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

The Warriors have been down 3-1 before during their run of playoff success. They trailed Oklahoma City by that margin during the 2016 Western Conference finals but rallied to win — only to go up 3-1 over the James-led Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals before losing. So this isn't new to them.

Asked Monday if the current team’s predicament felt like the 2016 team’s situation, Kerr was philosophical. “It feels like what it is,” said Kerr, whose team lost its first two games against Sacramento in the first round this spring but advanced by winning a Game 7 on the road. “Go home and you take care of business and you get a win and the momentum is right back in your favor. That’s all it is. Somebody has to win four times. That’s why you play it out.


“The Lakers did a great job of holding serve here and winning this game and coming back in the fourth quarter to take it. So now we’ve got to go back and get a win at home.”

Warriors forward Gary Payton II, who started in place of JaMychal Green and scored 15 points, said his team will draw on its comeback against Sacramento. “We’ve got a lot of heart on this team. A lot of fight,” he said. “Back against the wall. We’ve got to come out swinging.”

James, who had 27 points, nine rebounds and six assists in nearly 43 minutes Monday, said the Lakers are still discovering what they’re capable of as a team. It sounds odd to hear that at this stage of the season, but he’s right. Injuries and their roster makeover kept the Lakers from knowing whether they could be a cohesive and successful team until they simply went out and became one.

“Every game for us is another opportunity to experience something that we just haven’t had as a group. We’re a relatively young group,” he said. “You look at the teams in the postseason besides us: You got Phoenix, they added a couple new guys, but their team has kind of been assembled for the last few years, obviously Denver’s been together for years, Miami, New York, Golden State. So every game for us throughout this postseason has been an opportunity for us to grow and see how we can be better.


“[Monday] was another moment and whatever we play, every other day, I don't even know what today is, but whenever Game 5 is, it’ll be another opportunity for us to continue to grow as a ballclub. So I think we’ll be ready.”

But not overconfident. “One thing about when you play Golden State, you don’t have an opportunity to relax. You just don’t,” James said. “So I'm not worried about us going in there comfortable. You just can’t do it vs. Golden State. It’s not possible.”

Schroder had a good suggestion for the Lakers’ approach to this golden opportunity. “We’ve got to go out in Game 5 and play like we’re down 0-3 and try to secure that win,” he said, “and hopefully we get it.”


They’ve learned a lot about themselves so far, nearly all of it good. Now, they’ll discover whether they have a champion’s instinct and can end this series on their first try. Giving the Warriors a second chance could be a mistake.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.