Hernández: Lakers show how good they can be in Game 3 win over Warriors

Los Angeles, California May 6, 2023-Lakers Anthony Davis knocks the ball away from Warriors JaMychal Green in the third quarter in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinal at Crypto.com arena Saturday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Anthony Davis knocks the ball from the grasp of Warriors forward JaMychal Green during the third quarter of Game 3 on Saturday at Crypto.com Arena. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

D’Angelo Russell lost the ball and the Golden State Warriors were off to the races, Stephen Curry slanting a pass ahead to a wide-open Andrew Wiggins.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, LeBron James leaped into the frame.

James broke up the play, his momentum forcing him to jump over the fans seated behind the basket and run up the stairs of a nearby aisle.

As he returned to the court, the subjects inside of Crypto.com Arena paid tribute to their king with a standing ovation.

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The Lakers were on their way, this time to a 127-97 victory over the Warriors in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series.

They did more than reclaim the series lead at two games to one. They made a statement with how they played.

They were relentless, James’ third-quarter play on Wiggins characterizing a defensive effort that limited the Warriors to 39.6% shooting, including 29.5% on threes.

They were fearless, Russell scoring the Lakers’ first 11 points as James and Anthony Davis played their way into the game.

They were focused, Davis winning his psychological battle with notorious irritant Draymond Green, whom he baited into four fouls and a technical.

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The Lakers’ statement will have to be followed by another. The Lakers have to do this again, in Game 4 on Monday, which will also be played at Crypto.com Arena.

This is where they won their previous series against the Memphis Grizzlies. This is where they can win this one against the Warriors.

Against the second-seeded Grizzlies, the Lakers won Games 3 and 4 at home to take a 3-1 lead that essentially ended the series. They have earned the opportunity to do the same against the Warriors.

With Klay Thompson making just five of 14 shots on Saturday night, the Warriors will almost certainly adjust. The Lakers will too.

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However, Lakers coach Darvin Ham said, “We can talk about coverages and adjustments, all of that, but the basic foundation of us executing anything is our approach, our energy, our effort, our urgency.”

Ham called on his players to approach Game 4 the way they did Game 3, a game in which the Lakers held the Warriors to 38 points in the second and third quarters combined.

“That’s what we can control,” Ham said. “We can’t control whether the shots go in or not. Defense, our effort, our energy, our competitiveness on that side of the ball, that’s something you can damn near get right every night.”

Davis might be the team’s structural foundation of the defense but James remains its heartbeat.

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“Him putting that effort,” Ham said, “you see a guy like that, Year 20, first ballot Hall of Famer, top-five dead or alive to ever play in the NBA, to see him doing the little things like that, screening, defending, rebounding, makes it easier to get these guys to do it.”

The Lakers forced the Warriors to commit 19 turnovers, which they turned into 27 points.

“I said after Game 2, no matter what goes on, we hang our hat on defense,” James said.

There should be urgency for the Lakers to capitalize on their advantage.

Lakers forward LeBron James leaps along the baseline to throw a pass around Warriors forward Draymond Green.
Lakers forward LeBron James leaps along the baseline to throw a pass around Warriors forward Draymond Green during the third quarter of Game 3 on Saturday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Warriors advanced to this series by winning Game 7 of their first-round series against the Sacramento Kings on the road, but the result was an anomaly.

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They were 11-30 away from their home at Chase Center in the regular season. Only three teams won fewer games on the road: Houston, San Antonio and Detroit.

The flip side is that the Warriors were 33-8 at home. If the Warriors take Game 4, they will regain control of the series.

Ham spoke as if he knew the Lakers couldn’t afford to let the Warriors back into the series. They are the defending NBA champions for a reason. They know how to win. They know how to come from behind. They know how to close out a game or a series when ahead.

“You relax one second or start feeling comfortable or complacent, they’re going to burn you every time,” Ham said.

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Winning four championships in nine years has a way of fortifying belief.

“We’ve been through more adversity than a 2-1 deficit,” Thompson said.

But if the Warriors have been here before, so has James.

James finished with 21 points but didn’t attempt a single field goal in the first quarter.

He didn’t fire his first shot until almost four minutes into the second quarter.

He was at his best in the game’s most decisive moments, scoring 10 points in the second quarter and 11 in the third.

After chasing down Wiggins, he made a layup after spinning around Donte DiVincenzo. He knocked down a pair of free throws. He sank a jumper over Thompson. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers were ahead, 86-68.

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James and Davis each played less than two minutes in the fourth quarter. The Lakers were already thinking ahead to Game 4. They knew what was at stake.

James finished with 21 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. Russell finished with 21 points.

Davis collected 25 points, 13 rebounds, three blocks, three steals and four blocks.

“We played the game the right way,” James said.

They’ll have to do it again on Monday. At stake is a place in the conference finals.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.