How Warriors can close free-throw gap vs. Lakers in NBA playoff series

How Warriors can close free-throw gap in series vs. Lakers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

SAN FRANCISCO -- The contrasting styles between the Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers couldn't have been more clear Tuesday night in Golden State's 117-112 Game 1 loss to begin the Western Conference semifinals.

The Warriors had a 45-point advantage behind the 3-point line, cashing 21 threes compared to only six from the Lakers. Down low, the Lakers held a 26-point advantage, scoring 54 points in the paint while the Warriors totaled 28. The biggest difference, however, was at the free-throw line.

Tuesday night's officiating crew of Marc Davis, Ed Malloy and Nick Buchert didn't exactly go with the notion of home-court advantage with their whistles. They whistled the Warriors for 24 fouls, twice as many the 12 that were called on the Lakers.

That led to the Lakers taking 29 free throws, making 25 of them. The Warriors, on the friendly confines of Chase Center's hardwood, attempted six free throws all night and made five. For our math crowd, that's a 20-point advantage for the road team at the free-throw line.

Andrew Wiggins, who made both of his two free throw attempts, believes the solution is simple for the Warriors and one that has to be a change from the opening tipoff.

"Be more forceful," Wiggins said Wednesday. "Attack the basket more, be the aggressors."

Throughout the regular season, no other team got to the line more frequently than the Lakers. They averaged 26.6 free throws per game. The Philadelphia 76ers (21.0) were the lone team to make more free throws than the Lakers (20.6) on a per-game basis.

But the Warriors were quite the opposite compared to their Southern California counterparts.

They ranked dead-last in free throw attempts per game at 20.2. The 22-win San Antonio Spurs (15.8) were ranked last in made free throws per game. The Warriors barely finished ahead of them, averaging 16.0 made free throws.

Yet in the first round of the playoffs, the roles were reversed.

Over six games against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Lakers took 130 free throws, good for 21.7 per game. The Warriors in seven games against the Kings put up 176 free throws, good for 25.1 per game.

Trying to shoot around the much bigger and long Lakers, the Warriors waited and waited and waited some more before they shot a single free throw. By the time the Warriors finally did get to the line, the Lakers had shot 17 free throws and made 16 of them.

Playing catch-up from the charity stripe is an adjustment Steve Kerr knows the Warriors will have to make after feeling out the series opener.

"It's a good question," Kerr said Wednesday. "I thought we did some good things getting the ball into the paint, but you have to get a feel for [Anthony] Davis and their size and length before you can really figure out exactly how you're going to attack. I think Game 1s are great for that reason. You feel it and you see it on tape and then you can adjust from there.

"I just think we can play with more force overall. I thought they were the more aggressive team last night. And with a little more energy, a little more force, then I think we're much more likely to be attacking and getting to the foul line."

There's a reason that 50 percent of the Warriors' 106 shot attempts were 3-pointers in their Game 1 loss. The Lakers' interior defense is second to none, especially since the All-Star break and making moves for players like a versatile defensive weapon in Jarred Vanderbilt. The Warriors watched 10 of their shots get swatted away as the Lakers made a statement and imposed their will.

Davis had four blocked shots. LeBron James had three, Vanderbilt had two and D'Angelo Russell even had one.

Still, the Warriors' first free throw fittingly was the conclusion of a four-point play with Jordan Poole making a 3-pointer over Russell. There were only 38 seconds left in the first half when Poole walked to the line.

The Warriors entered the second quarter with a two-point lead and reasons to feel confident for the next 36 minutes. Then, they were outscored 36-33 in the second quarter, giving the Lakers a one-point lead at halftime. The Lakers shot 13 free throws in the second quarter, and the Warriors shot three -- one from Poole and two from Wiggins.

RELATED: Poole shows new signs of life in Warriors' loss to Lakers

With their 10 blocked shots in Game 1, the Lakers now are averaging 9.3 blocks per game in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics are second with an average of 6.7. Davis and company very could continue counting their blocked shots. What has to change is for Los Angeles to feel challenged early on.

For Kerr and Wiggins, "force" and "aggressive" were the two buzzwords of the day, and for good reason. Now, it's up to many more Warriors to hold true to their words and bring force and aggressiveness in Game 2 from slashing, cutting, driving, second-chance points and whatever else is necessary.

A win now is a must before flying to LA and shifting the series away from San Francisco.

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