One of the most interesting aspects of the NBA postseason is seeing coaching adjustments and watching how they unfold throughout a series, much like a game of chess.
Whether his hand was forced or not, Steve Kerr made the first move in the Lakers-Warriors Western Conference semifinals by starting JaMychal Green in place of Kevon Looney, who was dealing with an undisclosed illness.
Pace and space
We've seen the Warriors go to their small-ball lineups before. They made the death lineup famous during their first championship run and it was even lethal as the "Hampton's Five" with Kevin Durant. Same book. Different chapter.
Golden State's small lineup with JaMychal Green in Game 2 allowed them to stretch the floor with more shooters while still maintaining enough size to hold off the Lakers.
Draymond Green and Kevon Looney did not share the floor in Game 2 after Golden State was outscored by seven points in 16 minutes with them together in Game 1.
The resulting pace and space were too much for the Lakers to handle. The Warriors outscored the Lakers 27-13 in transition in Game 2 after narrowly outpacing them 19-17 in that category in the series opener, per Synergy Sports. This helped unlock Klay Thompson, as he matched the entire Lakers team scoring 13 of his 30 points in transition on Thursday night.
"It's using our strengths to our advantage," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "You have to give up something. So as long as we're decisive and our floor is spaced properly, usually can find a good shot, and then you've just got to knock them down."
The impact on Golden State's shot selection was evident. They had an average of 6.4 feet of space from the closest defender on three-point attempts in Game 2, up from 5.4 in Game 1 according to Second Spectrum (via Jared Dubin).
JaMychal Green's direct impact was obvious as he knocked down several wide-open 3-pointers, which are not part of Looney's game.
Now we're all waiting to see how the Lakers will counter. Their best hope would be to impose their will in the paint and play the Warriors out of their small-ball lineups. No small task. The Lakers were outscored in the paint (48-42), on second chances (13-8) and even on free throws (10-10) in Game 2. They can ill afford that in Game 3.
They'll need a more aggressive supporting cast going forward. Only 10% of their shots were at the rim in Game 2 per Cleaning the glass, down from 19% in Game 1. The trio of D'Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves and Dennis Schroder combined for just six points on drives on Thursday after scoring 15 in the series opener.
Los Angeles could also turn to more post-ups from LeBron James, who has been cold from the outside this postseason. He's 4-of-7 shooting in the post this series and was also effective as a passer after drawing double teams from the post in the first round versus Memphis.
Curry at the controls
The Warriors' small-ball success in Game 2 was only possible by running more pick-and-roll through Stephen Curry. The Lakers' response to trap or double Curry (who can blame them) didn't work out. According to ESPN tracking, the Warriors shot 6-of-9, including 4-of-6 off Curry passes on the 10 plays they double-teamed Curry.
"I'm capable of playing a lot of different ways," Curry said. "As long as we are just creating open shots, no matter who is taking them -- and obviously tonight I didn't have a lot of open ones for a reason -- make the right decision. The ball finds the right person, and good things happen."
It's pick-your-poison with guarding the Curry pick-and-roll, but one look the Lakers haven't tried is switching on defense, as opposed to trapping. The current defensive strategy usually leaves a Warriors big, such as Draymond Green, open in the middle of the floor, surrounded by endless shooting options, a situation where he thrives. While switching a big onto Curry may not be sustainable, it's worth seeing how Anthony Davis or LeBron James would hold up against him rather than continue to get burned by the Warriors passing and shooting out of Curry double teams.
Switching was a moniker of the Rockets small-ball defense in the 2018 and 2019 postseasons that gave the Warriors some trouble. While the Lakers don't have the same personnel, it's worth throwing different looks at Curry.
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Draymond Green guarding Anthony Davis
One of the domino effects of the Warriors' small lineup was a tougher matchup on Anthony Davis, who responded with 11 points in Game 2 after 30 in Game 1. Draymond Green got the assignment in place of Looney, defending Davis for 62% of his plays on Thursday, up from 34% in Game 1, per Second Spectrum.
"Draymond was brilliant," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. "This is the guy who we have to have. He's our engine and we decided to put him on Davis tonight from the start. I thought he got us off to a good start defensively just with his aggressiveness."
Lakers head coach Darvin Ham praised Green's defense and added, "So, again, we gotta go back, look at ways we can move 'A' around, put him in different spacing, different actions and just try to diversify his attack."
One way to mix up their looks would be to feed Davis in the post. He has three post-ups in the series and turned it over during Game 2 trying to back down Green. However, it would serve the Lakers well to get their best player the ball more often and in different situations to put Game 2 behind them
He can also bounce back with more energy tonight after possibly being fatigued after playing 44 minutes, including the entire second half in Game 1.
Davis also mentioned after Game 2, "I took all the same shots I took in Game 1." So it might just be as simple as making shots. Davis had yet to post back-to-back 20-point games this postseason. They need consistent dominance to win this series.
If Game 2 is any indication, this series should be full of punch and counterpunch. Unless the Lakers adjust in Game 3, look for the Warriors to steal back home court after splitting the first two games at home.