NBA Playoffs 2021 – LeBron and Steph Curry’s play-in efficiency was the playoff prelude everybody hoped for

LOS ANGELES – The play-in tournament was a complete success for the NBA this year. It created exciting new scenarios towards the end of the regular season, and for the most part prevented the widespread refueling that had mocked the final month of the game for the 14 teams that failed to make the playoffs.

And we had a delicious matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night at the Staples Center.

The game was an instant classic, with two of the league’s brightest stars, Stephen Curry and LeBron James pitting each other with brilliant performances and clutch shot making that felt more like one of their classic NBA finals matchups than that Playoffs for the actual playoffs.

James prevailed against Curry on Wednesday, hitting a 34-foot-3 pointer above him to seal the Lakers’ 103-100 win. The triple was the longest starting shot in the last three minutes of any game in James’ career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

He finished his 128th career with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his 128th triple-double (including regular season, play-in and playoffs).

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“It was good to get that first punch,” said James. “Mike Tyson used to say, ‘Everyone has a plan until you get in the ring and get beaten.’

“We did that and it felt good. It felt great. It calmed us down. It wasn’t comfortable, but it calmed us down and we were able to bring the fight to them. We look forward to what’s on will come to us for the postseason. “

The Lakers win gives them the seventh seed in the Western Conference and a first-round playoff matchup against the Phoenix Suns, but leaves the Warriors, now battling for the eighth seed, against the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday (9:00 p.m. ET ) fall into an elimination game on ESPN).

It’s fair to ask if the reward for all that excitement is worth the risk of potentially losing one of the league’s marquee franchises before the playoffs officially begin.

“This is a bitter pill to swallow,” said Kerr after the game. “This was our game and we couldn’t make it.”

James’ game-winning 3-pointer was the longest starting shot of his career in the last three minutes of a game. Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images

The warriors now have less than 48 hours to regroup before facing the Grizzlies in San Francisco. It’s a little redundant from the Warriors’ regular season win over Memphis on May 15, which placed eighth in the play-in tournament.

Any other year that win would have sent the Warriors into a first round against the Utah Jazz with the best seeds. But this year they have to play two additional games, one of which is an elimination game, to advance to the same series.

The original proposal for a play-in tournament, according to league sources, was that teams finishing ninth and tenth compete against each other for a chance to play for eighth place on the grid. It served on competition committees for five or six years before finding a perfect opportunity for a trial run in the NBA bubble last season. That worked so well that the league decided to upgrade it to the current format, which also includes a play-in for the seventh seed.

Throughout the season, teams and stars who fell to seventh place overall complained about the new format, which effectively turned a guaranteed playoff spot into a vulnerable position.

Was there self-interest behind these holds? For sure. But there was also a clear realization that this could take a heavy toll on a team like the Lakers, devastated by star player injuries in the second half of the season. Or a team like the Warriors, who have won 15 of their last 20 games to secure a guaranteed playoff spot in previous seasons.



Steph Curry ends the half in style, knocking the 3-pointer down over him with the defense.

“You asked me a few days ago how I was feeling. I said I was ready to go,” said James of the play-in format. “May the chips be where they like. I showed up and we showed up. And we were ready to play.”

In the first half, LA looked like a team that could have used the training week. She shot just 32.6% and missed 31 shots – both season lows. The trio of James, Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder only scored 13 points. Curry alone had 15 points, including a contested 3-pointer over Alex Caruso to finish halfway with the Warriors leading 55-42.

The Warrior Defense also deserves some of the credit for the Lakers fighting in the first half. Golden State quietly became a good defensive team at the end of the season behind former Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green, and Andrew Wiggins, the former No. 1 overall winner who was a ray of hope after his overwhelming start in Golden State, Minnesota.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lakers went in the first half with a combined 2v18 win over Green (2v9) or Wiggins (0v9).

The Lakers roared back in the third quarter and eventually gave up playing Andre Drummond in the middle. When the Warriors spun the ball around, creating energy and space for their shooters, LA had almost no choice but to put Davis in the middle, a position he doesn’t prefer.

But Davis didn’t have much success as a striker in the first half and only shot 2:12 off the field. So there wasn’t much reason to stick to alignment.

Davis was 7-0 off the floor when Drummond was on the pitch with him on Wednesday. He also shot 1:11 when either Drummond or Montrezl Harrell were with him on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The switch gave immediate results. The Lakers made a run of 25-10, scoring 11 of 15 shots after Drummond was knocked out 5:16 in the third quarter. The Lakers were +6 in the 21 minutes Davis played in the middle on Wednesday.

“The message at halftime was that we have to play more physically, that’s the public way of putting it,” said Vogel. “Rotation optimization has been an unprecedented situation for us. In a playoff series you have to make your adjustments from Game 1 to Game 2 or from Game 5 to Game 6. We knew these adjustments were to be made in-game.

“We looked at our big lineups in the first half, that was the plan. To evaluate at half time whether you go backwards or adapt and play small … AD struggled to get going with the big line-up with Draymond Muscular there and naming nothing, so a combination of what I knew Wes [Matthews] would bring to our tenacity and open things up for AD and start playing it on the 5th. “



Anthony Davis gets the block on Draymond Green, then goes on the offensive and converts the and-1.

Of course, the Lakers run, which also overlapped with the 1:37 Curry, was out of the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Kerr generally likes to give Curry some rest, but the Lakers scored six direct points with Curry to take their first lead of the game, 81-79. Kyle Kuzma’s hook shot a pass from James with 11:05 to go in the game.

It was only the second time Curry had played within the first two minutes of the fourth quarter of the entire season.

But this was a playoff-level atmosphere (an estimated 6,000 fans) with playoff-level stakes, even if it’s not officially the playoffs yet. So I had to play curry.

“The guy is just amazing,” said Lakers coach Frank Vogel. “Steve Kerr said we were going to throw the sink on him and we did – and he still had 37.”

According to Second Spectrum, the Lakers flashed Curry in 15 pick games on Wednesday, 13 of them in the second half. This is the second most number of times LA has flashed a single player in a game this season.

Curry has dealt with such defenses all season long. But the game got tighter. In the fourth quarter, the teams traded leadership three times, with James scoring eight of his 22 points, Davis eventually finding his strike (13 of his 25 points) and Curry scoring 11 of his game-high 37 points.



LeBron James and Steph Curry show up in the play-in game when the Lakers defeat the Warriors in a Nail Biter.

James stayed in the game after being stabbed in the eye by Green and awkwardly landing on his left leg, leaving 2:07 in the game. He hit one of the two free throws and scored 98 points.

But it was the off-balance 3-pointer he hit 58 seconds before Curry – James’ longest mark of the season – that sealed the game for the Lakers.

“After Draymond put the finger in my eye, I literally saw three rims out there,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols after the game. “I just shot for the middle one.” It was the kind of deep 3-point shot that Curry has struck so many times against unlucky defenders over the years. And Curry reacted the same way to James’ dagger, which he usually leaves on others.

Curry rallied and tried to take revenge on the nearest property. But the Lakers refused to let him beat them, catching him on the back court the next time they had possession and forcing him to pass it on to Green to avoid a 10-second injury.

Green, who didn’t score a field goal in the game but had nine rebounds, eight assists, three steals and three blocks, passed it on to Jordan Poole, who missed a 3-pointer with 35 seconds to go.

“We went to the locker room and the guys were upset, frustrated and angry that we didn’t do the job,” said Curry. “But we’ll be finished on Friday … biggest game of the year.”

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