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Hernández: Lakers show what they can be in Game 3 rout of Warriors

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 a nearby set of stairs.

As he returned to the court, the subjects inside of Crypto.com Arena rose to their feet in tribute to their king. The Lakers were on their way.

The Lakers went on to claim a 127-97 victory over the Warriors in Game 3 on Saturday, moving them back in front in this second-round series, two games to one.

As they reclaimed control of the series, they showed what they were about.

They were about defense, James’ third-quarter play on Wiggins exemplifying an effort that limited the Warriors to 39.6% shooting, including 29.5% on threes.

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

They were about resolute focus, Davis winning his psychological battle with notorious irritant Draymond Green, whom he baited into five fouls and a technical.

Now, they have to make another statement in Game 4, which will be played on Monday, also 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.

Coach Darvin Ham called on his players to approach Game 4 the way they did Game 3.

“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.”

Ham said the Lakers had to be mindful of whom they were playing.

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

The Warriors 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.

The Lakers have them down, and they can’t let them back in.

“Playoffs, anything can happen,” Russell said.

The Warriors are vulnerable. They 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.

They were 11-30 on the road in the regular season. Only three teams won fewer games on the road: Houston, San Antonio and Detroit.

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

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 Lakers had to be encouraged by how this particular game unfolded, as they weren’t overly dependent on any one player.

They came into the game with the idea of wanting Davis to be the focal point of their offense.

“Just to feed him relentlessly,” Ham said before the game, “and have him be assertive and aggressive.”

The plan changed because Russell sank his first four shots.

“He’s a big-time communicator,” Ham said of Russell. “With limited practice time since the deadline, a lot of it has come on the fly. But he’s just a really good natural basketball player. You put him in a situation, he’s going to figure it out. Sky’s the limit on his IQ.”

James was content to be a facilitator in the early stages of the game. He didn’t attempt a single shot in the first quarter. His first shot came almost four minutes into the second quarter.

James’ best moments came 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 Klay Thompson.

By the end of the period, the Lakers’ were up 86-68.

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 on LA Times

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