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Lakers beat Warriors in Game 4; one win from conference finals

LeBron James slid to the left, his eyes on the rim that’s on the end of the arena opposite from the slice of Lakers championship legacy he helped secure in 2020.

It had been a rough night, the Warriors getting layups on the Lakers’ and James’ defensive lapses. The rim had been unkind, even a one-on-one post-up on Stephen Curry coming up empty.

But there was momentum.

James and Austin Reaves were putting together the kind of stretch that had the home crowd engaged again, that had them ready to explode late in Game 4 against Golden State. So James stepped to the side, got open, and shot.

The ball rattled in and popped out.

James’ night Monday underscored what’s been percolating below the surface during this playoff series with the Warriors. He’s carried teams against them before, doing more with less around him.

Lonnie Walker IV, center, is embraced by teammates LeBron James, right, and Anthony Davis after their Game 4 defeat of the Warriors on Monday night.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

But now, in Year 20 at age 38, could he do it alone again?

What if, though, he didn’t need to?

Lonnie Walker IV, the Lakers’ big Game 3 rotational adjustment, didn’t attempt a shot prior to the fourth quarter Monday, but his three on the first play set the tone for a wild finish that he, of all Lakers, led the push toward in a 104-101 victory.

Walker scored 15 points, all in the fourth, while defending Klay Thompson and grabbing a key late-game rebound. Walker’s other five field goals in the quarter tied the score or gave Lakers the lead, the last for good with 1:53 left.

He and James accounted for 21 of the Lakers’ 27 fourth-quarter points, the team erasing a seven-point deficit to steal the win and keep homecourt advantage in the series.

James scored 27 on 25 shots, Anthony Davis added 23 and 15 rebounds, and Austin Reaves scored 21.

The Lakers lead the series 3-1 heading to Golden State where they’ll play Game 5 on Wednesday.

Those questions have not persisted for Curry, who despite a tough night from three, still managed to conduct the Golden State offense with the precision of a maestro. No matter the moment, no matter the prior result, every time Curry touched the ball in Game 4, points felt at least like a probability if not an inevitability.

After making just two of his previous 11 threes, Curry hit a 26-foot three, drew a foul and made the free throw, finding the cameras on the far baseline to give them a howl in between.

With four minutes left, Curry’s push shot off the glass put his team up two.

But the Lakers never allowed him to fully ignite, Curry needing 30 shots to score 31 points, though he did have a triple-double with 14 assists and 10 rebounds.

It’s why this stage of the season is all so tough, the NBA playoffs forcing teams to somehow get better with each game.

Monday in Game 4, that meant the Warriors and Steve Kerr changed the terms of play again, using their third different starting lineup in the series in an effort to try and counter what the Lakers have done in grabbing the series lead.

After Game 1, that meant using JaMychal Green in the starting lineup for Kevon Looney as they tried to put more shooting on the court. For a night, it worked and the Warriors evened the series.

But after the Lakers adjusted and dominated the game defensively in Game 3, with Davis blowing up entry passes with his length and instincts, Kerr again switched things up by benching JaMychal Green and starting Gary Payton II.

It was the fifth different starting lineup for the Warriors this postseason.

“[It] just depends on your team,” Kerr said pregame when asked about his willingness to make quick changes. “Five years ago, we weren’t gonna make any lineup changes unless there was an injury. But with this year’s team and just the road we’ve traveled, we’ve had a lot of different versions of this team all in one season. We’re much more likely to move the pieces around and try to find a puzzle that that fits.”

Early with Payton in the game, the Warriors slowed down D’Angelo Russell from the same hot start that carried them in the first quarter Saturday. And with Payton setting screens, the Warriors were able to create the easy mini three-on-two fast breaks that have fueled so much of the Golden State dynasty.

In the second half, Payton’s cutting helped the Warriors swing momentum back in their direction, quickly undoing a 10-0 Lakers run with seven straight points as part of a 14-0 run.

The Lakers’ adjustments have been less obvious. For instance, Monday, the Lakers sat Davis early in the first quarter instead of James, switching the normal substitution plan from the series.

One of those changes, to play Walker, kept paying off.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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