Lakers' two stars have off nights in loss, but Steve Kerr still likes what he sees
Lakers 'LeBron James (left) and Dennis Schroder (right) defend themselves in the second half of the Lakers' 115-113 defeat on Monday against Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors).
Steve Kerr realizes this.
The Warriors coach saw it in Chicago, taking big jump shots alongside Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and again in San Antonio as Tim Duncan and David Robinson patrolled the forecourt after the Spurs. Kerr witnessed again at Golden State, where he ran things from the sidelines, while Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant stood in the NBA finals.
And on Monday evening he saw it again.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis are "a perfect match," said the eight-time NBA champion before the Warriors and Lakers met at the Staples Center. The two are always in lockstep, the result of an ego-free partnership that led to an NBA title in their first year together last season.
Neither player was the best on Monday. James got stuck with the ball in his hands in the first half trying to find the right seams in the Warriors' defense. And Davis couldn't get his shot going but instead focused on the relief and let the Lakers' deepest depth do their job.
And with a 115-113 loss that ended a five-game winning streak, that stuff was definitely important. But the Lakers should take comfort in the long run knowing that the right game - which on Monday meant the stars taking a back seat - is the recipe they want to follow.
It wasn't Curry who got the Lakers out of the way - it was Kelly Oubre Jr., a player who was largely lost in his role at Golden State for the first 12 games of the season. It was Green, a player who rarely influences games with his scoring and hits two important buckets. And it was the great sophomore Eric Paschall who brought the Warriors back into play in the first half and again in the third quarter.
By the end of the year, the Lakers will likely be able to count on one-handed nights like this, when both Davis and James stutter so helplessly.
But even on a night when the two only scored 36 points, there was enough production for the Lakers to win. And if James' last second jumper had gone in, the Lakers would have.
First it was Dennis Schroder, the quick point guard that the Lakers had signed for just such nights. From the team's first possession of the ball, Schroder was in attack mode, building up the warriors' defense as he quickly worked his way up into double digits by the middle of the first quarter.
Later, it was Montrezl Harrell, the Lakers' long-haired energy machine, that swung off the edge after flying down the pitch to end one of the team's rare fast-break opportunities.
And then it was Kyle Kuzma who responded to a rocky defensive possession with a handful of offensively more brilliant ones, knocking down jumpers for huge baskets, with the warriors working to keep the Lakers from running.
Meanwhile, James and Davis did not push, seldom force the action that wasn't there, and allow the other Lakers players to play the key games.
The Lakers weren't selfish. They were just negligent - 19 turnovers at the root of so many missed opportunities.
But these mistakes indicated nothing more than a bad night. The truth remains that the Lakers' path, paved with the clay set by James and Davis, points in the right direction.
"It only shows in the way we play," said Lakers coach Frank Vogel before the game. "These guys are really focused on one thing and that means winning as many games as possible and building the habits that are necessary to win a championship." And there are many times with other teams in other situations where there may be a conflict of interest. And the lack of it is a big reason we won a championship last year, and they got off to a good start this year.
"You have a great partnership."
Most nights, two of the NBA's best players don't have to be so deferential. Most nights, James will have tighter control of the offense and Davis' silky sweater will splash through the web.
But if the Lakers play with selflessness, they'll be able to win more often than not.
"It's been a hallmark of many championship teams when you have championship-caliber stars who complement each other on and off the pitch," said Kerr.
The Warriors have lived this life before and were on their way to spark another round of rivalry with the Lakers.
Injuries with Thompson and Durant's move to Brooklyn put an end to that. The teams were now in completely different positions.
Even so, the Golden State is very dangerous, the embers of its championship culture still burn brightly.
It's a quality championship teams must have - selflessness at the top. And on a night when the best weren't at their best, it was quality that was most evident and that would do a lot of good for the Lakers in the future.
"They have two of the best players in the game who complement each other very well and are very comfortable in their respective roles," said Kerr. "It's obviously a hell of a good foundation to build on."
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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