Anthony Davis

AD's injury proves pivotal in Warriors' must-win game vs. Lakers

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As important as Stephen Curry’s return and Klay Thompson’s sharp-shooting were in providing a big boost for the Warriors, the pivotal moment in their win over the Lakers on Saturday occurred in the first half when Los Angeles big man Anthony Davis left the game in the second quarter with an eye injury.

Davis, the Lakers' primary defender down low, went to the locker room and never returned.

Like a lion looking at an injured prey, the Warriors pounced and began pounding the ball inside more frequently and with much more efficiency.

The end result was a 128-121 victory that pushed Golden State into the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference, percentage points ahead of the Lakers as both teams try to move up to avoid the NBA play-in tournament.

“Obviously, they missed Anthony big time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Arena. “He’s such a great defender. He changes the whole game out there when he’s in the paint. His absence opened up the paint for us. We were able to get into it quite a bit in the second half.”

In a big way.

During the 12 minutes that Davis was in the game, the Warriors were unable to get their inside game going much at all.

Jonathan Kuminga, Golden State's best player at going hard to the rim, was much more comfortable taking mid-range jumpers and shooting beyond the arc. That was the case for entire Warriors team, which had just four points in the paint in the first quarter.

That all changed when the Lakers lost their 6-foot-10 center. The Warriors had very little problems scoring inside after that.

A perfect example of that came with about 10 seconds remaining in the first half.

Draymond Green was bringing the ball up and didn’t even cross midcourt before heaving a lob pass toward the basket that Jonathan Kuminga snatched and threw down for a dunk.

It was one of a number of alley-oop passes Green made during the game, both to Kuminga and Trayce Jackson-Davis.

“There wasn’t one time where I got the ball and there was an opportunity to cut, and Wiggs and JK didn’t cut,” Green said. “You got those guys cutting leave it up to them. Rely on their athleticism. They’re great receivers as I call them, they go up and get the pass.”

Relying on the athleticism of JK and TJD might have been part of the game plan going in, but things clearly got a lot easier without Davis in the game. He wasn’t there to get in the way of the Warriors in the key or swat the ball away on lobs, like the one that Green tossed up to Kuminga.

Before Saturday, the Warriors were 21st in the NBA for points in the paint. Against the Lakers, Golden State muscled up for 62 points in the paint, nearly 14 more than its seasonal average.

In a game that was close heading into the final minutes, the Warriors’ work in the paint ended up being clutch.

After putting up 30 points in the first quarter while Davis was still in the game, the Warriors scored 72 points over the next two quarters after Davis went out.

“It wasn’t like we were having trouble scoring, but you also know in a 48-minute game what he’s capable of, and when the game slows down you know it’s going to be much tougher to score,” Kerr said. “We wanted to keep our foot on the pedal and keep pushing the ball in transition. Knowing LeBron was going to probably play close to 40 minutes, and knowing Anthony was out, we had to really try to push the pace and try to get baskets in transition.”

They did all of that, and after a few weeks of chasing them, the Warriors are finally ahead of the Lakers in the West.

The two teams will play one another again on April 9, and there’s a strong possibility that they would face each other in the play-in bracket.

Davis likely will be back for those games, but at least for one night, the Warriors did what they had to do and made their points in the paint stand up.

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