By GREG BEACHAM (AP Sports Writer)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Six months and a day after the Los Angeles Lakers fell to 2-10 to start the regular season, they emphatically eliminated the defending NBA champions to reach the Western Conference finals.
Although the Lakers’ transformation has become increasingly incredible over the past several weeks, the primary forces behind it are LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The superstars won a ring together only three years ago, and they shared a joyous hug Friday night after they led their team to its biggest home victory in over a decade.
James had 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and the Lakers ended the Golden State Warriors’ reign with a 122-101 victory in Game 6 of the second-round series.
“It was great to be able to play one of our most efficient games, one of our best games of the series, and it started because of the defensive matchup we had,” James said. “We defended at a high level, and when we do that, we can be extremely good. I thought we were locked in for as close to 48 minutes as possible tonight.”
Davis had 17 points and 20 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Lakers, who never trailed in their third home victory over Golden State in seven days. Austin Reaves scored 23 points — highlighted by a 54-footer from midcourt at the halftime buzzer — along with six assists and five rebounds while Los Angeles inexorably pulled away, weathering every attempt by Stephen Curry to will the Warriors back into it.
“It’s special to get that win to beat a team that’s so established and so good,” Reaves said. “I think the seeding things are just numbers. When you have guys like Bron and AD who have won championships, you always feel like you have a chance, especially with the roster that we have, the talent that we have.”
After the Lakers unseated the champs with remarkable style, they will face Nikola Jokic and the top-seeded Nuggets in the Western Conference finals starting Tuesday night in Denver. It’s a rematch of the conference finals in the 2020 Florida bubble, won in five games by Los Angeles.
While routing the Warriors one last time, the Lakers improved to 7-0 at home since the regular season ended. They also snapped Golden State’s streak of 28 playoff series with at least one road victory – an NBA-record run encompassing Curry’s entire career.
“It’s been a challenging year, to say the least, but we kept powering through,” first-year head coach Darvin Ham said. “Our vibes stayed positive, and finally our new pieces came together.”
James, Davis and the Lakers are the first team since 2014 to eliminate Curry’s Warriors from the playoffs before the NBA Finals. Golden State has played in six of the last eight NBA Finals, missing the playoffs entirely in the other two seasons.
“The better team won, and I can’t fault our players for the effort,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “Because these guys are such competitors, it’s going to hurt. But that’s why we play: To compete against the best and see what we’ve got. Didn’t quite have enough, but it wasn’t for a lack of heart or effort.”
Curry scored 32 points while missing 10 of his 14 3-point attempts for the sixth-seeded Warriors, whose pursuit of their fifth championship in nine seasons ended with three straight road losses and an inept offensive performance by Curry’s teammates in Game 6, including a 3-of-19 effort by Klay Thompson, who missed 10 of his 12 3-point attempts.
“We didn’t have a changeup pitch to throw, which led to the result,” Curry said of the Warriors’ poor shooting.
The Splash Brothers were far too dry when it mattered against the Lakers: Thompson went 10 for 36 on 3-pointers in the series’ final four games, while Curry was 14 for 49.
Donte DiVincenzo had a playoff-high 16 points for the Warriors, but Curry was their only starter in double figures, with the other four shooting 11 for 38.
“Definitely disappointing,” Draymond Green said. “It’s been a long time since we finished in May, just trying to process the feelings. In the end, they were the better team.”
The Lakers took charge early, survived the Warriors’ rallies and blew it open in the fourth quarter with a balanced effort led by the 38-year-old James, who produced his first 30-point playoff game since the 2020 NBA Finals.
The 20-year veteran can still assert his will as forcefully as almost any elite player, and he quarterbacked the Lakers’ offensive effort while Davis — who left Game 5 early after taking a shot to the head — played another standout defensive game.
D’Angelo Russell scored 19 points as the Lakers capably survived the third-quarter ejection of Dennis Schröder, the sparkplug guard and primary defender on Curry. Schröder had five assists and defended doggedly in his first start of the postseason for the Lakers, but the German point guard was ejected with his second technical foul on a curious call after Green pushed the ball into Schröder’s face.
His absence scarcely seemed to help the Warriors, who simply couldn’t make their open shots.
Warriors: Golden State went 13-35 on the road this year, including the postseason. … Curry moved into 11th place on the NBA’s career playoff scoring list, passing Dwyane Wade. … Andrew Wiggins scored six points while playing with fractured rib cartilage, apparently resulting from a tussle with James in the fourth quarter of Game 5.
Lakers: Schröder took the starting spot of defensive specialist Jarred Vanderbilt. … James passed Shaquille O’Neal for fourth place on the NBA’s career playoff rebounds list. … Jack Nicholson was courtside for the third time in the Lakers’ last four playoff games. Others in attendance: Seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, Bad Bunny, Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian, Michael B. Jordan, Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar, Jack Harlow, Dr. Dre, Woody Harrelson, Tyler the Creator and Trae Young.
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