In an intrastate affair, Stephen Curry and company squared off against the 12-win Los Angeles Lakers, who were a full 44.5 games behind the Golden State Warriors in the standings. Never before had the disparity between the two franchises swung so favorably in the Warriors' favor.
And yet, the Lakers came out looking slightly sharper -- or rather, slightly less dull -- than the prohibitive heavy weight favorites in this tilt. Despite decent off-ball backdoor cuts on a clumsily pressing Laker defense, the Warriors' offense was largely subdued due to less-than-optimal passing and worse-than-bad outside shooting. On defense, Draymond Green continued to make fatigued mistakes, allowing Larry Nance Jr to blow by him on a head fake alone and leaving the competent scorer Julius Randle in favor of doubling a bones-dry Kobe Bryant who was adequately guarded on the perimeter by Curry.
All of these first quarter woes seeped into the rest of the game. The Warriors were laughably unfocused in all three phases of the game in the first half. In fact they were borderline belligerently apathetic, jogging in transition and refusing to switch assignments, leaving open Lakers under the basket. An embarrassing display of the mental fuzzies.
Draymond Green fouled Kobe on a three point attempt, when Kobe is shooting 27% on the season from range, to give the Lakers a 12 point advantage with a minute to go in the first half. They took an 11 point lead into halftime, as the Warriors' once formidable defense continues to regress on a game-to-game basis, allowing the Lakers to score 60 points in 24 minutes.
The Warriors committed 10 turnovers in the half by playing airy, uninspired, lethargic, overconfident yet complacently mediocre offense. The Lakers committed only one turnover in the half because the Warriors played airy, uninspired, lethargic, overconfident yet complacently mediocre defense. This top-down executional failure could only be met with Kerr sternly rubbing his temples -- if a team cannot execute against the Lakers, no amount of inspirational soundbytes can remedy the problem. The players will either realize they are being outplayed by the Lakers, or they will lose.
None of these are forecasted problems for the Warriors in the playoffs. But way back when the seeds of this current goliath were being sown, then-coach Mark Jackson made it a point to fiercely compete in the Summer League, because winning is a habit and winning every game is fun. In that respect, the Warriors laying down in the first half was a failure of the basketball team on a very visceral level: it wasn't fun to watch, which is really all that sports entertainment should be. There have been halves of basketball that the Warriors haven't outscored their opponents this season that were still fun -- this may have been the least fun a lot of viewers felt all year in a Warrior half.
Andrew Bogut, perhaps the lone Warrior who stayed home last night and showed up to his approximate usual level of play, suffered a left knee contusion in the closing moments of the first half but was cleared to play in the second. Green, who was in foul trouble all half, picked up number four within the first two minutes of play on an illegal screen. He also fired a bullet pass out of bounds, completely missing a non-moving Harrison Barnes on the perimeter.
The Warriors fell behind by 14 within the opening two minutes of the second half, and continued to look discombobulated on both ends and quite content in their awfulness. After sitting in listless purgatory, watching Jordan Clarkson hit fadeaway three pointers and missing layups and tip ins, the Warriors began to show faint signs of life -- briefly.
Clarkson continued his hot shooting, putting the Lakers back up to 13 within two minutes of the Warrior surge. Meanwhile, conversely, Curry and Thompson couldn't hit the Pacific Ocean from a small dingy floating offshore of Ocean Beach. Despite mild stirrings here and there, the Warriors largely remained in-character in their stunning performance of Sleeping Beauty. Concentration was largely a non-starter, as Harrison Barnes and Brandon Rush failed to connect on a pass over the key in which neither player was moving.
The Warriors managed to end the third quarter down only 11, despite no one bothering to play defense or offense. The Splash Bros. combined to hit one three pointer on 15 attempts.
The fourth quarter opened hilariously, with the Warriors flinging darts wildly at the wall, hoping something would stick. On the other end, the defense tripped over itself trying to organize the pieces while Nick Young hit two threes early on to blow the game open to a 16 point lead. Leandro Barbosa continues to slowly degenerate in what is likely his last season, and has largely been unplayable, punctuated with emphatic minutes of decency.
The Warriors never looked like the Warriors in this one. They missed outside looks, which happens periodically. It happened against the Sacramento Kings earlier in the year. They looked disinterested and arrogant that the game would swing in their favor without the requisite effort. That happens periodically, too. The Warriors are a team that requires a kick in the ass and a spanking in the scoreboard to remind them other teams have legitimate talent, too.
You don't have to be the better team to play a better game of basketball. The Lakers stormed the gates, while the Warriors showed up an hour late for the battle, unsure of which castle they were supposed to be guarding.
None. The Warriors will shoot better than this in 99% of the rest of the games they will play in your lifetime. Draymond was awful, and has been in a bit of a decision-making funk since his first All Star break, but top five NBA players don't suddenly stop being really good basketball players.
As I've said before, there aren't any remaining regular season games that matter, aside from the three San Antonio Spurs games. While a loss to the Lakers is pretty embarrassing, it's nothing more than a bad 48 minutes of basketball.
Teams, even championship teams, are allowed to lose. Even horrible losses to horrible teams. All you can do is tip your hat to Swaggy P, Clarkson, DeAngelo Russell, and the rest of them Laker boys -- but don't dwell on it, because we're on to Cincinnati.