The Los Angeles Lakers shocked the world on Sunday afternoon, defeating the defending champion Golden State Warriors 112-95 on national TV. Almost any team beating the Warriors this season can be called an upset, Golden State's loss dropped them to 55-6, still leaving them with a solid chance to surpass the Chicago Bulls 72-10 mark for the best regular season record ever.
However, the Lakers victory over this historic Warriors outfit was not any "ordinary" upset. It was mathematically the biggest upset in NBA history. According to the Washington Post, "A team with a winning percentage as poor as that of the Lakers had never before defeated a team with winning percentage as high as that of Golden State."
The completely unexpected result left everyone with one simple question: how exactly did the purple and gold just win that game? Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott outlined one of his theories after the game:
Byron: "Sometimes you've got to challenge their manhood to get some type of response. And the response we got tonight was a great response."— Michael Pina (@MichaelVPina) March 6, 2016
With all due respect to Scott, the Lakers "manning up" did not appear to be the main reason they won. Their result on Sunday can be chalked up to four primary factors:
Marcelo Huertas was slinging passes all over the place
Scott termed the much-maligned and lightly-used Lakers backup guard the team's MVP on Sunday, and while that sounds crazy on it's face, he wasn't entirely wrong. Huertas kept the ball moving on offense for the Lakers against a largely lethargic Warriors defense, racking up nine assists in the process. More impressively, the 32-year old rookie assisted on 40% of the Lakers' baskets while on the floor, flinging the ball around with his characteristic flair:
He also made the basic reads as well, making sure the ball found the open man to force movement from the Warriors' defense:
Huertas' passing was great, but someone still had to make baskets for the Lakers.
Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell were on fire
On Sunday afternoon, the Lakers young backcourt showed up to Staples Center determined to give fans in attendance a religious experience. Russell and Clarkson went a combined 16-25 from the field to score 46 of the Lakers 112 points in the shocking victory.
Those who had never been to a basketball game before would be forgiven if they thought Clarkson and Russell were the actual "Splash Brothers, as the pair did most of their damage from behind the arc, knocking down 7 of their 13 three-point attempts. All three of Russell's came back-to-back-to-back in the second quarter as the Lakers built their lead, and the second of the three left him impressed enough with himself to do his best Stephen Curry hop:
In addition to bombing away from deep (4-6 from behind the arc), Clarkson did damage around the basket (4-6 in the restricted area) to show off his increasingly well balanced game. There were growing pains coming into the year as Clarkson learned to play off-ball, but he has become stronger as a cutter as the year has gone along and he's learned how to better move without the rock, as demonstrated on this cut to the rim:
Clarkson can still do damage with his dribble and in-between game as well, like on the below play where he had Warriors newcomer Anderson Varejao turned all the way around, possibly running back to Cleveland:
Clarkson and Russell were great, but even so, they needed some help from their opponents to fell this juggernaut, which brings us to perhaps the biggest reason the Warriors lost:
If only for a day, Stephen Curry was mortal
Stephen Curry has treated the 2015-16 NBA season as an extended trailer for his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The NBA's most exciting scorer is averaging 30.5 points per game on a 67.8 percent true-shooting percentage while also dishing 6.6 assists and grabbing 5.3 rebounds, redefining efficiency on his way to a second consecutive MVP award.
Against the Lakers, Curry was anything but efficient. The 30 percent he shot from the field is the second worst he has shot this year, with his 10 percent shooting from behind the arc being the worst he has shot on three-pointers in any game this season. The insane looks he has been getting to fall all year just weren't there for Curry on Sunday:
That's a clinically insane shot that would get 95 percent of players in the league benched, otherwise known as an "Andrew Bynum special." Curry is not most players, however, and so a 30+ foot three with 19 seconds left on the shot clock has just been considered a good, open look for him for most of the season.
Those looks simply weren't there for Curry against the Lakers, which left Golden State without their offensive hub. Even without Curry, though, the Warriors are still vastly more talented than the Lakers, and probably could have won had anyone else given them anything. Unfortunately for Golden State...
Curry's teammates were unable to help him
As both D'Angelo Russell and Byron Scott both pointed out after the game, Steph wasn't the only one who couldn't get a three-pointer to fall. The Warriors as a whole shot 13.3 percent from range, which is the worst they have shot on threes this year by a comfortable margin of 7.2 percent. The team averages 30.8 three-point attempts per game on 41.2 percent shooting, so their offensive distribution wasn't super different, they just shot 27.9 percent worse than normal. Most of the looks were not heavily contested either, it really was largely a matter of the Warriors missing shots they would normally make.
So rest easy, rest of the NBA. If you want to beat the Warriors, the Lakers offer a very replicable blueprint. All you need is for both members of your starting backcourt to catch fire against a not totally locked in Dubs defense, Stephen Curry to have his worst shooting night of the year, none of his Warriors teammates to be able to help him, and have Marcelo Huertas. Totally repeatable circumstances.
Or maybe, if you believe Kobe Bryant, the plan is even simpler:
Kobe on the win: "It's got to be the socks."— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 6, 2016
All stats per NBA.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.